How Guantanamo Bay's Existence Helps Al-Qaeda Recruit More Terrorists

It holds cleared detainees, and it's become a rallying point in jihadist propaganda.
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Detainees participate in an early morning prayer session at Camp IV at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, on August 5, 2009. (Reuters)

Guantanamo Bay has entered headlines again as at least 42 inmates are participating in a hunger strike to protest their continued detention. But those 42 are only part of the ongoing story.

There are still 166 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Eighty-six of these individuals have been cleared for release.

Forty-six others are being held "without enough evidence" to prosecute, but are still " too dangerous to transfer."

Only six people being held at Guantanamo Bay are facing formal charges.

It has become brutally clear that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay will not be closing. In January, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law, preserving Guantanamo Bay foreseeable future. Shortly thereafter, Obama closed the State Department Office tasked with finding suitable, lawful locations to transfer the Guantanamo detainees.

Of the 86 inmates cleared of charges, none will be released anytime soon. Obama administration officials have offered several reasons for continuing to hold cleared detainees:

  • Unstable home governments. The NDAA has made it virtually impossible for inmates to return home, stating detainees cannot return to a country where a "threat that is likely to substantially affect" the government's ability to "exercise control" over the repatriated individual may exist (Sec. 1028). This section of the law grants legitimacy to indefinitely holding any detainee, given the prevalence of Al-Qaeda affiliates and other insurgent groups in several nations.

For these reasons, these 86 cleared individuals, and others awaiting a prosecution that may never come, are stuck in a limbo that more closely resembles hell.

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To see the entire graphic, click here. (The Century Foundation)

While these human rights issues are egregious in their own right, and a vigilant minority continues to pressure the Obama administration on the situation, in the bigger picture, the continued existence of Guantanamo Bay is damaging our national security on a daily basis.

Guantanamo Bay has often been the focus of jihadist media and propaganda. Just recently, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan--the mouthpiece of the Taliban-- put out a statement calling attention to the ongoing hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay. The brief message claims that the hunger strike at the prison has been going on for forty days (as of March 24) and calls for international rights organizations to "spread awareness about the plight of the destitute inmates." Guantanamo Bay has become a salient issue used in jihadist propaganda.

In 2010, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released the first issue of Inspire , their English language recruitment magazine. To date, AQAP has released 10 issues of Inspire, and the plight of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has been featured prominently in several issues.

In the 2010 inaugural issue of Inspire, an essay by Osama bin Laden mentions "the crimes at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo . . . which shook the conscience of humanity." Tellingly, bin Laden points out that "there has been no mentionable change" at Guantanamo and the prison is noted again later in the issue.

Presented by

Thérèse Postel

Thérèse Postel is a policy associate in international affairs at The Century Foundation.

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