We have often heard President Obama assert in his speeches that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay serves as a major “recruiting tool” for al-Qaeda. And not just a major recruiting tool, but the “number one” recruiting tool in their toolbox. About four weeks ago, Obama insisted on making the argument again in a press conference at the White House:
Obviously, we haven’t gotten it closed. And let me just step back and explain that the reason for wanting to close Guantanamo was because my number one priority is keeping the American people safe. One of the most powerful tools we have to keep the American people safe is not providing al Qaeda and jihadists recruiting tools for fledgling terrorists.
And Guantanamo is probably the number one recruitment tool that is used by these jihadist organizations. And we see it in the websites that they put up. We see it in the messages that they’re delivering.
The fact that al-Qaeda existed, recruited, and attacked American targets for almost a decade before Gitmo opened should be proof enough of the silliness of this argument. Three weeks ago, though, Thomas Jocelyn decided to actually test Obama’s thesis by parsing AQ public statements in the last two years and determining just how important Gitmo is to their recruitment. It turns out that the number one recruiting tool of the jihadists is … no surprise:
THE WEEKLY STANDARD has reviewed translations of 34 messages and interviews delivered by top al Qaeda leaders operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan (“Al Qaeda Central”), including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, since January 2009. The translations were published online by the NEFA Foundation. Guantanamo is mentioned in only 3 of the 34 messages. The other 31 messages contain no reference to Guantanamo. And even in the three messages in which al Qaeda mentions the detention facility it is not a prominent theme. …
To illustrate this point, consider the results of some basic keyword searches. Guantanamo is mentioned a mere 7 times in the 34 messages we reviewed. (Again, all 7 of those references appear in just 3 of the 34 messages.)
By way of comparison, all of the following keywords are mentioned far more frequently: Israel/Israeli/Israelis (98 mentions), Jew/Jews (129), Zionist(s) (94), Palestine/Palestinian (200), Gaza (131), and Crusader(s) (322). (Note: Zionist is often paired with Crusader in al Qaeda’s rhetoric.)
Naturally, al Qaeda’s leaders also focus on the wars in Afghanistan (333 mentions) and Iraq (157). Pakistan (331), which is home to the jihadist hydra, is featured prominently, too. Al Qaeda has designs on each of these three nations and implores willing recruits to fight America and her allies there. Keywords related to other jihadist hotspots also feature more prominently than Gitmo, including Somalia (67 mentions), Yemen (18) and Chechnya (15).
The actual top recruiting “tools” of AQ are (1) Palestinians/Gaza, (2) “Crusaders,” and (3) the Joooooooos/Israel/”Zionists.” Why? Because their recruitment base has spent the last several decades living off of conspiracy theories regarding how Crusaders and Zionists have oppressed the Palestinians for the last 100 years, and they’re tapping into that ignorance and rage to get idiots to strap bombs to themselves so that AQ leadership can avoid that honor themselves. Anyone who has spent any time at all studying the issue knows enough not to find this surprising, and not to be surprised that a prison in Cuba holding less than a thousand detainees at its zenith hardly competes with all of these ancient hatreds as a reason to blow one’s self into pieces for emirs who hide in mountains.
AQ’s recruitment base exists because of the curious modern mythologies of the Middle East. Maybe Obama just wants to compete with them in building a laughably transparent myth about Gitmo.
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