National security experts and U.S. officials have long stated that the Guantanamo Bay detention center acts as a powerful propaganda symbol in terrorist groups’ recruiting materials. President George W. Bush wrote in his memoir Decision Points, “[T]he detention facility had become a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies.”President Obama agrees, most recently saying, “It is used by terrorists around the world to help recruit jihadists.” We identify here numerous examples of al Qaeda, its affiliates, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) using Guantanamo Bay for their propaganda purposes since 2009. The groups reference Guantanamo Bay mostly in an attempt to paint the United States as hypocritical and amoral, and as a call to arms for fellow Muslims, but also in more simplistic, symbolic terms, for example in ISIS’s use of orange jumpsuits for their hostages.
These examples demonstrate how al Qaeda and ISIS have been able to take advantage of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and its history detaining suspected terrorists since 2002, by claiming that U.S. abuses and indefinite detention there are violent acts that demand retaliation. Of course, Guantanamo is not to blame for any of the crimes committed by these groups and it is not the only or even primary reason for al Qaeda or ISIS targeting the United States. But there is no doubt that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay has been, and continues to be, a powerful tool for terrorists who seek to harm the United States.
For a full collection of these examples, please see our issue brief here.