Memo to Chris Wallace: Military officials say Gitmo has been a "recruiting tool" for terrorists

››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

Ignoring statements from military officials and reports, Chris Wallace suggested that the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has not been used by terrorists as a "huge recruiting tool."

During the May 22 edition of Fox News Radio's Brian & The Judge, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace said, "I'd love to know the specific proof that the Obama administration or anyone has that Guantánamo is a recruiting tool" for terrorists and added: "I have never felt that Guantánamo was this huge recruiting tool and the main reason for -- that -- the reason they hate us." Wallace also claimed, "I think on the list of things that gets people, you know, so crazy that they want to blow up bombs and kill themselves and kill innocent people, I think Guantánamo is about 10th on the list." However, as Media Matters for America has documented, military officials and reports have stated that terrorists have successfully used the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay as a major recruiting device.

For instance, using the pseudonym Matthew Alexander, an Air Force senior interrogator who was in Iraq in 2006 wrote in The Washington Post: "I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq."

Moreover, as the blog Think Progress noted, in June 17, 2008, testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Alberto Mora, former Navy general counsel, said: "[T]here are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq -- as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat -- are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."

Indeed, the Center for Strategic & International Studies concluded in a September 2008 study that "the United States has been damaged by Guantánamo beyond any immediate security benefits. Our enemies have achieved a propaganda windfall that enables recruitment to violence, while our friends have found it more difficult to cooperate with us."

Further, a June 17, 2008, McClatchy Newspapers article reported, "A McClatchy investigation found that instead of confining terrorists, Guantanamo often produced more of them by rounding up common criminals, conscripts, low-level foot soldiers and men with no allegiance to radical Islam -- thus inspiring a deep hatred of the United States in them -- and then housing them in cells next to radical Islamists." McClatchy further reported:

In interviews, former U.S. Defense Department officials acknowledged the problem, but none of them would speak about it openly because of its implications: U.S. officials mistakenly sent a lot of men who weren't hardened terrorists to Guantanamo, but by the time they were released, some of them had become just that.

Requests for comment from senior Defense Department officials went unanswered. The Pentagon official in charge of detainee affairs, Sandra Hodgkinson, declined interview requests even after she was given a list of questions.

However, dozens of former detainees, many of whom were reluctant to talk for fear of being branded as spies by the militants, described a network -- at times fragmented, and at times startling in its sophistication -- that allowed Islamist radicals to gain power inside Guantanamo:

Militants recruited new detainees by offering to help them memorize the Quran and study Arabic. They conducted the lessons, infused with firebrand theology, between the mesh walls of cells, from the other side of a fence during exercise time or, in lower-security blocks, during group meetings.

Taliban and al Qaida leaders appointed cellblock leaders. When there was a problem with the guards, such as allegations of Quran abuse or rough searches of detainees, these "local" leaders reported up their chains of command whether the men in their block had fought back with hunger strikes or by throwing cups of urine and feces at guards. The senior leaders then decided whether to call for large-scale hunger strikes or other protests.

Al Qaida and Taliban leaders at Guantanamo issued rulings that governed detainees' behavior. Shaking hands with female guards was haram -- forbidden -- men should pray five times a day and talking with American soldiers should be kept to a minimum.

The recruiting and organizing don't end at Guantanamo. After detainees are released, they're visited by militants who try to cement the relationships formed in prison.

From the May 22 edition of Fox News Radio's Brian & The Judge:

ROBERT GATES (defense secretary) [audio clip]: The truth is, it's probably one of the finest prisons in the world today, but it has a taint. It is -- the name itself is a condemnation. What the president was saying is this will be an advertisement for Al Qaeda as long as it's open.

ANDREW NAPOLITANO (co-host): Does Secretary -- do you think Secretary Gates believes that, Chris?

WALLACE: Yeah, I do think he believes that. I have every reason to think that he was one of the people that even in the Bush administration was pushing to close Guantánamo. But here's a question I have to both of you. We keep hearing this, that Guantánamo basically was a recruiting tool.

That certainly was an argument that I thought Cheney very effectively dealt with when he said, you know, this is the classic blame America first, let's not blame the violent terrorists -- it's because we had it coming, you know, we kind of provoked it.

I'd love to know the specific proof that the Obama administration or anyone has that Guantánamo --

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): Exactly.

WALLACE: -- is a recruiting tool and has been an effective tool. I think on the list of things that gets people, you know, so crazy that they want to blow up bombs and kill themselves and kill innocent people, I think Guantánamo is about 10th on the list in terms of -- I mean, I think that U.S. policies, I think their hatred of the West, their culture, our support of Israel -- I think all of those are much more important than Guantánamo.

That's -- remember, Guantánamo wasn't open when 9-11 happened. I have never felt that Guantanamo was this huge recruiting tool and the main reason --

KILMEADE: Right.

WALLACE: -- for -- that the reason they hate us.

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