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Home / Guantanamo Bay: A Terrorists’ Propaganda Tool

Guantanamo Bay: A Terrorists’ Propaganda Tool

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 the Levant (ISIL) 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 ISIL’s use of orange jumpsuits for their hostages.

These examples demonstrate how al Qaeda and ISIL 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 ISIL 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.

Here's a timeline of Guantanamo Bay propaganda

November 16, 2009

From an interview with Dr. Ahmad Farooq, Senior al Qaeda media official: “America had hidden its charlatanic face…

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From an interview with Dr. Ahmad Farooq, Senior al Qaeda media official: “America had hidden its charlatanic face with an innocent mask… Allah set straight the truth. Whatever happened in Guantanamo…the horrors of Abu Ghraib; this was how Allah revealed the hideous, Crusader and secular face of America in front of the world. This is none but a blessing of the Jihad…the blessing of the Tuesday attacks.”

January 29, 2010

Osama Bin Laden’s statement in, “The Way to Save the Earth”: “[T]hey killed...

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Osama Bin Laden’s statement in, “The Way to Save the Earth”: “[T]hey killed, wounded, orphaned, widowed and displaced more than 10 million Iraqis, and they are still murdering and pillaging. That’s not to mention the crimes at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, those ugly crimes which shook the conscience of humanity.”

February 21, 2010

"...As does Secretary Gates and General Petraeus and so many others, John McCain...

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"...As does Secretary Gates and General Petraeus and so many others, John McCain and so many others, I think Guantanamo has cost us a lot over the years in terms of our standing in the world and the way in which despots have hidden behind what we have at Guantanamo to justify their own-- their own positions … And so I think we ought to remove this incentive that exists in the presence of Guantanamo to encourage people and to give radicals an opportunity to say, you see, this is what America is all about. They're all about torture and detention centers." -- Colin Powell

July 1, 2010

From the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula video, “And He Shall Take Martyrs from You”: “Tora Bora has not...

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From the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula video, “And He Shall Take Martyrs from You”: “Tora Bora has not been the only distinct mark in the bright biography of Abu-Yaqeen, but another mark has been clearer. It was the Guantanamo detention camp, the school of Yusuf (peace by upon him) [Footage of Guantanamo] after he had been arrested by the puppet Pakistani forces, who handed him over to America, and then the Americans forced him out to Guantanamo. …Never allow oppressors to suppress you. Abu-Yaqeen has been afflicted with many loads, which mountains could not bear, the same way others were. It was many a time was he exposed to torture and pain. He could have avoided all this, except for his strong loyalty to his faithful brethren. Sheikh Ibrahim al-Rubaish who was his mate in Guantanamo said, ‘I cannot forget what happened when the brethren in the neighboring prison cell were punished. Abu-Yaqeen and some brethren protested at this. He was punished by six officers who chained him and carried him on their backs to shave his hair and beard. Another time when Abu-Yaqeen was in the collective camp while other brethren were in great harm in the solitary camps; He then went on strike with some brethren and caused some trouble to back up with them. Then the Americans took them to the punishment cells to taste what their brethren were tasting.’ … These operations, explosions, and victories which the mujahideen have been performing used to reach the ears of the Guantanamo captives despite the far distance and the ultimate reservation about them. However, lowering the American flag told them about some revenge against the Americans was taking place beyond the oceans. These operations have been the reason behind setting many of the captives free, when the Americans became sure that the fuel of those blessed operations was the Guantanamo captives …”

September 14, 2010

Uthman al-Ghamidi, AQAP operative and former Guantanamo detainee said in the APAQ publication...

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Uthman al-Ghamidi, AQAP operative and former Guantanamo detainee said in the APAQ publication Inspire issue 2: “I chose to be straightforward with the investigators and I told them that I was in Afghanistan for the purpose of jihad and that I trained at al-Faruq camp. This led to my speedy transport to Guantanamo Bay prison. My stay on the base was for a total of two weeks … The journey was for more than 24 hours. We were greeted at Guantanamo with swearing and beating as we were dragged to our cells. That is when the dirty American program began against us. They insulted our religion and we were subjected to physical and psychological forms of torture through sleep deprivation and exposure to hot and cold weather in special rooms. We were also used as guinea pigs for their experiments. …They would expose us to hunger and they would try to seduce some of us through women. Nevertheless, with all this torture and temptation, Allah was protecting us. We would defend the Qur’an and take from them what we wanted by force. The Muslim is honorable if he takes jihad as his path.”

September 15, 2010

Ayman al-Zawahiri statement made in “Victorious Ummah, Broken Crusade”  “Glory be to Allah: aren't the NATO forces...

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Ayman al-Zawahiri statement made in “Victorious Ummah, Broken Crusade”  “Glory be to Allah: aren't the NATO forces which are coming and going as they please in Pakistan and being helped and supplied by the government of Pakistan and its army and security organs, aren't these forces from the states in which the Prophet - sallallahu alayhi wa sallam – was insulted publicly on the pages of newspapers and in other media? And aren't they the forces which humiliated the noble Qur'an in Guantanamo, Iraq and elsewhere?”

October 11, 2010

Samir Khan, an American turned AQAP member, and Inspire editor said: “I would always laugh...

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Samir Khan, an American turned AQAP member, and Inspire editor said: “I would always laugh whenever the start of Ramadan would occur in America and the President would take a few minutes to articulate on how marvelous Islam is; almost as if he himself was to become Muslim. I would laugh because they would show this face in their country, and a different face in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. After knowing what America has accomplished in the Islamic world, what Muslim wouldn’t want to be a traitor? …The list is endless when it comes to the crimes they have perpetrated upon the Islamic world.”

October 12, 2010

Shaykh Abu Sufyan, Vice Amir of AQAP and former Guantanamo detainee was interviewed...

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Shaykh Abu Sufyan, Vice Amir of AQAP and former Guantanamo detainee was interviewed saying: “The treatment of the Americans was the treatment of an enemy to an enemy and this is natural but what I did not expect is to find the Americans to be a people without any principles, whether we are talking about moral principles or general human values. … One of the things that bothered us in prison was their attempts to seduce us through their women but all praise is due to Allah, we were protected from this human trash.”

March 11, 2011

In an interview with Shaykh Abu Hurairah, an AQAP military commander, in AQAP publication Inspire issue 5...

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In an interview with Shaykh Abu Hurairah, an AQAP military commander, in AQAP publication Inspire issue 5, he stated: “I have one sister who is married and four brothers, one of whom is detained at Guantanamo since the beginning of the invasion of Afghanistan, and another killed most likely by a man who is a contractor of the political security forces in Sana’a.” 

April 9, 2011

Ibrahim al Rubaish, an AQAP official, stated: “There are in the American army people from among our...

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Ibrahim al Rubaish, an AQAP official, stated: “There are in the American army people from among our countrymen, praying in the same direction and fasting along with us, and yet they participate in the war against the Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan out of fear for their livelihood. There are among them those who supervised the instances of defamation to the Koran in the prisons of Cuba [Guantanamo Bay], and they justified this by saying that they had received orders from the general to do so, and yet, at the same time, they had performed praying and fasting. But the difference between the US soldier and the soldier of its agents is that one of them receives orders from the Crusaders directly, while the other has an agent, someone from among our countrymen, functioning as a middleman between him and the Crusaders.”

April 15, 2011

Ayman al-Zawahiri statement in “Message to People in Egypt, Part 5”: “America that is [now] weeping over the victims of torture in Egypt…

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Ayman al-Zawahiri statement in “Message to People in Egypt, Part 5”: “America that is [now] weeping over the victims of torture in Egypt is [the same America] that resorts to torture in the prisons of Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghurayb and in its secret prisons in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Poland and on board of its ships and airplanes…”

June 11, 2011

During Ayman al-Zawahiri’s eulogy for Osama bin Laden he said: “America that signed the Geneva...

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During Ayman al-Zawahiri’s eulogy for Osama bin Laden he said: “America that signed the Geneva [convention] agreement to protect civilians and prisoners became the first to violate them in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Guantanamo and her underground prisons around the world.”

June 16, 2011

From Al Qaeda’s statement on the succession of Osama bin Laden: “We have...

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From Al Qaeda’s statement on the succession of Osama bin Laden: “We have not forgotten our brothers in Guantanamo, Bagram, and Abu Ghraib, the rest of the secret and open prisons of America, and every other Guantanamo erected by the agents of America under their supervision across the Muslim lands.”

October 11, 2011

Ayman al-Zawahiri’s statement in “And the Defeats of the Americans Continue”: “O our people in Libya, you snatched...

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Ayman al-Zawahiri’s statement in “And the Defeats of the Americans Continue”: “O our people in Libya, you snatched this big victory by your blood and body parts, so don’t allow anyone to take it away from you, because there are many who are lying in wait for you in order to take from you all that victory or some of it. On top of these is the Western gang of NATO – NATO, which is killing your brothers in Afghanistan and Iraq, torturing them in its secret prisons and in Guantanamo, sending the criminal Zionists to your brothers in Jerusalem, and stealing the wealth of your Ummah under the threat of its barges and planes.”

October 15, 2011

In an article by Yahya Ibrahim (Inspire editor-in-chief), From AQAP publication Inspire issue 7, “We have been preaching that the West...

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In an article by Yahya Ibrahim (Inspire editor-in-chief), From AQAP publication Inspire issue 7, “We have been preaching that the West is propping up values such as equality, freedom and human rights as a façade to cover its real face of imperialism and greed, but 9/11 did what was impossible for our words to do. It showed the world the reality and exposed the West for what it really is. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and secret extraordinary renditions showed the world the American understanding of human rights.”

December 1, 2011

Ayman al-Zawahiri made the following demands of the US and Israel in order to obtain the release of Weinstein...

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Ayman al-Zawahiri made the following demands of the US and Israel in order to obtain the release of Weinstein:

  1. Open the border between Egypt and Gaza.
  2. Halt US and Israeli airstrikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Gaza.
  3. Release all Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, "even if they were handed over to another country, like Abu Musab al Suri." 
  4. Close Guantanamo "and the secret American prisons."
  5. Release Sayyid Nosair and Ramzi Yousef, "and those with them."
  6. Release Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, who is better known as the Blind Sheikh.
  7. Release Osama bin Laden's family.
  8. Release female al Qaeda operatives, such as Aafia Siddiqui and Hasna, "the widow of Abu Hamza al Muhajir," the former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq who is also known as Abu Ayyub al Masri.

December 20, 2011

An address by Anwar al-Awlaki, AQAP official: “We the Muslims do not have an inherent animosity towards any racial group or ethnicity...

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An address by Anwar al-Awlaki, AQAP official: “We the Muslims do not have an inherent animosity towards any racial group or ethnicity. We are not against Americans for just being Americans. We are against evil and America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil. What we see from America is the invasion of (inaudible) countries, we see Abu Ghraib, Baghram and Guantanamo Bay, we see cruise missiles and cluster bombs and we have just seen in Yemen the death of 23 children and 17 women. We cannot stand idly in the face of such aggression and we will fight back and incite others to do the same.”

June 22, 2012

al Qaeda official, Abu Yahya Al-Libi’s statement in, “The American Army and the Ethics of War”: “These aren’t just casual cases...

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al Qaeda official, Abu Yahya Al-Libi’s statement in, “The American Army and the Ethics of War”: “These aren’t just casual cases committed by some lunatics, as their leaders and media want to make us see it. And thus falls the ulster which they always tried to blur on the fools: that they are an army of civilization, spreading values and maintaining human rights, and who doesn’t own a matter cannot give it, and let the Muslim know that what leaks to them through the media every now and then is only a drop from the sea of their criminality, degeneration and lowliness, which they commit shamelessly behind the walls of their bases and the darkness of their prisons.  Wasn’t their disgrace in Guantanamo prison expressing the morals of the American army? Were the scandals of Abu Ghraib prison just an individual action that doesn’t reflect the values of the American army?”

March 3, 2013

From Ayman al-Zawahiri piece on “Innocence of Muslims,” From AQAP publication Inspire issue 10: “America has allowed...

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From Ayman al-Zawahiri piece on “Innocence of Muslims,” From AQAP publication Inspire issue 10: “America has allowed the production of a film which commits blasphemy against the Prophet [Arabic symbol], under the pretext of freedom declamation did not stop Americans from torturing Muslim prisoners in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other secret prisons. May the blessings of Allah be upon those, enthusiastic Muslims, who torched the American Embassy in Benghazi, those who protested in front of the US Embassy in Cairo, those who replaced the American flag with the flag of Islam and Jihad. I call upon them to continue to confront the Zio-American crusade on Islam and Muslims. And I call upon all Muslims to follow their example. This is not the first incident of its type, rather it represents a recurring mode practiced by the US soldiers in Guantanamo, Bagram, Iraq and Afghanistan.” 

March 11, 2013

In an article by al Qaeda strategist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri: “In Afghanistan, tens of thousands were killed in the December 2001 invasion...

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In an article by al Qaeda strategist Abu Mus’ab Al-Suri: “In Afghanistan, tens of thousands were killed in the December 2001 invasion by the Americans in blind rage, most were innocent civilians. Guantanamo has been filled with not only with your mujhideen brothers but also with hundreds of innocent civilians. All being tortured and subjected to the most despicable crimes.”

April 11, 2013

From Ayman al-Zawahiri piece on “Innocence of Muslims,” From AQAP publication Inspire issue 10: “America has allowed...

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From Ayman al-Zawahiri piece on “Innocence of Muslims,” From AQAP publication Inspire issue 10: “America has allowed the production of a film which commits blasphemy against the Prophet [Arabic symbol], under the pretext of freedom of expression. But this freedom declamation did not stop Americans from torturing Muslim prisoners in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other secret prisons. May the blessings of Allah be upon those, enthusiastic Muslims, who torched the American Embassy in Benghazi, those who protested in front of the US Embassy in Cairo, those who replaced the American flag with the flag of Islam and Jihad. I call upon them to continue to confront the Zio-American crusade on Islam and Muslims. And I call upon all Muslims to follow their example. This is not the first incident of its type, rather it represents a recurring mode practiced by the US soldiers in Guantanamo, Bagram, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

May 1, 2013

Article on AQAP official Anwar al-Awlaki “He said to the Muslims ‘for how long will you people sleep and dream, whilst the thundering sounds...

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Article on AQAP official Anwar al-Awlaki “He said to the Muslims ‘for how long will you people sleep and dream, whilst the thundering sounds of tomahawk and cruise missiles are above your heads, for how long will you sleep to the sounds of B-52 bombers and screams from your wives and children? For how long will you watch the best of your sons sent to Guantanamo, whilst the tyrants wine and dine in the white house?’ … So with a fading economy, disunited political entity, multi quagmires abroad (Iraq & Afghanistan), Obama and his gang decided o [sic] slaughter freedom in front of the whole world once again. They did so many times before in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq War, Assassination of Shaykh Usama bin Laden.”

May 30, 2013

In an article by Abu Abdillah Almoravid, From AQAP publication Inspire issue 11: “If we note down all that has been...

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In an article by Abu Abdillah Almoravid, From AQAP publication Inspire issue 11: “If we note down all that has been and is still being carried out by America against the Muslim nations, we will run out of pages. There is plundering and stealing of Muslims' wealth in different ways, supporting tyrannical rulers like the example of Mubarak of Egypt, Saudi family of Saudi Arabia, Ali Saleh of Yemen and Ben Ali of Tunisia. There is also the secret prisons and black sites file, we could not miss out Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The American nation should have a good grasp of all of these and other historical facts so that they can comprehend the background and the context of the Boston Marathon operation, Detroit, September 11 and other operations which are barely a wave of anger; vengeance.”

July 30, 2013

From a statement by Ayman al-Zawahiri: “The [hunger] strike by our brothers at Guantanamo unmasks the true ugly face of America...

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From a statement by Ayman al-Zawahiri: “The [hunger] strike by our brothers at Guantanamo unmasks the true ugly face of America. We pledge to God that we will spare no effort to free all our prisoners, on top of whom are Omar Abdel Rahman, Aafia Siddiqui, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed [who is held at Guantanamo] and every oppressed Muslim everywhere ...”

February 15, 2014

In a statement for Azan magazine, al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri said: “As for the Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo...

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In a statement for Azan magazine, al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri said:“As for the Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo and the secret prisons of the CIA, they do not deserve freedom. They must be tortured, deprived of their rights and imprisoned without any sentence by a court for the long periods determined by the American government on its own. This is because they are not ‘humans’ in the first place for America to give them any ‘human rights’. They are not subject to those conventions by which America is bound in its treatment of the rest of humanity. This is the logic of power and arrogance. This is not about human rights; it is about the rights of the man who opposes Islam. It is about his rights when he is aggressing against a Muslim.”

March 10, 2014

Ibrahim al Rubaish (AQAP official) shown making statement on AQAP video: Ibrahim al Rubaish, a Saudi who was...

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Ibrahim al Rubaish (AQAP official) shown making statement on AQAP video: Ibrahim al Rubaish, a Saudi who was once held at Guantanamo and served as a top sharia official in AQAP, is also shown speaking in the video. Rubaish praised the newfound freedom of some jihadist fighters, including those shown in the video, but he laments the fact that others remain imprisoned in Guantanamo and elsewhere.

March 11, 2014

From an article by Abu Abdillah Amoravid in AQAP publication Inspire issue 12: “[We] are certain...

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From an article by Abu Abdillah Amoravid in AQAP publication Inspire issue 12: “[We] are certain that the sweet dream America propagated vanished into a terrifying nightmare: Abu Ghraib, black sites, Guantanamo and the US soldiers' crimes in Afghānistān and Irāq are too clear to need clarification. Actually, there is no possible way to express these inhumane crimes perpetrated against human rights. Here we could say America has lost the most important element of global leadership: morals and principles. The name 'America' has become firmly connected with occupation, atrocities, violation of rights of nations and oppression to humankind.”

September-November 2014

The six-episode ISIS video series, “Lend Me Your Ears” features British journalist and ISIS prisoner John Cantlie speaking about ISIS...

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The six-episode ISIS video series, “Lend Me Your Ears” features British journalist and ISIS prisoner John Cantlie speaking about ISIS. In each video, Cantlie is dressed in an orange jumpsuit, styled after the orange jumpsuits worn by Guantanamo detainees.

November 2014

As stated in ISIS publication Dabiq issue 5: “From this blessed land, the light of Islam spread to the rest...

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As stated in ISIS publication Dabiq issue 5: “From this blessed land, the light of Islam spread to the rest of the corners of the Earth by the guiding book and supportive sword …The istishhādiyyīn of September 11th, the prisoners behind the bars and wires of al-Hāyir (a prison in the Arabian Peninsula) and Guantanamo Bay, the operations against the murtaddīn and crusaders in the Arabian Peninsula, and the pure blood spilled upon its blessed land, were all from the fruits and blessings of the light shining forth from the Arabian Peninsula.”

December 6, 2014

U.S.: Video response from Al qaeda on the SEALs raid in Yemen

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Video response from Al qaeda on the SEALs raid in Yemen

January 23, 2015

ISIS released images and videos of two Japanese hostages being killed, both dressed in orange jumpsuits...

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ISIS released images and videos of two Japanese hostages being killed, both dressed in orange jumpsuits similar to those worn at one time by the detainees at Guantanamo.

February 3, 2015

ISIS released a video of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh being burned alive...

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ISIS released a video of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh being burned alive. In the video, Kasasbeh is shown wearing an orange jumpsuit.

February 5, 2015

Brian McKeon, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, told Congress...

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Brian McKeon, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, told Congress, “It is no coincidence that the recent ISIS videos showing the barbaric burning of a Jordanian pilot and the savage execution of a Japanese hostage each showed the victim clothed in an orange jumpsuit, believed by many to be the symbol of the Guantanamo detention facility.”

February 12, 2015

In ISIS’ latest issue of its publication Dabiq, featured photos of Coptic Christian prisoners wearing the orange jumpsuits...

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In ISIS’ latest issue of its publication Dabiq, featured photos of Coptic Christian prisoners wearing the orange jumpsuits...

March 20, 2015

ISIL creates prison modeled on Guantanamo: Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa’s fellow prisoner, American journalist...

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ISIL creates prison modeled on Guantanamo: Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa’s fellow prisoner, American journalist James Foley told him that ISIL had modeled the facility that held them and other Western prisoners after the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and that, “They had designed the project for a long time. The Iraqi sheikh himself explained from the first moment they [wanted to] kidnap Westerners to lock them in a high security prison with cameras and numerous guards.”

March 30, 2015

Obituary for Abdur-Rauf Khadim al-Khurasani, (aka Mullah Abdul Rauf): He was...

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From ISIL publication Dabiq issue 8:

Obituary for Abdur-Rauf Khadim al-Khurasani, (aka Mullah Abdul Rauf): He was appointed by the Taliban as the director of the military college in Kabul, and also went on to play an important role as a field commander on the frontlines during the crusader invasion of Afghanistan. He was captured by the Americans in one of the battles and was amongst a number of prisoners who were transferred to Guantanamo where he was imprisoned for six and a half years in some of the most horrifying conditions. The Americans then handed him over to their Afghan puppets and he spent another year and a half imprisoned by the murtadd regime.

June, 2015

From Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent publication Resurgence issue 2: “From the Editor”

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The American government should be under no illusions that its attempts to conveniently brush aside the plight of Muslim prisoners like Shaykh Omar Abdul Rahman, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, and countless Mujahideen being held in Guantanamo and the black sites of CIA will pass without notice … For the duration of his stay, [Al Qaeda captive] Dr. Weinstein was not once shackled or kept behind bars, but was allowed to interact with the brothers who would stay with him, something which left a deep impression on him. Lo Porto was similarly given a decent treatment, a far cry from the ordeal our prisoners have to go through on a daily basis at Guantanamo and the dungeons of the CIA. This is because our war is not for oil or imperial interests which necessitate extraordinary renditions, black sites, Guantanamos and Abu Ghraibs.

June, 2015

From Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent publication Resurgence issue 2: Interview with Adam Gadahn

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The Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies are also responsible for the abduction of hundreds of emigrant Mujahideen—both commanders and soldiers—and their “rendition” to Guantanamo and other prisons, dungeons and concentration camps around the world, where many of them were subjected to torture and summary execution; and that’s not counting the thousands of local and emigrant Mujahideen and their supporters who have been imprisoned, tortured and “disappeared” or died in mysterious circumstances within Pakistan.