There are 107 jihadists remaining at Guantanamo Bay. President Obama sees that as a huge problem and, for once, I agree with him. But there the agreement ends. The president is hell bent on shuttering the detention camp. I think the problem is that there are only 107 detainees.
Heading into his eighth year as commander-in-chief, Obama seems increasingly detached – inevitably so, as reality relentlessly distances itself from the president’s fantasies about Islam and terrorism.
Impervious to the bitter irony, the president waxed idiotic at his final White House press conference of 2015 about the need to close Gitmo – and about his imminent release of 17 jihadists to speed that process along – while the engines revved up to jet him to San Bernardino, Calif. There, he’ll find time for a quickie meeting with family members in mourning after the jihadist mass-murder of their loved ones two weeks ago.
After that, Obama will hop back on Air Force One to do what any wartime president would do – take a two-week Hawaii vacation. No word yet on whether ISIS or al-Qaeda will be kicking back, too.
And nary a word from ISIS and al-Qaeda about Gitmo . . . except perhaps the occasional thank-you card to the White House. The president continues to replenish their ranks by releasing terrorists, like Ibrahim Qosi, who now leads al-Qaeda’s franchise in Yemen after being released by Obama in 2012.
Chances are the grieving San Bernardino families will want some answers about why Obama’s Department of Homeland Security is so obsessed with the civil rights of jihadists.
Will Obama tell them they have it all wrong? Will he tell them, as he told the White House press corps on Friday, that Gitmo is really the “key magnet for jihadi recruitment”?
The families, I imagine, probably believe more recruitment goes on at mosques that propagate Islamic supremacism – such as the one in nearby Riverside, Calif., frequented by Siyed Rizwan Farook, one of the jihadists who slayed their fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters. That would be the same mosque flagged by veteran counterterrorism agent Phil Haney due to its ties to a radical Islamic movement in Pakistan – the same mosque Obama’s DHS stopped investigating because it fretted that Haney was “profiling” Muslims.
Or maybe the families suspect that recruitment is not much of a challenge for jihadists. After all, Obama’s DHS endorses the importation of tens of thousands of immigrants from jihadist cauldrons, immigrants that the government concedes it cannot vet – and that DHS refuses to vet. It won’t read their Facebook posts, it won’t inquire into their ideology, and it most certainly won’t ask if they want sharia to supplant the U.S. Constitution. After all, that might be “profiling.”
Instead, in accordance with the Obama administration’s “Countering Violent Extremism” strategy, crafted by the experts down at DHS, investigators must focus on conduct, not anti-American incitements or speech. But rest assured: Once that conduct happens – like, say, a couple of jihadists shooting up an office building and killing 14 people – Obama’s “violent extremism” crew will be all over it. And the president himself will be out there muttering, “If only we’d closed Gitmo.”
Actually, there are two things that drive terrorist recruitment. The first is Islamic supremacism. In a West ever more indifferent to religion and entranced by the smug assumption that our “values” are universal, the power of a conquest ideology cloaked in religion eludes us. But it seizes our enemies and burns like a fire inside them. While Obama sees America as something to apologize for, Islamists portray their jihad as the road to esteem in this life and bounty in the next. It is a heinous belief system, but belief in something always beats belief in nothing.
The second driver of terrorist recruitment is the perception that the jihadists are winning, the conviction that they will ultimately prevail. Osama bin Laden wooed young Muslims with the wisdom that people are always drawn to the strong horse and shun the weak one. While Islamic State “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi follows up each jihadist atrocity by seizing more territory and enslaving more subjects, the president of the United States follows each jihadist atrocity – Benghazi, Paris, and now San Bernardino – by releasing more jihadists from Gitmo.
It’s not Gitmo driving recruitment. It’s our president.
In truth, Muslims don’t care a whit about Guantanamo Bay. I prosecuted one of the world’s most notorious terrorists in the mid ’90s, the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, who formed the cell that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York. He got the gold-plated due process of a civilian trial and all the trimmings of top-shelf civilian prison – no Gitmo for him. And you know what? Islamic supremacists continue to condemn his incarceration and jihadists have killed scores of people to try to extort his release. They don’t care where we detain jihadists; they care that we detain jihadists.
Does Obama think we should release all the terrorists in federal penitentiaries, too? You know, to depress recruitment . . .
Because it is Islamic supremacism and the perception of victory that draws young Muslims to the jihad, the brute fact is: It’s not detaining terrorists at Gitmo that spurs recruitment; it’s releasing them. Muslims who wage war against America and are held in our prisons become icons of the jihad. They rise from obscurity to legend, and their status imbues them with authority to command attacks, raise funds, and attract recruits.
The 1993 World Trade Center bombing was planned at Attica Prison in upstate New York, urged on by inmate Sayyid Nosair, who’d become a jihadi hero by murdering Meir Kahane. From stateside civilian custody, Nosair was able to make recruitment tapes, meet young Muslims, and plot new attacks with his jihadist visitors.
That can’t happen at remote Guantanamo Bay, an offshore military installation. I’d tell you not to take my word for it and go ask Ibrahim Qosi. But he’s not at Gitmo anymore. Thanks to President Obama, he’s back in the jihad, recruiting new terrorists.
A version of this piece previously appeared on National Review Online.