The BBC reported today that ISIS have moved to within 90 miles of the Iraq-Jordan border, having taken over the town of al-Rutba. The town sits on the main road between Jordan and Baghdad, and is around 110 miles from the border with Saudi Arabia. It marks an unnerving couple of weeks of very violent extremists spilling over from the Syrian civil war into the new and fledgling democracy to the south.
The past couple of weeks have also produced a plethora of commentators trying to untangle the web of blame, hoping to land at a particular constant (their favoured figure of hate), rather than admit a whole host of variables, like a complex jigsaw, led to the rise of ISIS and the damage it is inflicting upon Iraq. America’s conservatives have spent the past couple of weeks attempting in any way possible to lay the blame for the crisis in Iraq at the door of the President.
Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro told the nation last week, that ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in US custody, and released in 2009 during President Obama’s Presidency:
“The head of this band of savages is a man named Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the new Osama Bin Laden. A man released by Obama in 2009, who started ISIS a year later.”
– This came a few days after Pirro called for the President to be impeached for the prisoner swap that led to the release of Bowe Bergdahl.
Fox’s Megyn Kelly went a little further, and described the circumstances under which al-Baghdadi was released:
“We are also learning more about the leader of the terror group, a man described as the new Bin Laden, the heir to Bin Laden. It turns out he had been in U.S. custody until 2009, over in Iraq, when he was then turned over to the Iraqi government as part of our troop drawdown. And then he was released.”
– The implication being that the President has a history of releasing dangerous prisoners, including one who went on to form the group currently slaughtering its way across Iraq. Indeed, Michael Daly writing for The Daily Beast took up the story and went further:
“When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi walked away from a U.S. detention camp in 2009, the future leader of ISIS issued some chilling final words to reservists from Long Island.”
– The chilling words were reported by Army Col. Kenneth King, the commanding officer of Camp Bucca in 2009 and said to be al-Baghdadi telling the camp as he left, that he would:
“See you in New York.”
– The source of the story, Colonel King goes on to express his anger at the release of al-Baghdadi in 2009:
“We spent how many missions and how many soldiers were put at risk when we caught this guy and we just released him.”
– The story went international, with The Daily Mail over here in the UK taking it up and capitalising the words “set free” for extra effect:
“Revealed: How Obama SET FREE the merciless terrorist warlord now leading the ISIS horde blazing a trail of destruction through Iraq.”
– The UK’s Daily Telegraph proposed their own explanation as to why al-Baghdadi was released in 2009:
“One possible explanation is that he was one of thousands of suspected insurgents granted amnesty as the US began its draw down in Iraq.”
– So to summarise, according to the right winged press and TV networks, Al-Baghdadi – the leader of ISIS in 2014 – was released from US custody in 2009, handed to the Iraqis, probably due to an amnesty granted to insurgents at the behest of the Obama administration. That’s the narrative. And yet, the problem with the entire story here, is it isn’t actually true. Any of it.
Politifact researched the claim and found it to be entirely false, and worse for US conservatives; al Baghdadi was actually released in 2004, when a Republican was President. A year later, a US intelligent report tells us that the Pentagon considered al-Baghdadi to be incredibly dangerous:
“He would kidnap individuals or entire families, accuse them, pronounce sentence and then publicly execute them.”
– Less than one year after al-Baghdadi was released from custody on President Bush’s watch, the US was again searching for him, for the most hideous crimes.
Back to the story. It seems that Michael Daly, the Telegraph, the Mail and Fox all framed their narrative around the story told by Col.King. Interviewed days later on ABC, King told the network that he “could have been mistaken” and that whilst he didn’t know the name of the guy he’d seen at Camp Bucca in 2009, it looked a bit like al-Baghdadi. From what he could remember. Five years ago. And from that, Fox construct an entire anti-Obama rant, with a story of how al-Baghdadi was handed over to authorities in Iraq and then released. Politifact checked with the Department of Defence, who issued the following statement:
“Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badry, also known as ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’ was held as a ‘civilian internee’ by U.S. Forces-Iraq from early February 2004 until early December 2004, when he was released.”
“He was held at Camp Bucca. A Combined Review and Release Board recommended ‘unconditional release’ of this detainee and he was released from U.S. custody shortly thereafter. We have no record of him being held at any other time.”
– And so it turns out al-Baghdadi wasn’t even released to the government in Iraq, as Fox claimed, let alone in 2009. Nor did Obama release him as part of a “amnesty” as suggested by the Telegraph. Though, had al-Baghdadi been released in 2009 as part of an amnesty, that too would not have been President Obama’s doing. As Politifact notes, it was late in 2008 – toward the end of President Bush’s term in office – that the President signed the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, an agreement that binds the US to the following terms:
“The United States Forces shall act in full and effective coordination with the Government of Iraq to turn over custody of such wanted detainees to Iraqi authorities pursuant to a valid Iraqi arrest warrant and shall release all the remaining detainees in a safe and orderly manner, unless otherwise requested by the Government of Iraq.”
– Not only was al-Baghdadi released in 2004, but had he been released in 2009 – as suggested by the right winged media – his release would have been due to a framework signed by President Bush in 2008.
The entire story was false and ridiculously manipulative. It relies solely on an army Colonel remembering a face from five years ago, that looked “very familiar”. There was no fact checking from Fox, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, or The Daily Beast. There was no mention of the US-Iraq agreement. This is how little it takes for Fox to turn a non-story into a familiar national anti-Obama scandal that bears little – if any – resemblance to reality.