In the aftermath of the Iraq War, the US military imprisoned Islamic extremists side by side with Baathists and former Iraqi military personnel. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, was one of those extremists, apparently. Much of the US government’s bungling in Iraq led directly to the creation of ISIS. Since then, ISIS has become a convenient scape goat for expansions of domestic surveillance, expansion of US imperialism and further militarization of the domestic police state. The US may not have deliberately set out to create a world wide terrorist network, but it certainly had a hand in it’s creation.
IN FEBRUARY 2004, U.S. troops brought a man named Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and assigned him serial number US9IZ-157911CI. The prison was about to become international news, but the prisoner would remain largely unknown for the next decade.
At the time the man was brought in, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba was finalizing his report on allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib’s Hard Site — a prison building used to house detainees singled out for their alleged violence or their perceived intelligence value. Just weeks later, the first pictures of detainee abuse were published on CBS News and in the New Yorker.
Today, detainee US9IZ-157911CI is better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. His presence at Abu Ghraib, a fact not previously made public, provides yet another possible key to the enigmatic leader’s biography and may shed new light on the role U.S. detention facilities played in the rise of the Islamic State.
Experts have long known that Baghdadi spent time in U.S. custody during the occupation of Iraq. Previous reports suggested he was at Camp Bucca, a sprawling detention facility in southern Iraq. But the U.S. Army confirmed to The Intercept that Baghdadi spent most of his time in U.S. custody at the notorious Abu Ghraib.
Baghdadi’s detainee records don’t mention Abu Ghraib by name. But the internment serial number that U.S. forces issued when they processed him came from the infamous prison, according to Army spokesperson Troy A. Rolan Sr.
“Former detainee al-Baghdadi’s internment serial number sequence number begins with ‘157,’” Rolan said, describing the first three digits of the second half of Baghdadi’s serial number. “This number range was assigned at the Abu Ghraib theater internment facility.”
al-Baghdadi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at the Grand Mosque in Mosul, July 4, 2014. Source: YouTubeThe details of Baghdadi’s biography have always been murky, and his time in U.S. custody is no exception. In June 2014, the Daily Beast reported that the United States held Baghdadi at Camp Bucca from 2005 to 2009, citing Army Col. Kenneth King, the camp’s former commanding officer. However, King backtracked after U.S. officials told ABC News that Baghdadi was out of U.S. custody by 2006.
Days later, the Pentagon confirmed that Baghdadi was only in U.S. custody for 10 months, from February to December 2004. The Department of Defense told the fact-checking website PunditFact in a statement that Baghdadi 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.”
In February 2015, the Army released Baghdadi’s detainee records to Business Insider, in response to a records request. They showed that coalition forces first captured Baghdadi on February 4, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq, and held him at Camp Bucca. But a line on one of the documents also suggested that Baghdadi had been transferred to Bucca after being held elsewhere — a detail that was not widely reported.
It turns out that Baghdadi was held at Abu Ghraib, just a stone’s throw from where he was captured in Fallujah, for eight of the 10 months that he was in detention. He was only transferred to Camp Bucca, some 400 miles south of Baghdad, on October 13 — less than two months before his release on December 9.
In the occupation’s first few years, U.S. facilities like Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca developed a reputation as “jihadi universities” where hard-line extremists indoctrinated and recruited less radical inmates. Analysts have long suspected that Baghdadi took full advantage of his time at Bucca to link up with the jihadis and former Iraqi military officials who would later fill out the Islamic State’s leadership.