Olbermann Suggests Gitmo Inspired Innocent Ex-Detainee to Become Al-Qaeda Leader

If we are to believe Keith Olbermann’s latest wild theory, an innocent, mild mannered furniture salesman and humanitarian from Riyadh may have been inspired to become an al-Qaeda leader because he was falsely imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, courtesy of Olbermann’s favorite target, the Bush administration, who "created [his] reason for hating us."

Even for Keith Olbermann, this takes the cake, and makes you wonder if the rumors are true that the MSNBC host doesn’t really believe half of what he says, but only recites his rants and conspiracy theories for ratings. In light of reports that a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Said Ali al-Shihri, who was released in 2007 and has now become an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen believed responsible for a September embassy bombing, Olbermann seemed to seriously suggest that al-Shihri may have been an innocent man when he was first jailed at Gitmo, and then became a terrorist leader as a result of his imprisonment. The Countdown host plugged the story before a commercial break: "But perhaps the real question is: Since we never tried him, never found him guilty, and the Bush administration set him free, what if he wasn’t a terrorist in the first place but we turned him into one by sending him to Gitmo?"

During the show’s regular "Still Bushed" segment that derides George W. Bush, renamed from "Bushed" since President Bush left office, Olbermann contended that the conservative "knee-jerk" reaction was to argue that Shihri’s terrorist activity after release from Guantanamo was evidence that Gitmo should not be closed as President Obama plans. The Countdown host then pushed a counterintuitive theory to explain the connection between being a prisoner at Gitmo and engaging in terrorist acts. Olbermann began: "It would seem the commentary on this is bass ackwards." After listing the original charges against Shihri, the MSNBC host continued:

Shihri said he had gone to Afghanistan to do relief work, and his trip to Iran, that was to buy carpets for his family’s furniture store in Riyad. So the ultimate question here is not: Doesn’t this prove we can never ever ever never close Gitmo? But rather, if he really was traveling tourists of terrorism and not a guy buying rugs, why did the Bush people let him go? Or, why was he never put on trial? Or, why did the permanent solution to terrorism the Bushies claim Gitmo was fail so utterly here? And, perhaps worst of all, if Shihri was once just a guy trying to get a deal on some carpets, which is suggested by the fact that Bush’s people let him go, did his detention at Gitmo in fact turn him into a terrorist? Did we perhaps create in Said al-Shihri his reason for hating us?

But Olbermann was disputing a take on Shihri’s terrorist activities that is at odds with his own network’s reporting on the story from the same day’s NBC Nightly News, in a report filed by Jim Miklaszewski, who treated concerns about closing Gitmo with credibility. The NBC correspondent began his report: "You know, today we got a grim reminder of one of the real dangers in closing the Guantanamo prison, that once detainees are released, there's a good chance the U.S. will have to fight them all over again. ... Said al-Shihri is not just any terrorist. He's al-Qaeda's deputy commander in Yemen. But perhaps more troubling, he's a former prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. After three years in custody, al-Shihri was considered to no longer be a threat, and in 2007 was released to Saudi Arabia."

After recounting that Shihri is believed to be responsible for the September embassy bombing, Miklaszewki brought up other cases of former Gitmo detainees taking part in terrorist activities after their release: "Salim al-Ajmi was also released from Guantanamo, but last March in this al-Qaeda video carried out a suicide bombing against Iraqi police in Mosul. ... Of the 525 detainees released from Guantanamo, the Pentagon claims 61 of those, nearly 12 percent, are believed to have rejoined al-Qaeda in the fight against the U.S. Some in Congress fear that President Obama 's order to close Guantanamo in a year will only provide al-Qaeda with more reinforcements."

Notably, just the night before, also during the "Still Bushed" segment, Olbermann had theorized that the Bush administration had routinely lied about the number of former Gitmo detainees who returned to terrorism because the Pentagon had allegedly cited conflicting numbers, and suggested that one former detainee sue President Bush personally for a very high number of dollars. After relaying the story of former Gitmo detainee Sayad Iqbal, who is trying to sue the U.S. government, Olbermann recounted the story of Seton Hall Professor Mark Denbeaux, who appeared on the January 16 Rachel Maddow Show and contended that there were inconsistencies in the numbers cited by the Pentagon. Olbermann suggested: "So here’s a wild guess: the administration just made the numbers up, like Joe McCarthy used to. Which is what Mr. Iqbal should do. Make up a really high number and sue us for that. And then make up a higher number and sue George Bush personally for that."

Also of note, on the Thursday, August 7, Countdown, one night after accusing President Bush of not doing enough to protect America from Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization before the September 11th attacks, Olbermann seemed sympathetic to the plight of bin Laden’s former driver, Salim Hamdan, and expressed outrage that the Pentagon might keep him imprisoned beyond the time of his sentence. Olbermann: "So, besides urinating on the Constitution and the rights and freedoms every American soldier has ever fought to win and protect, the Bush administration has now decided that when its victims have actually served their sentences, doled out under its own medieval, quote, ‘justice,’ unquote, system, it still might not choose to set them free, thereby giving that Constitution and our country a second pass on the way out."

The August 8, 2008, CyberAlert, recounting Olbermann's defense of bin Laden's driver, can be found here.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portions of the Thursday, January 22, Countdown show on MSNBC; and the Friday, January 23, Countdown; followed by a complete transcript of Miklaszewski’s story from the Friday, January 23, NBC Nightly News:

#From the Thursday, January 22, Countdown show on MSNBC:

KEITH OLBERMANN, DURING THE SHOW’S "STILL BUSHED" SEGMENT: Number one, the other aspect of torture-gate. This has probably been in the back of your head all this time that we were detaining foreign nationals at Gitmo and in Gulags in Eastern Europe, never charging them, denying them counsel or appeal or habeas corpus. After they were finally liberated, wouldn’t at least one of them sue us? Mohammad Sayad Iqbal of Pakistan was seized nearly seven years ago. Our people claimed he had talked about building a shoe bomb and had gone to Afghanistan. We stuck him in Gitmo. We left him there. No charges. We just sent him home. His attorney here is now suing the U.S. government. No figures yet mentioned. No, the only figures are the kinds of figures you`ll hear are the propaganda numbers still being broadcast on places like CNN, that 61 released detainees have now been linked to some kind of terror activity.

Professor Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall told Rachel last week that he’s been studying these released Gitmo statistics for a while. The Bush administration, he says, made at least 43 attempts to quantify the number of recidivist ex-detainees. And the professor said, quote, their numbers have changed from 20 to 12, to seven, to more than five, to two, to a couple, to a few, 25, 29, 12, and then 24. Every time the number has been different. In fact, every time they give a number, they don’t identify a date, a place, a time, a name or an incident to support their claim.

So here’s a wild guess: the administration just made the numbers up, like Joe McCarthy used to. Which is what Mr. Iqbal should do. Make up a really high number and sue us for that. And then make up a higher number and sue George Bush personally for that.

#From the Friday, January 23, Countdown show on MSNBC:

KEITH OLBERMANN, BEFORE COMMERCIAL BREAK AT 8:14 P.M.: There is another riddle inside a second enigma tonight. A detainee released from Guantanamo Bay is now found to be leading al-Qaeda operations in Yemen. The knee-jerk questions: Since the guy went back to his terrorist ways, does that not mean we can never close Gitmo? But perhaps the real question is: Since we never tried him, never found him guilty, and the Bush administration set him free, what if he wasn’t a terrorist in the first place but we turned him into one by sending him to Gitmo?

...

OLBERMANN, BEFORE INTRODUCING THE SHOW’S ODDBALL SEGMENT AT 8:28 P.M.: "Still Bushed" in a moment, and what if the head of al-Qaeda in Yemen was not a terrorist before we sent him to Gitmo?

...

OLBERMANN: But first, because they may be gone, but their deeds outlive them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration’s 50 running scandals, "Still Bushed." Number three, "Wicked Witch of the West-Gate": We’re beginning to understand the context of the uproarious welcome at State yesterday for new Secretary Clinton. The careerists over there really didn’t like the old Secretary. Harper’s reported that one of them had said she was looking forward to the "Glenda party." That was yesterday’s arrival of Secretary Clinton. Scott Horton writes that he asked the employee if Hillary is Glenda, the Good Witch of the South from the Wizard of Oz, did that make Condoleezza Rice the Wicked Witch of the West? The answer he got was, "You’re on to it." Another 20-year vet at State said that upon Rice’s confirmation as Secretary, the tone of internal department publications had changed. They began to praise and glorify Rice. No prior Secretary did anything like this."

...

And number one, terrorist-gate, the New York Times, of all outfits, reporting that a guy we released from Guantanamo Bay a year ago, is now the deputy leader of al-Qaeda’s group in the nation of Yemen. Said Ali al-Shihri was sent home to Saudi Arabia in 2007, went through this Saudi rehab program, supposedly went to work in the family business, but he is now a suspect in the bombing of our embassy in Yemen last September. The Times wrote that this, quote, "has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center" – that would be Gitmo – "be shut down within a year." Conservative politicians have gone nuts, saying this shows you can’t close Gitmo ever, and you certainly can’t release anybody from Gitmo and they were right and they told you so. Bill O’Reilly tonight led his newscast with this as a warning to President Obama.

All this is based on one really big assumption. In fact, it would seem the commentary on this is bass ackwards. The Bush administration detained this man and claimed he’d gone to an urban warfare tactics training camp in Kabul, had been injured in an air raid just after we went into Afghanistan in 2001, had met with extremists in Iran and smuggled some of them into Afghanistan, and had tried to carry out a fatwah on a writer. But before he was freed from Gitmo – and please remember, he was not freed as part of the panicky flushing of the innocent of the last months of the administration. The Bushies let him go in 2007. Shihri said he had gone to Afghanistan to do relief work, and his trip to Iran, that was to buy carpets for his family’s furniture store in Riyad. So the ultimate question here is not: Doesn’t this prove we can never ever ever never close Gitmo? But rather, if he really was traveling tourists of terrorism and not a guy buying rugs, why did the Bush people let him go? Or, why was he never put on trial? Or, why did the permanent solution to terrorism the Bushies claim Gitmo was fail so utterly here? And, perhaps worst of all, if Shihri was once just a guy trying to get a deal on some carpets, which is suggested by the fact that Bush’s people let him go, did his detention at Gitmo in fact turn him into a terrorist? Did we perhaps create in Said al-Shihri his reason for hating us?

#From the Friday, January 23, NBC Nightly News:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: On the other major front the President is dealing with, how we deal with our enemies. That, as of today, includes the closing of Guantanamo Bay, Gitmo, in Cuba, and the first military strike of the Obama presidency just today. More on both of those fronts from our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski. Jim, good evening.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Good evening, Brian. You know, today we got a grim reminder of one of the real dangers in closing the Guantanamo prison, that once detainees are released, there's a good chance the U.S. will have to fight them all over again. Seen here in this recent al-Qaeda video, Said al-Shihri is not just any terrorist. He's al-Qaeda's deputy commander in Yemen. But perhaps more troubling, he's a former prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. After three years in custody, al-Shihrih was considered to no longer be a threat, and in 2007 was released to Saudi Arabia. NBC News visited the same program where the Saudis tried to break al-Shihrih of his terrorist connections, but last year rejoined al-Qaeda in Yemen, where he's believed responsible for last September's bombing of the U.S. Embassy. Salim al-Ajmi was also released from Guantanamo, but last March in this al-Qaeda video carried out a suicide bombing against Iraqi police in Mosul. The time that these two spent at Guantanamo elevates them to hero status with al-Qaeda.

EVAN KOHLMANN, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: These people are perceived as really having sacrificed and really have gone through the fire on behalf of al-Qaeda for their commitment to al-Qaeda. It's a badge of honor.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Of the 525 detainees released from Guantanamo, the Pentagon claims 61 of those, nearly 12 percent, are believed to have rejoined al-Qaeda in the fight against the U.S. Some in Congress fear that President Obama 's order to close Guantanamo in a year will only provide al-Qaeda with more reinforcements.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think we, the first thing we have to remember is we're talking about terrorists here, and do we release them to get back and rejoin this fight?

MIKLASZEWSKI: And the fight against al-Qaeda heated up today in Pakistan. CIA Predator drones attacked two separate targets in western Pakistan, reportedly killing 14 people, including five al-Qaeda militants, the first U.S. attack on al-Qaeda on President Obama's watch. And NBC News has learned that today's missile strikes were carried out under authorities already in place. And while it wasn't necessary for President Obama to personally give the order, he was thoroughly briefed on the mission.

Brad Wilmouth
Brad Wilmouth is a contributing blogger to NewsBusters