One day after the October 26 2019 death of Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurayshi, Facebook user Linda Jo Law shared a claim (archived here) that the former Islamic State leader had been held at an American prison camp until he was released by United States President Barack Obama in 2009:
In a text-based meme-style status update, white text (and emojis) against a purple background read:
🙀Did you know ISIS Terror Leader Baghdadi Was Held at US Prison Camp in 2009 Until Obama Agreed to Let Him Go⁉️ 👇
Like most viral text-based Facebook posts on a colorful background, the post contained no corroborating information nor any news links supporting the claim. On October 30 2019, Associated Press reported:
According to the Pentagon, al-Baghdadi was detained by U.S forces in 2004 and sent to Camp Bucca prison in Iraq for anti-U.S. militant activities. He was released after 10 months and then joined the al-Qaida branch in Iraq. Following the deaths of senior leaders in the group, he rose to lead IS in Iraq.
Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson confirmed to The Associated Press that Al-Baghdadi was released from Camp Bucca after being held for ten months. He said there is no information indicating he was imprisoned again and released in 2009.
Al-Baghdadi was detained under his birth name, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badry, at Camp Bucca prison in Iraq in 2004. An October 28 2019 timeline published by the Wilson Center after al-Baghdadi’s death provided a comprehensive accounting of his activities and major life events:
2003 – Al Badri joined a local resistance movement after U.S. and coalition forces invaded Iraq. He started going by the nom de guerre, Abu Dua.
January 2004 – U.S. forces swept up Abu Dua in a raid near Falluja that targeted his brother-in-law. He was processed and detained at Camp Bucca. At the camp, he befriended members of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
December 8, 2004 – Abu Dua was released from Camp Bucca and connected to AQI through a family relative. He traveled to Damascus and worked on aligning the group’s online propaganda with Salafi-Jihadist ultraorthodoxy.
May 16, 2010 – ISI’s Shura Council elected Abu Dua as its emir in a nine-to-two vote. He adopted a new nom de guerre, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
Although Camp Bucca closed in 2009 and there was no indication in that detailed account that al-Baghdadi was ever imprisoned by American forces again, he was not released upon the detention site’s closure. It was possible memes stating otherwise resulted from social media users conflating the year of Camp Bucca’s closure (2009) with the year of al-Baghdadi’s capture and release (2004.)
The records come from time Baghdadi spent in US Army custody in Iraq. They were released through a Freedom of Information Act request. In these files, Baghdadi was identified by his birth name, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badry.
There have been conflicting reports about the time Baghdadi spent as a US detainee. These files identify his “capture date” as Feb. 4, 2004 and the date of his “release in place” as Dec. 8, 2004. According to the records, Baghdadi was captured in Fallujah and held at multiple prison facilities including Camp Bucca and Camp Adder.
As such, the claim is false. It is true that al-Baghdadi was detained in Iraq by American forces. He was captured in February 2004, and released in December 2004 — during the presidency of George W. Bush, not Barack Obama. Camp Bucca was closed in 2009, but that took place nearly five years after his release. Therefore, we rate this claim Not True.