The false claim was made in a meme that began circulating on social media soon after Al-Baghdadi was killed in a U.S. raid in Syria on October 26, 2019, including a post (archived here) published on October 28, 2019. It featured a photo of former President Obama in a thoughtful pose with these words:
I TRIED... I DID EVERYTHING I COULD TO SAVE ABU BAKR AL BAGHDADI... I FREED HIM FROM GITMO. I RETURNED HIM TO THE MIDDLE EAST. I ALLOWED HIM BACK IN SYRIA. ...BUT TRUMP KILLED HIM ANYWAY.
This is what social media users saw:
The meme's claim that President Obama freed Al-Baghdadi from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo, Cuba, is false. The future ISIS leader was arrested and imprisoned by American forces in Iraq in 2004, but released after several months when a military review board determined he was not a security risk. This was more than four years before Obama took office. An August 2016 Intercept story titled "U.S. MILITARY NOW SAYS ISIS LEADER WAS HELD IN NOTORIOUS ABU GHRAIB PRISON" gives the history:
IN FEBRUARY 2004, U.S. troops brought a man named Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and assigned him serial nhhumber 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.
The Intercept sets the record straight about how long Al-Baghdadi was imprisoned. Earlier stories put his release date at 2009, but the source of that information retracted it:
The 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."
Contrary to trying to protect Al-Baghdadi, Obama announced on September 10, 2014 a "systematic", "comprehensive and sustained" campaign to "degrade and ultimately destroy" destroy ISIS, which held a large area of territory in Iraq and Syria at the time, according to a Guardian article titled "Obama announces expanded air strikes against Isis in Iraq and Syria":
Watch the announcement: