I have been locked up at Guantanamo Bay for 12 years, held without charge or trial. I've done nothing wrong; in 2009, I was unanimously cleared for release by six different branches of the U.S. government, including the FBI and the CIA. Yet here I am, still detained.
I write this 106 years after the birth of Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimore-born civil rights lawyer and later a Supreme Court justice who helped end segregation in America. Marshall understood and respected the humanity and innate equality of all people. He fought tirelessly on behalf of America's weakest and most vulnerable individuals — those deemed inferior simply because of the color of their skin. For the past 12 years, I too have been deemed inferior, because I am a "detainee." The U.S. government says I do not have the right to be treated as human. It says that I have committed serious crimes that cannot be ignored. But, if that is true, all I ask for is proof. But the government cannot even offer me that. And it refuses to let me go, despite having cleared my release years ago, claiming concerns for my safety.
I have been denied my basic rights and privileges — the same rights that Thurgood Marshall fought for his whole life. I'm even prevented from exercising my right to non-violent protest. In 2007, I began a hunger strike to bring attention to the cruel and unjust conditions of my detention. Hunger strikes are universally regarded as a form of peaceful protest, but the Guantanamo authorities do not see them as such. They consider the strikes a form of disobedience and punish me for participating. I endure brutal force feeding twice a day. Often, I am violently removed from my cell and strapped to a chair, with feeding tubes shoved painfully up my nose.
Last week, attorneys for me and another detainee also on a hunger strike asked a Washington D.C. federal court to intervene after we were prevented from praying communally during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — one of a recent series of measures taken against hunger striking detainees.
The court has previously ruled that detainees do not have the right to free religious exercise because we are not "person[s]" within the scope of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Yet, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, for-profit corporations are persons under the RFRA.
Is this the America that Justice Marshall envisioned when he courageously fought for the equality of all human beings?
Marshall made history as the first African-American Supreme Court justice. I have not studied law as he did, but I understand the basics, and I don't think any law can prevent me from being called human.
Justice Marshall once said, "In recognizing the humanity of our fellow human beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute." All I am asking from the United States government is for my humanity to be recognized.
In continuing to imprison me and my fellow Guantanamo detainees without charge and to deny us basic religious freedoms, the government is ignoring the principles that are supposed to make the U.S.A. unique. It's also ignoring Marshall's legacy and the ideals to which he dedicated his whole life.
All I ask is to be given my rights — the rights that are guaranteed by constitutions in all civilized nations. All I ask is to live free.
Emad Hassan (Guantanamo Bay prisoner number ISN 680) is a Yemeni citizen who has been held at Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial since 2002. He was cleared for release by the U.S. government in 2009. He wrote a version of this letter to his lawyers after reading about Justice Thurgood Marshall who was born on July 2, 1908. His lawyers may be reached at email@example.com, (www.reprieve.org).
To respond to this commentary, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and contact information.