The calendar has officially set to 9/11/11, making it 10 years since … well September 11th. Amidst the endless coverage these last few weeks of “A Changed World” over the last decade, there are some changes which have not been recognized. Changes that continue to damage the civil liberties of people around the world, the victims of retributive violence and the voiceless entrapped in ongoing forms of discrimination post-September 11th.
On this anniversary, take a minute to recognize the “other” side of the post-9/11 decade. There are some notable news media that have taken a minute to do just that. This is Worldtown editor Sana Malik was involved in the editing of a recent book of narratives from men and women needlessly swept into the War on Terror through policies implemented after 9/11. The following are extracts from the book, Patriot Acts: Narratives of post-9/11 Injustice, published by Voice of Witness and edited by Alia Malek.
On August 17, 2007, my dad and mom were going to court on the last day of the trial. That was the day the verdict was to be delivered. “High School Musical” was playing on the Disney Channel, and my sisters and I had never seen it before, so we were super-excited to watch it. We made popcorn and got situated around the TV. As my father and mother were getting ready to leave, my dad told us to come hug him before he left. He was holding his brown leather briefcase. He has had it as long as I can remember. He took it with him every day of the trial.
So I walked up and gave him a hug really fast and pulled away. I wanted to hurry back to the TV because “High School Musical” was starting in a couple of minutes! I didn’t know that was the last hug I was going to give him for a very long time.
My parents told us they would both be back in three hours. They had that much hope that my dad would be found innocent.
Four hours passed with me and my sisters watching “High School Musical,” playing on the computer and messing around. Then we all started to get worried, and we didn’t want to be alone. So we called my mom’s friend, and she picked us up and took us to her house, where we swam in her pool. We just left a message on my mom’s cell phone telling her where we were going. We swam for two hours with my mom’s friend’s kids.
I was carefree and super-happy; it would be the last time I felt that way.
Suddenly, my mother appeared on the patio outside, next to the pool. Her face was red and puffy. I was freaking out because my dad wasn’t beside her, and she was holding his briefcase in her hands.
She sat us all down when we got out of the pool. She said our dad had been found guilty.
I burst out crying. She said he wasn’t going to come back. And I knew, from her holding his briefcase, that he really wasn’t coming back.
Before she told us all this, it had felt so hot. But then suddenly I got cold. I was shivering, a lot. I was in my wet bathing suit; it felt like snow.
Then I felt this pumping in my head. Everything was weird, it was all going wrong. I felt like my family had been put on pause, like everything else was moving, except us. I’d never felt that kind of pain in my life before.
I remember going back in the pool because I didn’t want anyone to see me crying. I remember my big sister came after me, hugging me. I cried a lot that day, more than I have ever done.
When we got home, my dad’s clothes were still were where he had left them in his room. That made it even harder for me.
That night, I remember me and my little sister piled in with my mom, and we slept next to her. I’ve never seen my mom so sad before.
We still have my dad’s briefcase. It has his smell in it. A cologne that smells really sweet and manly at the same time.
Handprints on the glass
Sara’s father was sentenced to 12 years and eight months. He began serving his sentence in Florida. On June 18, 2008, he was transferred to the CMU in Terre Haute, Ind., and was then moved to the CMU in Marion, Ill.
After he was put in the CMU in Terre Haute, telephone calls were every Wednesday and Sunday for 15 minutes. The thing about telephone calls is that we share them with my grandparents, so we get every other Wednesday but every Sunday. When he was in Terre Haute, we would visit him whenever we had a break at school, so every few months, but we’ve only been to Marion once because it’s a lot farther to get to. We always have non-contact visits, with a heavy glass in between us.
I have not touched my father since December 2007. If I had known, I could have made that hug longer.
Now, when we travel to Terre Haute, I stay in the car most of the time because my mom and I get stared at a lot for wearing hijabs. Like when we enter Olive Garden, everyone turns around. I can just hear them talking and whispering. I imagine them saying, “Isn’t that a terrorist?” or “Oooo, look, it’s an Arab.”
I don’t know what they say exactly. I’m glad I don’t.
I just don’t feel safe. I hate stares. I hate angry people.
* * *
The CMU visits are horrible. The visitation room there is so, so small, and it’s hot and uncomfortable. It’s surrounded by Plexiglas, and we’re separated from my father by a Plexiglas wall in the middle of the room. We are all locked in. I wanna break that Plexiglas wall.
We have to use a black telephone to talk to my father through the glass. Running through the glass are all these wires. The wires reflect on the glass, so it’s checkered and I don’t get a clear view. I can’t even see my father’s full face.
I want to see his face clearly. I want to notice the littlest things, down to every little dimple or freckle, so I can keep it in my head and remember them until the next visit. In Florida, I got to hug and kiss my dad. I got to smell him and see him as he is, without a checkered pattern from a glass on his skin.
One time we asked if we could hug him on a holiday, and the guards said no, because they didn’t have enough security. It’s not like he’s gonna kill us or hurt us. I mean, we are his daughters. It hurts so much knowing that he’s right there but you can’t touch him at all, like he’s an animal, like he’s gonna hurt you.
When it’s over, you hear the guard’s keys rattling on the door. That sound hurts so bad. All you see at the end of our visits are the handprints on the glass.
My mother came to the United States with me in 1990, the year I turned two. We originally came from Koubia in Guinea, west Africa. My dad was here already, living in Brooklyn. Then came my brother, who is now 19, my sister, who is 17, and two more brothers who are 13 and five. I’m 23. We lived in an apartment in Manhattan.
I went to public school until seventh grade. Then my dad wanted me to learn about my religion, so he sent me to an Islamic boarding school in Buffalo, New York. What’s weird now that I look back is that my parents aren’t really religious, we didn’t really go to mosque. But my dad heard about the school from somebody who recommended it.
I was 13 when 9/11 happened. My teacher announced that a Muslim might have done it, and that there might be hatred against Muslims. I felt 9/11 when I came back to New York for Ramadan break. Altogether, there were six classmates who had to get on a plane to come back. At that time, we covered our faces. I couldn’t believe the looks. Everybody was scared, pointing. We got extra screenings, our bags were checked, we got pulled to the side. I’ve never had racism directed toward me before.
My parents didn’t know I wore the niqab until I came home. My mom opened the door, saw me, and told my father, “You have to tell her to take this off.”
I came back to New York public school for ninth grade. I left the Islamic school because I didn’t like it. I remember telling my dad, “I’m too controlled there.” I wore my niqab for a few months. I didn’t have any problems in high school, but after a while, I thought, “This is not a mosque.” So in the middle of ninth grade, I took it off.
The morning of 24 March, 2005, my family and I were in the house sleeping. Someone knocked on the door, and these men barged in. Some had FBI jackets, and others were from the police department and the DHS [Department of Homeland Security]. My mom can’t speak much English, and they were yelling at her, “We’re going to deport you and your whole family!” I was thinking, “What are they talking about?” I knew my dad had an issue with his papers, but I didn’t think that my mom did.
Then I saw my dad in handcuffs. It was the scariest thing you could ever see; I had never seen my father so powerless.
One of the women put me in handcuffs. I panicked so badly, I was stuttering, “What did I do? Where are we going?” I’m 16 years old, in handcuffs.
They took me and my dad and put us in an [Cadillac] Escalade. I didn’t recognise the building where we were taken. They put me in my own cell. I was nervous, panicking, crying. I was trying to figure out what was going on.
I was taken out of my cell to be interrogated. Nobody told me who they were. It was just me and a man. He asked me all these questions about my citizenship status. Then after a while, he said, “You know you’re not here legally, right?”
It was as if one of the biggest secrets in the world had just been revealed to me. The guy’s attitude didn’t change when he realised I didn’t know what was going on. He was nasty.
Finally, they called my dad. They gave us a document about how we could see a consular officer. My dad knows how to read English, but he said to me in Pular, “Pretend you’re translating to me in my language.”
Then he said, “Whatever you do, do not say you can go back to your country. They will circumcise you there.” In order to get married in Guinea, a female would have to be circumcised. My dad’s brothers would make sure I got circumcised.
Then the guy told my dad, “You’ve got to leave.” To me they said, “We have to fingerprint you.” When we were done with the fingerprints, they took a picture of me. I was then sitting on a bench in the main entrance when this young lady walked in. Her name was Tashnuba. I had seen her at the mosque before, but I didn’t know her. I started panicking, thinking, “What the hell is she doing here?”
Finally I was brought to another room. The questions these federal agents asked me were terrorism questions. My dad had signed papers consenting to let them talk to me because I was underage. We didn’t know that we were supposed to have lawyers. The FBI never told us.
The male interrogator told me that the religious study group Tashnuba was part of had been started by a guy who was wanted by the FBI. I had no idea if that was true or not. I wasn’t part of the group, but I knew it was for women learning about religion. There was nothing about jihad or anything like that. They told me they’d taken my computer and my diary. But there’s nothing in there that’s suspicious so I wasn’t worried.
Then they asked me about Tashnuba. I told them, “I don’t know her.”
They said, “Tashnuba wrote you on this list. She signed you up to be a suicide bomber.”
I said, “Why would she do that?”
Then they told me Tashnuba and I were going to leave. They handcuffed us both. The cuffs left marks. We got back in the Escalade. I’m very traumatised when I see Escalades now. When we arrived at our destination, they put us into our own cell. Tashnuba and I looked at each other. She said to me, “You put me on a list?” I said, “No! They said you put me on a list.” We both realised they had been trying to set us up.
They didn’t detain her parents, they just detained her. Later I found out why they’d taken my dad. After I’d been reported as a suicide bomber, the FBI started investigating my whole family. That’s how they found out about my dad being here without papers.
The FBI drove us to Pennsylvania, across state lines, without my parents’ permission. We got to the juvenile detention centre late at night. The female guard told me and Tashnuba we had to get strip-searched.
I was in tears. My own mother doesn’t look at me naked. I said, “It must be against some law for you to do this to me.”
The female guard said, “It’s not. You no longer have rights.”
She said, “Lift your breasts.”
I lifted my breasts.
She said, “Open your legs.”
I opened my legs.
She said, “Put your hands in there, to see there’s nothing.”
I said, “There’s nothing there!”
She said, “Just do it.”
I did it.
She gave me a blue uniform and told me to take a shower in five minutes, and then she left. I sat at the corner of the shower and held myself and cried. I was thinking, I cannot believe what I just went through. When I got to the cell, I could see Tashnuba in the corner, praying. There was one blanket, and it was freezing cold. We stayed up the whole night talking about everything. I don’t know how we fell asleep, but I remember at one point we were both crying.
Nobody told me what was going on. I wasn’t brought before a judge until probably my fourth week there, and it was via video conference. An article came out in the New York Times about why Tashnuba and I were there, that we were suspected of being suicide bombers. I never saw the article while in prison. After that came out we got extra strip-searches, about three times a day, and the searches got stricter. They would tell us to spread our butt cheeks, and they made racist comments. If I talked back, I would be put into solitary confinement.
Those first three weeks, my family didn’t have any idea where I was. They had to do research to find out, and hire a lawyer. The lawyer, Natasha, came to see me. She said, “There’s a rumour about you being a suicide bomber.” I said, ”Are you serious? If you knew me, you would laugh and say, ‘Hell, no.’” She said, “They’re not charging you with anything except overstaying your visa.”
My mom came to visit me. It was the worst visit ever because she didn’t want to say anything. When I asked about my dad, she just said, “He’s fine.” She knew he was being held in New Jersey.
After a while, my lawyer called. She said she had good news. “I have a way to get you out of jail. You’re going to have to wear an ankle bracelet.”
I said, “I’ll wear anything.”
The day that I was supposed to be released from the detention centre, I said goodbye to Tashnuba. I wanted to let her know it was going to be OK, but I couldn’t hug her or it would’ve been solitary confinement for her. So I said, “May Allah be with you, and be patient.” I haven’t spoken to her since then. As soon as she was released, it was back to Bangladesh.
I stayed there six and a half weeks. By the time I came out, I was 17. I thought everything was going to go back to normal, but I knew deep down things would never be normal again.
I wore the ankle bracket for three years. You can still see my bruises from it. My heel always hurts. I also had to be under curfew, which was 10pm and then 11pm. I was only ever charged with overstaying my visa. I was never charged with anything related to terrorism.
My dad got deported around 2006. I didn’t see him for a long time after I got released from juvie. He was in New Jersey. I wasn’t allowed to go, because it was outside the distance I could travel with my ankle bracelet. They made an exception to let me travel to New Jersey just before he was deported. I was crying the whole time.
I had to drop school to work to support my family. I would work three or four jobs, whatever I could find. For days there would be no food in the house. Finally we met a social worker who told us we could get public assistance. Nobody tells you about this stuff. I didn’t want my brother and my sister to work at all. I didn’t want them to miss out on what I missed out on. I feel like it’s too late for me now.
PATRIOT ACTS: NARRATIVES OF POST-9/11 INJUSTICES is a groundbreaking collection of oral histories, Patriot Acts tells the stories of men and women who have been needlessly swept up in the War on Terror. In their own words, narrators recount personal experiences of the post-9/11 backlash that have deeply altered their lives and communities. The eighth book in the Voice of Witness series, Patriot Actsilluminates these experiences in a compelling collection of eighteen oral histories from men and women who have found themselves subject to a wide range of human and civil rights abuses—from rendition and torture, to workplace discrimination, bullying, FBI surveillance and harassment.