I was 8 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. I sat in the third grade math classroom of my New York City public elementary school when the news broke. Phones began to ring. One by one, students left. Then the smell of the smoke reached us in Queens. My life changed forever. I was a new immigrant to the United States. I was Muslim-American before that day, but since that day, it has been an identity I seek to conceal.
Whether you are American or non-American, Muslim or non-Muslim, all our lives changed in some way after the attack that sunny Tuesday morning. It awoke our inner monsters; we were angry. We wanted justice, whatever that meant and however we could get it. And most tragically, we were willing to turn the other shoulder as our government overstepped the authority we vest in it.
I’m 20 years old today. I’ve left New York City and now live and attend college in Maine. I’ve realized that the justice my government sought was not in fact, just. Through our tacit acceptance of our government’s post-9/11 counterterrorism policies, we have done our country a grave injustice, the consequences of which we are just beginning to realize.
Through our silence, our government tortured. Our silent authorization has led to pervasive human rights abuses that we continue to pay the price for today. As we emerge from a more than decade-long period of our government neglecting human rights, we have a chance to reconcile these actions that were made in our names and attempt to prevent future wrongdoing.
As a youth leader with Amnesty International USA, I’ve seen firsthand the power we as individuals hold. Through my experiences, I have learned that our individual voice can shake the world.
As a third-grader, I should not have had to conceal who I was out of fear of how I would be seen or treated. No person should have that dignity stolen. My new home, my new country’s government, after that day entered a national wave of xenophobia — which has not ended. It allowed all of us, myself included, in the name of justice, to torture and abuse others because they were different.
This isn’t right. This is not my America. Together we can change this. The time is now.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, on which both Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King sit, has put together a report on CIA torture practices since Sept. 11, 2001. The agency is reportedly trying to keep the report secret from the American people — from us. It’s succeeded thus far. That report was adopted by the committee back in December of last year and has yet to be released to the public. But we have a right to know the truth.
No longer can we turn the other shoulder. Torture is immoral and illegal. As Americans and as human beings, we have an obligation to ensure that our government never again uses torture. Collins and King can help.
Collins and King should vote in favor of releasing the torture report so we can truly begin an era of respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Aquib Yacoob is a student of International Public Health at Colby College in Waterville and is Amnesty International’s student activist coordinator for Maine.