On February 8, 2016, HBO produced and released a 90-minute documentary called Homegrown: The Counter Terror Dilemma. The film follows several families affected by the “war on terror” and includes interviews with CIA, FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents who question the role of the US government in the surveillance and incarceration of “potential terrorist threats.” My family is one of the stories documented.
My brother, Shifa Sadequee, a 19-year old college-bound youth and US citizen, was convicted in 2009 on four counts of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorist groups. He was kidnapped in Bangladesh 10 years ago. He went missing for four days right after his wedding in 2006. The FBI brought him to Brooklyn, New York, aboard a “secret” CIA rendition aircraft. Since his conviction, he has been segregated in a Communications Management Unit (CMU) for six years, in a facility where communications between Muslim prisoners and the outside world is restricted and religious and spiritual observations are controlled. He is currently serving a 17-year sentence after enduring three-and-a-half years of torturous solitary confinement before his trial even began.
Due to the hidden realities of many families like mine and the overwhelming media bias that accompanies cases where the word “terrorism” is used, my family decided to share the real story of the violence of counterterrorism policies in this high-profile film.
During the filming of the documentary, my family and I met with people like former CIA Deputy Director Philip Mudd to understand why my brother was targeted. Mr. Mudd apologized to us for his role and for what the US counterterrorism machine did to my brother. We learned in great detail about the methods with which the FBI targets Muslims for investigation and how they profiled my brother over time. The interviews revealed that officials were under immense pressure to find a “terrorist” to avenge the country’s worst national tragedy, September 11. The pressure to justify inordinate government spending on finding and capturing “terrorists” created a dynamic that required surveillance, targeting, trials and incarceration, though no violence or attempt at violence was committed. Based on loose and manufactured evidence, my brother was a victim of their need to find an easy target to identify as a scapegoat.
Though not shown in the film, Philip Mudd admitted to us that my brother’s sentencing was particularly harsh. He even admitted that he believes that our country needs to find a way to provide alternatives to young Muslims. There needs to be more options than preemptive prosecution and incarceration.
The last question of the film showcased the “dilemma” of political officials within this machine. Given the pressure to “prevent” a terrorist act, “What would you have done?” Mudd asks us, Shifa’s mother and two sisters. The idea that there is no other alternative to unjust and unconstitutional persecution and incarceration is very offensive. Legal justification of preemptive prosecution is directly related to today’s political climate, which allows notions of religious persecution and fear of Muslims, refugees and immigrants to dominate the national conversation.
The film ends without allowing our answers to be heard. There are many things we can do that increase safety and address the root causes of violence. The US should stop targeting Muslim lands with drones. We should free prisoners from Guantánamo Bay. We should free all political prisoners. We need to stop the surveillance, profiling and targeting of Muslims, both at home and abroad. We need to stop racial and religious profiling that targets children. We need to stop conflating Islam with violence. We need to stop using unsubstantiated radicalization theories targeting innocent Muslims for vengeance. We need to stop funding the Zionist regime of Israel and all tyrant regimes.
A more appropriate question is: Do we want the media and legal systems to shape and control our lives and experiences with erroneous hyped messages designed to create fear and terror, or do we want to control and shape our own lives? The media sensationalism and bias and the climate of fear and Islamophobia it creates all need to be challenged if we are to shape our country into a moral and ethical collective community.
We need a new vision of who we are and where we are headed that revives our core existential values as a collective human family. My family and the diverse community that supports us call for Shifa’s release. Ten years is enough. Despite the trials and torture, we still believe in humanity’s possibility for justice. It’s time for the United States to set my brother free.