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Mariam Abu-Ali Headshot

Another White House Iftar, Another Ramadan Without My Brother

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As many Muslims sit down tonight to break their Ramadan fast at the annual White House iftar, a tradition started by President Bill Clinton, I am thinking about my brother Ahmed spending his 11th Ramadan away from my family.

President Obama, just as he has done every year since coming to office, will probably include in his remarks stories of successful Muslims making significant contributions to American society, attempting to show how interwoven Muslims are in the fabric of this country. What he won't mention, and what most in the room would rather not think about, is the growing number of Muslims who are victims of the U.S government's ruthless persecution of Muslims that includes spying, torture, and unfair trials.

I believe that my brother is one such victim. In June 2003 Ahmed Abu-Ali, a U.S citizen, was detained by intelligence officers in Saudi Arabia while studying at the University of Madinah. He was only 22. The Saudi government, apparently at the behest of the U.S government, detained him without charges for nearly two years. Ahmed was then brought home and charged with conspiracy to assassinate then-President George W. Bush. The only evidence admitted in court was a videotape of a confession obtained in a Saudi Arabian prison -- a confession that my brother maintained was coerced through torture. He was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to 30 years (and later life) in prison. My brother will serve life in perpetual solitary confinement for an alleged crime that the judge himself stated "did not result in a single actual victim."

Ahmed said in his second sentencing hearing in July 2009:

This case was manufactured by the Saudi torture machine, the Mubahith, and exported to the United States. There is no doubt that I was tortured. This case was prosecuted by a rogue Department of Justice, headed by the same people who crafted laws [allowing torture]. Had this case been a drug case or a murder case, it would have been forgotten. But if you introduce the word "terrorism" in it, America has a second standard.

The "War on Terror" may have started during the Bush administration, but it has continued to expand under the Obama administration. Many more families are like mine, suffering without their fathers, brothers, and sons. American Muslims are being spied on, systemically targeted, and imprisoned. Muslims in Guantanamo and other black sites have suffered torture. Muslims and American Muslims are being targeted and killed by drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

The White House iftar is a slap in the face to those in the Muslim community who have been victims of U.S. civil-rights and human-rights abuses. It is an attempt by administration after administration to whitewash the crimes of the U.S. government against Muslims by painting a less-than-accurate picture of their relationship with the American Muslim community. Year after year Muslims attend the iftar, arguing that this is a way to engage policy makers in an attempt to effectuate real change. Yet year after year more and more egregious violations of Muslims' human and civil rights are uncovered. For our American Muslim leadership to not address our government's civil-rights and human-rights abuses is a disservice not only to the community they claim to represent but to their country as well.

I believe my family is one of many victims of this injustice that pervades our current counterterrorism policy and criminal-justice system. Victims like us will never get invited to the White House to tell our story. I can only hope that there will be those invitees who refuse to exonerate the cruelty of such policies and make a statement to that effect when declining to attend. In his remarks at last year's iftar, President Obama said that Ramadan is "a time for family and friends to come together ... in a spirit of love and respect...." There are many families like mine who would have liked to be in the room just to ask, "Then why has the United States deprived us of enjoying Ramadan with our loved ones?"