Injustice takes many forms. After 20 years in US custody, most of that time spent in Guantánamo, you could say I am an expert.
It may surprise you to know that I think America has a very good justice system. But it is only for Americans. In the cases of those like me, justice is not something that interests the US. I wish that people understood how Guantánamo is distinct.
In Guantánamo, the torture we are exposed to is not isolated to the interrogation rooms; it exists in our daily lives. This intentional psychological torture is what makes Guantánamo different. There is interference in every aspect of my existence – my sleep, my food, my walking.
For the first nine years at Guantánamo, I was held in solitary confinement. It was a harsher, more violent place then. The communal blocks that opened in 2010 made a difference, but the deliberate mental torture remains the same. The rules change constantly and without warning. Some guards and some administrations are more cruel than others.
Imagine you’re watching TV and someone comes up behind you and starts lightly kicking you. If it only happens for a little bit, it won’t be a problem. But say they just keep kicking you, endlessly, no matter how often you tell them to stop, and there is nothing you can do about it. Imagine what kind of torture that would be.
The only freedom I have here is to protest. On aggregate, I have been on hunger strike for seven years. Seven years, feeling that I am not dead but also not alive. I believe in facing my jailer. They control my body, but not my heart. They tried to prevent me from learning, but I have anyway.
Painting has been my relief. I am proud of my art. Perhaps you have seen the few pieces that I have been able to get out of here? When they were exhibited in New York, I thought of the paintings looking out on to the elegant streets and the big buildings, and of the people in their nice city looking in, and how they cannot possibly imagine what our lives are like.
But even this relief has been taken from me. My captors refuse to let me send my art out of the prison. They have made it harder to make photocopies of what I paint, so I can’t even show my attorneys. So it becomes a burden. When I paint I feel a pain in my heart, knowing that the work I am doing is never going to be seen by anyone else.
When President Obama said he would close Guantánamo, we were optimistic and believed him. I hope that President Biden will complete that promise. He should do everything he can to shut the prison – not for us, but for the US.
Other countries used to look up to the USfor human rights, and they don’t any more – any claim by the US to defend human rights rings hollow. When Biden criticized Russia, Putin responded “What about GTMO?” Closing it will begin to repair the damage to America’s reputation.
The golden years of my life have been wasted in Guantánamo. If what happened to me happened in America, they would give me millions of dollars. Because I’m in Guantánamo, because I’m Arab, because I’m Yemeni, nobody cares.
But I want you to know I am a hopeful person. I don’t know where I will go, or what I will do, but there is another life for me, outside this prison.
Yemeni national Khalid Qasim has been detained without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay since 2002. His art has been exhibited at John Jay College and Cuny in New York.