Ahmad Opens Lecture Series, Marks Constitution Day

Addressing “Guantanamo, National Security, and Citizenship,”Muneer Ahmad, professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law, delivered the opening lecture in the Public Interest Law & Policy Speakers Series on September 12, 2007. Ahmad is an expert on immigrants’ rights; clinical legal education; and labor, employment, and poverty law.

Former U.S. Congressman Richard Gephardt moderated the event, held in association with Washington University’s Constitution Day and Gephardt Institute for Public Service activities.

Former U.S. Congressman Richard Gephardt (left), and Professor Muneer Ahmad
Former U.S. Congressman Richard Gephardt, left,
talks with Muneer Ahmad, professor of law
at American University. [Photo by Mary Butkus]

After the lecture, Gephardt and Ahmad fielded questions from the audience ranging from the legal to the political.

Ahmad discussed human rights and citizenship in relation to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detainment camp in Cuba. While geographically remote, what happens at Guantanamo Bay directly affects the rights and conditions of non-citizens and other vulnerable groups within the United States, he said.

“The degradation and dehumanization of Guantanamo cannot be contained there, but instead migrates to the United States, jeopardizing us all, but non-citizens in particular,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad has visited Guantanamo more than a dozen times as a legal representative for a 21-year-old man detained for the past six years. Government prisoners at Guantanamo are non-citizens; they have no rights under any source of law, he said, leaving them with no opportunity to challenge their detainment or review the evidence against them.

The law of Guantanamo reinforces distinctions between citizens and non-citizens within the United States, he said, and sends the message that it is permissible, and even necessary, to deprive non-citizens of legal protection: “And if it’s okay for the government to make these distinctions, then surely it must be okay for the rest of us to, as well,” Ahmad said.

The result, he said, is evident in massive delays in applications of Arab, Muslim and South Asian lawful permanent residents now petitioning to become U.S. citizens; in racial profiling in airports; and in widespread discrimination in housing, employment, and education.

“While I have a special concern for Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities in the present moment, Guantanamo’s willingness to sacrifice the rights of non-citizens makes all immigrant communities vulnerable – Asian, Latino, Caribbean and African – because it undermines the claim of belonging and expectation of legal protection that any non-citizen reasonably can have,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad challenged his audience to insist upon the rights of the most vulnerable.

“The remoteness of Guantanamo gives a false sense of comfort, as if its ugliness can be quarantined to that hidden place,” he said. “But Guantanamo is not an island. No matter how remote Guantanamo may seem, Guantanamo is here. What’s on the line is our humanity.”

Article by Janet Edwards