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Eyewitness Accounts of Sentencing


September 23, 2010
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui received a brutally unfair sentence in federal court today (as we expected would be the case); 86 years. But what she had to say to the court (and to her fellow Muslims), and how she said it, made us all feel proud and inspired. The depth of her iman, her absolute trust in ALLAH's Qadr, her courage and grace under fire was on full display – and, in the opinion of many onlookers, she shamed those who presumed to lord over her in judgment.
Those fortunate observers who were present at the courthouse today witnessed something very, very special. And with that said, the struggle for Aafia's freedom will now proceed to the next level; but the struggle will definitely continue, insha'Allah!
El-Hajj Mauri' Saalakhan
The account below is taken from JFAC, originally published on the JFAC website here
Aafia Siddiqui’s Sentencing – Thursday September 23rd, 2010
The Southern District Court of NY 500 Pearl Street Manhattan, NY 

JFAC Correspondent


To be honest with you, it would be unfair to say I put full attention in note-taking at the times Dr. Aafia took the floor.  Her words always had a way of captivating the audience to the extent that pens would drop to listen to her pearls of wisdom without disturbance of the thought process that takes place during writing.  So I can share with you only what I recall.

Colour-coordinated with the JFAC logo, I arrived in front of 500 Pearl Street ready to see my sister Aafia Siddiqui. A stranger saw my name and smiled, saying how similar it was to Aafia Siddiqui. Over the years, it has become my pride to even possess a name similar to such a prestigious member of society.  So, to my dismay, when I saw the line to enter the courthouse extended far and would take us visitors a long time to finally arrive inside the courtroom, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see her face to face or even in the same room.  Unfortunately I was right; by the time I arrived inside, the initial courtroom where Aafia’s proceeding was taking place was completely packed so we had to make ourselves comfortable in the backup court rooms connected live to Aafia’s sentencing through a projector.

Aafia’s lawyer Dawn Cardi was speaking when I finally sat down. She was talking about the mental stability of Aafia Siddiqui. She spoke about how she had to get security clearance to do her job as a lawyer for Aafia; nevertheless, the security clearance was in no way a permit for her to use top security evidence to defend Aafia’s case. Cardi mentioned how psychiatrists of 20 years study and experience claim Aafia is suffering from schizophrenia, that she is incoherent and suffers from diminished capacity. “Part of it is because she was abused as a spouse” said Cardi. “Her diminished capacity is claimed to have emerged as early on as when she was studying at MIT. This can be proven in her thesis How Children Learn, another incoherent piece,” her lawyer claims. To prove her point, she goes on to say some of the things Aafia has written in random ramblings while in prison were strange and senseless like “only adults get viruses” and how “hand gliders were flying into buildings.” Cardi said “We agree Dr. Aafia is not guilty on premeditation; she didn’t even have the capacity to premeditate. No one has ever believed Aafia was a jihadist.”

Cardi tried to gain the judge’s sympathy, reminding Richard Berman that any woman in Aafia’s position would have been the same way Aafia had been when they found her in Ghazni, “Frightened, possessed, upset and ready to get out of there.”

When it was prosecutor Christopher LaVigne’s turn to talk, he stuttered his way back to the varying testimonies of the US soldiers claiming that their stories were similar; hence, they had to be true. The keyword here is similar. LaVigne and judge Berman claimed that Aafia had no problems with the Afghan army holding her. The moment American soldiers came into the picture, she became “violent and intolerant” out of her “hate for Americans.” This is contrary to the many times Aafia said, “I love America” and “Wouldn’t anyone in my place want to protect our nation and be shocked if they heard anything was going to happen?” She also mentioned how the FBI refused to speak to her, especially during the first three months of her arrest. She spoke about how she lost trust in the officers she would speak to because things they would do afterwards so she started playing along with them like her arrest was some kind of game. She didn’t know when she was speaking to serious FBI agents or when she was talking to disrespectful immature people who wore badges and uniform but had no concern for the truth.

Dr. Aafia has a very distinct accent, a South Asian touch to American English with a rich vocabulary. When it was her turn to speak, Aafia was so frustrated at the amount of time she had and the amount of things she wanted to say and the depth she wanted to get into, that time simply did not allow her to do so. It was painful to see how a caged person is set free for those few moments in court. She was shocked that the judge was even allowing her to speak so she spoke without preparation. Despite the lack of preparation, Aafia used very powerful and concise language to convey her thoughts and messages and her voice was captivating. Even the guards stopped and listened to her attentively when she spoke. When I read of previous court experiences with Aafia, I didn’t know what to believe when witnesses described her eloquence. But yesterday, I got to see for myself what this Aafia was all about. Various times during her little speeches, I would find audience members crying in response to her powerful heart rendering statements. It was such a moving experience. Grown men crying.  Others chanting “Allaahu Akbar!” absorbed in her moments of strength and perseverance.

Aafia’s lawyer described Aafia’s cell as being “a small concrete block, no light, no windows, she gets fed through the cell, and get one hour of exercise. She reminded all Americans that one day “We’re going to look back in history and see what drove Aafia’s sentencing—fear, instilled and practiced by its very own government. We want to punish her more because of fear. If you sentence her for life, you have given up on her. It is not just to throw away the key on this 38 year old mother.” She reminded Judge Berman, “We all wrestle with what is just and fair. Do the right thing.”

Yet, her lawyer seemed to have given up on Aafia early as well. She said, “There is no question of the verdict. We are not talking about her walking free. We are talking about what kind of sentence is appropriate.”

Aafia rejected claims that she is mentally unstable and admitted there were times she had been on a real low naturally given the rare circumstance she’s placed in, but those times lasted for a short while during her stressful arrival to the States from Ghazni, Afghanistan.

Judge Berman mentioned that some of her doctors have claimed Aafia has several mental illnesses for which there is no medicine out there that will help cure her even if they have intricate facts about her illness.  She is too complex. Berman also pointed out that Aafia’s refusal to participate makes treatment even harder.

Cardi reminded Berman, “Prison is not the best place for encouraging rehabilitation. And this event that took place in Ghazni is not likely to happen ever again in the future. Aafia has never demonstrated violence in her life even after becoming ill.”

The judge said he considers that Aafia serve some time in the Texas facility Federal Medical Center (FMC) Carswell, that it would be good for her mental healing. He asked Aafia how she felt about Carswell and Aafia replied, “Carswell is different. I wouldn’t say it’s better. It’s not. It’s a strange place.”

Cardi went on to say, “We can’t hold her because we think she will do something again; maybe is not fair!” Trying to convince the judge out of giving a life sentence, she said, “Lock her up for 12 years. That is more humane. Aafia will be older and wiser by then. But not for life; forever is a death sentence!”

LaVigne replied, “Protecting the public does deserve a life sentence.  Aafia is very threatening. Let me show you how threatening she is. She was once caught biting a prison guard; therefore, she deserves a life sentence.” He was not being sarcastic.

To this, the judge added, “There is no evidence of Aafia’s disappearance and torture prior to 2008.” He also said, “No offense to Dr. Siddiqui. I believe she has given us false testimonies.”

When the judge asked Aafia if there were any matters of crucial importance she wanted to discuss, she replied, “There is no matter of crucial importance.  I’ll be honest, I was actually planning to sleep throughout this hearing because I didn’t think you would let me speak so I didn’t prepare my [index] cards.” She laughed as she said this.  Then she reminded the judge, “No one here is in charge of my sentencing except for Allah. None of what you all decide for me matters. I am content with Allah’s Decision. I’m happy and you can’t change that. All thanks to Allah.”

She talked about how we should strengthen our souls to be content in whichever situation life places us. Seeing Aafia so content and bubbly all the time, her own psychiatrists have gone to her for help, asking her “How do you stay so content? What’s your secret?” Thus, she concluded, “I don’t need those doctors, they need me!”

She said how she doesn’t write anyone letters. But she receives the letters people write to her. One time, she wrote to her brother and the letter was returned. Another time, she wrote to the Texas Peace Society who had given her an intriguing piece on Iraq Veterans Against the War. She stands for such a cause so she was proud and inspired by their work and wanted to thank them.  The secretary had given her the wrong mailing address for whatever reason, so it was the secretary’s mistake that caused Aafia’s letter to be returned. Otherwise, she hasn’t written to anyone.

At one instance, Aafia was talking and in the middle of a deep conversation, she goes “Oops! My teeth just fell off.  I’m wearing a veil so you can’t see the 110 year old I become when that happens. The doctors did a horrible job attaching my replacement teeth.”

About Israel, she said, “I’m not anti-Israel but I have proof that some Israelis pretend to be Caucasian or Hispanic when they commit crimes against Americans.” She also mentioned that she does respect Israel though because her daughter had been held by them and they did not violate her rights.  “I’ll make sure if I had to care for Israeli children, I would take very good care of them. Children do not deserve to be in prison.”  This strong woman got a little emotional when she mentioned a mother’s concern for her kids. She told us, “If you want to save humanity, get rid of child imprisonment.  Help other innocent prisoners. Don’t waste your efforts and money on me. The money you spend on me is not used for your desired change. Lord knows what happens to that money. I’m stuck with these people as my decision-makers. You won’t get to alleviate my conditions. But I’m very content as is. Don’t cry over my case. God wants me to survive so I am here.”

If you wanted to know the real Aafia at this point, going to her court hearings would have been your only and best opportunity. Aafia wanted to share with us some dreams she has had.  Before going any further, she mentioned a narration of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he said, “Do not attribute to me that which I have not attributed to myself.”  In one of her dreams shortly after her trial, Aafia was thinking and praying that Allah put mercy in the hearts of the Taliban. She was recalling how Yvonne Ridley had come to Islam through their merciful treatment towards her. Then Aafia fell asleep. She saw the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) entering a room full of American soldiers with their hands behind their backs. They were Prisoners of War. “Then Muhammad (peace be upon him) walked into another room and I was following him. Again, there were American soldiers there with their hands behind their backs. The Prophet looked at me and said, ‘Have mercy.’ So I felt the need to address this to my fellow Muslims, and especially to the Taliban. Don’t be angry at the Americans. They are misinformed. I love American soldiers. Some of the soldiers talk to me about college and how they wanted to earn degrees but they are stuck here.”

Aafia had another dream in which Isa (peace be upon him) appeared. She said the dream was too long to get into details, but from it, she got that maybe his coming is near. She also felt the Muslims need to reach out to the Christians more.

At one point, Aafia mentioned with excitement how she finally decided to purchase a radio in her cell after all these years of desolation. Clearly, she is improving. All praise be to Allah.

When the judge started going over Aafia’s sentencing, I clearly did not understand where he was adding all his offense points from.  All the charges seemed redundant and overboard.  Aafia reminded him in the process that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) never held personal grudges even against his most brutal opponents.

At the end of an out-of-this-world hearing, when the judge was wrapping up his 86 year sentence on Aafia, Aafia brought up the 6th verse in the 49th chapter of the Quran, “O you who believe! If a rebellious evil person comes to you with a news, verify it, lest you harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful to what you have done.” She then asked all the people present in the court and her supporters outside of court that they have mercy on and forgive the prosecutors and defendants and Judge Berman. It seemed almost like judge Berman was mocking her when he said, “I wish more defendants would feel the way that you do. Enjoy your life, Dr. Aafia.”

I will admit, giving certain aforementioned individuals mercy is too much to ask for, and it is not happening, at least not from my end. I don’t know how Aafia does it.  But injustice does not deserve her mercy.  Or any of ours.  Many of the audience also nodded in disapproval, replying with “I’m sorry, I can’t.” One of her last comments was, “I was attending MIT before, and here I am back in MIT. I’ve been in MIT this whole time. The Manhattan Institute of Theatre Arts.”


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