The sinister case of Aafia Siddiqui
21 October 2010
Published in MorningStar
by Liz Davies
Dr Aafia Siddiqui is a 38-year-old Pakistan citizen, a US-educated neuroscientist and mother of three children. She has also been convicted of attempted murder by a US court and on September 23 was sentenced to 86 years' imprisonment – literally a life sentence. On September 24 mass protests were held in Pakistan calling for her release. Pakistan's prime minister has dubbed her "the daughter of the nation" and appealed for her release.
Those are just about the only facts on which Siddiqui's supporters and the US authorities agree. Nearly everything else is contested. She was born and went to school in Karachi. In the '90s she studied neuroscience at the University of Houston, MIT and Brandeis University.
Newsweek claimed she studied microbiology and biochemistry, implying that she knew about biochemical warfare. However her supervisor gave evidence at her trial that she had been working on cognitive issues, unrelated to biochemistry.
At the end of the '90s Siddiqui and her then husband raised money for Muslim charities in Bosnia. It has been suggested this was evidence of her radicalisation.
Others point out that millions of Muslims around the world were doing the same.
After September 11 2001, Siddiqui and her husband left the US and returned to Pakistan, Siddiqui saying that she was worried for their safety. Between autumn 2001 and March 2003, she travelled between Karachi and the US several times. She and her husband divorced shortly before their third child was born in 2002.
On March 25 2003 Siddiqui's name and picture appeared on the FBI's "wanted for questioning" global alert list. Five days later she and her three children, then aged seven, five and six months, drove to Karachi airport to fly to Islamabad. They never caught the flight. They disappeared and were not seen or heard from for five years.
On July 17 2008 Afghan police arrested a woman and a 12-year-old boy outside a police station in Ghazni. It was Siddiqui and the boy was her eldest child Ahmed. The next day US soldiers arrived to question her. Something happened and Siddiqui was shot in the stomach. She was flown to the US air base at Bagram for emergency surgery and then taken to the US and charged with attempted murder of US soldiers on July 18 2008.
Where was Siddiqui between 2003 and 2008? She claims that she was held in a secret prison. Her older children Ahmed and Maryam, who turned up outside the family home in April this year, are not permitted by their family to talk to the press. Yvonne Ridley claims to have talked to Ahmed and that he has described being held in Pakistan and US custody and remembers the bloody body of his baby brother lying at the side of the road after armed men took them when they were on the way to the airport.
That baby boy – who would now be eight – has never been found.
The US authorities claim that Siddiqui spent those five years as an al-Qaida operative in Afghanistan. Her supporters believe that she was kidnapped by the Pakistan security forces, just as Moazzam Begg and others had been. She was then handed over to the US and she and her children were detained at Bagram air base, they say.Binyam Mohamed, who was held at Bagram at that time, has described seeing a Pakistani female detainee the same age as Siddiqui who had been educated in the US.
What about her appearance outside the police station? The US authorities suggest she had been planning a suicide attack. She has never been charged with carrying explosives or other related charges.
One explanation might be that the US forces needed to come clean. Ten days earlier on July 7 2008 Ridley and Cageprisoners had held a press conference asking what had become of Siddiqui.
If the authorities were to admit to holding her they had to explain how without admitting her detention at Bagram.
The incident on July 18 is even murkier. The prosecutor claimed, and the jury accepted, that Siddiqui was behind a curtain in an interrogation room. US soldiers entered the room and put a M4 rifle on the floor, close to the curtain. Siddiqui grabbed it, drew back the curtain and tried to shoot the soldiers. She failed and, as the soldiers grabbed the gun, the soldier whose weapon it was accidentally shot her.
Siddiqui's lawyers argued that her fingerprints were not on the weapon and that there was no forensic evidence suggesting that she had fired the gun. The following day Associated Press reported that an Afghan police chief had described an argument between the Afghan police and the US soldiers over handing a woman prisoner over to the US. He said that the argument had escalated and the soldiers had opened fire when the woman was in the room. He later denied this account.
Another explanation might be that Siddiqui was shot during her arrest and the later events were concocted to explain her injuries. All we know is that she was shot by a US soldier using his own weapon.
Shortly afterwards Siddiqui was flown to the US. She has been in solitary confinement ever since. It's hardly surprising that by her trial in February 2010 she had severe mental health problems. She was tried with the attempted murder of, and assault on, the soldiers. She made a number of angry and emotional outbursts during the trial, some of which was seized on by the press as anti-semitic, although they appear to be comments against Israel and the US government, not against Jews.
During the trial she was constantly referred to as "Lady al-Qaida" in the US media.
She was sentenced seemingly not for the offences of which she was convicted but for the innuendo surrounding her case. We do not know what views Siddiqui may or may not have.
All we know is that she has not been treated according to the rule of law or received due process. The circumstances of her arrest, her trial and her punitive sentence are extremely concerning.
Siddiqui's family and supporters are calling for her release or for her to be transferred to Pakistan so that she can serve her sentence close to her family.
Full Article here
Liz Davies is a barrister, labour movement activist and chairwoman of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers