The Case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui: A Profile in Persecution and Faith
Washington Report On Middle East Affairs (December 2010, Vol. XXIX, No.9, page 36)
By Mauri' Saalakhan
Dr. Aafia Siddiqi came to America from Pakistan as an 18 year old student. She attended the University of Houston (Texas) before matriculating to Boston’s MIT, where she earned her bachelors degree in biology. She later earned her PhD at Brandeis University, with an academic focus on “How children learn” (the title of her thesis).
Not long after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Aafia and her former husband, Dr. Amjad Khan (a practicing physician), decided to return to Pakistan as a result of the corrosive post 9/11 atmosphere that impacted law abiding Muslims throughout America. By late 2002, following an acrimonious separation and divorce, Aafia decided return to the U.S. alone in order to pursue work in her professional field.
In 2003, the U.S. Department of Justice publicly identified Dr. Aafia Siddiqui as someone believed to be an “Al-Qaeda facilitator.” In March of that same year, after departing her family’s home in Karachi (Pakistan) to visit an uncle in Islamabad, the taxi that she and her three young children were traveling in was stopped; they were forcibly removed, and then disappeared without a trace. (The two oldest, Ahmed and Maryam, are American citizens by birth. Suleman, who was only six months old at the time of their abduction, still remains missing to this day.)
In 2008, four Muslim men escaped from the American controlled prison at Bagram (Afghanistan) and recounted their observations and experiences in a series of interviews. They told stories about a Pakistani woman (known only as “Prisoner 650”) who was routinely tortured at the prison. Additional details about this mysterious woman led those in the know to suspect she might be Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.
Shortly after the release of a special investigative report by British journalist Yvonne Ridley, an emaciated Aafia Siddiqui was released onto the streets of Ghazni (Afghanistan) in the company of a child she was told was Ahmed. Immediately following her release, an anonymous person called Afghan authorities to report a strange woman believed to be a suicide bomber hanging around the governor’s compound. Aafia was soon re-arrested by Afghan authorities and taken to a police compound to await interrogation. What happened next is the stuff from which award winning dramas are made.
The U.S. government claims that shortly after American soldiers and FBI agents arrived at the compound to take Dr. Siddiqui into their custody, she charged through a curtain, grabbed a soldier’s M4 rifle off the floor, took the safety off and fired it at the U.S. personnel in the room (while screaming anti-American expletives). Aafia’s version is dramatically different, however. She testified that when she heard the voices of Americans entering the room, she immediately thought about the “secret prison,” and not wanting to go back. As she peered through the curtain for an escape route, one of the soldiers saw her and panicked. He shouted out, ‘The prisoner is free!’ – took out his sidearm and fired twice into her stomach.
After receiving emergency treatment and being stabilized, Aafia was brought to the U.S. barely alive and charged with “attempting to murder U.S. personnel” overseas.
Of special note is the fact that NOT ONE TERRORISM CHARGE was leveled against her in the criminal indictment. This would be of little consolation to the accused, however; because the presiding judge, Richard Berman, would give the prosecution practically everything it wanted; most significantly, a ban on any testimony that would shine a light on the missing five years of secret imprisonment overseas(2003-2008).
Aafia spent about a year and a half in a maximum security detention center in Brooklyn, New York, in pre-trial conditions that violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”
During the short trial that began earlier this year (Feb 2010) there were blatant inconsistencies in the testimonies of the government’s star witnesses, and material evidence that clearly favored the defendant. Despite this, however, Aafia was found guilty on all seven counts of the indictment, in what could aptly be described as a reverse form of jury nullification. On September 23, 2010, following three postponements, Aafia would finally be back in court for sentencing.
The government’s argument revolved around Aafia’s alleged hatred toward, and desire to kill Americans. As lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher LaVigne stated: “This was not some random act. On that day the bottom line is, she saw her chance and she took it.” While defense attorney Dawn M. Cardi drew attention to the government’s obstructions (i.e. her failed attempts to access “classified evidence” relevant to the case), and the “mental illness” and “diminished capacity” that Aafia suffered as a result of her [now] seven year long ordeal.
As Judge Berman clumsily outlined his reasoning behind the barbaric sentence he was about to impose, he applied a number of federal “enhancements” that didn’t really make sense. When he announced the sentence of “86 years of imprisonment for Dr. Siddiqui,” Sara Flounders, of the International Action Center, shouted out in the courtroom: “Shame, Shame, Shame on this court!” After which she was threatened with removal.
Aafia Siddiqui was the embodiment of faith and grace when she addressed the court following her sentence. She turned toward the witnesses in the courtroom seated behind her, and counseled her supporters to not become “emotional.” She insisted that she was content with the qadr (or will) of God. She counseled those present, and those who would get the news later, to not be angry “at anyone involved in this case.”
“I am one person, and the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, forgave all of his personal enemies. Forgive everybody in my case, please…the world is full of injustices, I am just one person…and also forgive Judge Berman.”
She also stated, “I don’t want any bloodshed…I want peace and to end all wars.”
When Judge Berman informed the defendant of her right to appeal his verdict, Aafia’s response was: “I appeal to God…and he hears me.”
In a recent article titled, “Injustice in the Age of Obama,” anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan wrote the following: “Even if Dr. Siddiqui did shoot at the Americans, reflect on this. Say this case was being tried in Pakistan under similar circumstances for an American woman named Dr. Betty Brown, who was captured and repeatedly tortured and raped by the ISI. Here in the states that woman would be a hero if she shot at her captors – not demonized and taken away from her life and her children. I believe Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is a political prisoner and now the political bogey-woman for two US regimes.”
To end on a positive note, within days of Aafia’s sentencing there were demonstrations in a number of Pakistan’s cities, to demand the return of the woman now dubbed the “daughter of Pakistan.” In Karachi alone an estimated one million people took to the streets. But even more remarkable is the fact that there were no deaths, and few injuries or arrests. Aafia’s call for no violence in her name was heard and generally adhered to in a profoundly powerful way. And the struggle continues…