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Dr Aafia Siddiqui: 9th Anniversary

Yvonne Ridley reviews the case of Aafia Siddiqui on the 9th anniversary since she first disappeared

First Published by Cageprisoners,  April 02, 2012

I am an investigative journalist and as such details and facts provide the framework from which to build a story. That has been the premise from which I've worked now in this industry for nearly 40 years. It is the same premise from which some great investigative journalists have toiled as they sift through genuine documents, interview primary intelligence sources and delve into eye witnesses accounts to get to the truth of a matter. And it is the same premise from which Cageprisoners operates tirelessly in its pursuit to giving a voice to the voiceless. In the last few decades I've seen many good people sent down for crimes which they did not commit, especially during the so-called Irish Troubles which saw US dollar-funded terrorism wreak chaos and death in the streets of London as well as other major UK cities. During that period I've also seen the same wronged people being released from prison, poorly compensated for their terrible ordeals and miscarriages of justice often followed by a grovelling apologies from the police and Establishment. Groups like the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four know the pain and injustice of being wrongly convicted and in some ways, while the truth eventually set them free, they will forever be haunted by their experiences and lost lives.

I pray I will live to see the day when the US apologises to all of those swept up in the War on Terror, held in dark, secret dungeons without charge or trial. I look forward to the day when American justice attempts to put right all of those it has wronged in the last decade. Perhaps none is more deserving than the academic and mother-of-three Dr Aafia Siddiqui who was given an 86-year sentence by a pompous little New York judge whose relationship with truth and justice is as long distance as is mine with quantum mechanics and classical physics.
Judge Richard Berman, either a legal minnow or a Bush marionette, allowed his courtroom  to become the venue for a completely illegal show trial.

The facts are as outlined below:

•The alleged crime happened in Afghanistan, a country with its own judicial system and – unless it is under official US occupation – the trial should have been held there.
•The defendant, born in Pakistan and a citizen of that country, was denied access to consular officials in Afghanistan or New York for more than 30 days after being shot in July 2008 – this is a complete violation of the Vienna and Geneva conventions.
•The defendant was interrogated by the FBI while heavily sedated hours after major surgery was performed in Bagram – this is in complete contravention of US and international laws.
•One independent Afghan witness, a transator/guide for the FBI, was bribed with a green card and the promise of US citizenship to lie under oath in court.
•Spent bullets removed by US investigators from the prison cell where the alleged crime took place, were subsequently lost while other crucial evidence was tampered with.
•Evidence from a secret court hearing held in the USA in 2003 about Dr Aafia Siddiqui was not allowed to be introduced in Berman's kangaroo court. This evidence would have documented that US intelligence knew exactly where Dr Aafia Siddiqui was being held after her disappearance in 2003.
•Berman refused to allow any evidence which would have shown that Dr Aafia Siddiqui was set up and subsequently shot in a bungled US intelligence operation in July 2008.

To the prosecution's credit – according to court transcripts and they're there for anyone to check – the lawyers for the US government stated loud and clear that Dr Aafia Siddiqui was not al Qaida, nor was she affiliated to any banned or terrorist organisation. This is a truth some authors and journalists refuse to accept, even though it came directly from the mouth of the chief prosecuting lawyer. Being a good journalist means accepting that there are times when you got it wrong … peddling old lies and myths serves no one.The whole truth of the Dr Aafia Siddiqui case will come out, of that I am confident. I went to Ghazni with film-maker Hassan Ghani in 2008 and we interviewed and filmed key eye witnesses who to this day will state emphatically that Dr Aafia Siddiqui was shot at close range by US soldiers and, perhaps more crucially, they did so in panic after realising the frail, diminutive woman held in a cell was not hooded, cuffed or restrained. Not one single eye witness – from a local police chief to any of his men – saw Dr Aafia Siddiqui even attempt to pick up a gun and shoot at the US soldiers. We've all watched the CSI American hit TV series based on forensic evidence and science – well not one shred of 'CSI evidence' could be produced in Berman's court to put a gun in the defendant's hands. No gunshot residue was found either on her clothing or on her hands. She could not have fired a gun – the science doesn't lie but sadly some front row witnesses did.

Unfortunately the gaggle of US soldiers, whose evidence contradicted each other in court, covered up the real crime … that at least one of their rank had shot an unarmed woman at close range. Tellingly, the reputation of the US military serving in Afghanistan is in tatters. Insitutionalised racism and Islamaphobia has spread like cancer in the ranks making them neither credible witnesses or men of honour. While it is unfair to demonise an entire military there are more than just a few rogue soldiers in the ranks of Uncle Sam. I did contact the Pentagon and asked the media spokesman if any of the soldiers who gave evidence in Berman's court against Dr Aafia Siddiqui were part of the notorious "kill team" – a bunch of lying, scuzzbuckets who shot Afghan civilians at random before hacking off their body parts as trophies. Now the Pentagon could have responded with a simple and definitive "no". That call never came and subsequent calls to the press office have since drawn a blank response. I invite other journalists to ask the same question.

On a point of interest most of the Kill Team were sent down for a handful of years with the ring leader given a life sentence and eligible for parole after 10 years for murdering an unknown number of Afghans. Dr Aafia Siddiqui got 86 years for allegedly shooting at soldiers in an incident in which no one but she was injured.

As I say, the truth will come out as long as journalists like myself continue to question, dig and demand to know what really happened to Dr Aafia Siddiqui.

We are now marking the 9th anniversary of her kidnap and false imprisonment and that of her three children. I am hoping this will be the last such anniversary to be marked with candles, prayers and vigils. Justice will prevail but let's hope sooner than later. And until it does Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a brilliant academic, is rotting away in a Texas jail.

* British journalist Yvonne Ridley is a patron of Cageprisoners.

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