J. Sri Raman / Truthout & Cindy Sheehan / Al Jazeera – 2010-11-02 21:30:46
The Strange Case of Aafia Siddiqui
J. Sri Raman / Truthout News Analysis
(October 24, 2010) –The world has heard the stories of many Af-Pak women and their distress as victims of Taliban tormentors, which US and NATO drones have done nothing to diminish. This is about a woman who is also likely to draw the least public sympathy outside the terrain that constitutes the main theater of the “war on terror” because it is the Taliban, the fundamentalists and the far right in Pakistan who are clamoring the loudest for her release. They say she is being punished because she is a devout Muslim.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced to a probably unprecedented 86 years of imprisonment by a US federal court in Manhattan on September 23. Thirty-eight-year-old Siddiqui, a US-educated neuroscientist from Karachi in Pakistan, was convicted after a jury trial of assault with intent to murder her US interrogators in Afghanistan. The charges carried a maximum sentence of life in prison. She, however, has received a much, much harsher sentence than what life imprisonment normally means.
The sentence — along with the fact that she is a mother of three young children — was sure to elicit sympathy for her anywhere, especially her own homeland. Adding to the outcry in Pakistan over her punishment is the widespread outrage over much that US and NATO forces have been doing in the Af-Pak region in the name of an anti-terror war. The protests against the court’s “injustice” to Siddiqui have also been combined with protests against Islamabad’s perceived subservience to Washington.
Inevitably, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani’s government in Pakistan has got embroiled in the affair. Siddiqui’s fate has also become a red-hot political issue for all political parties, including one under formation.
The government has called upon Washington to repatriate Siddiqui and vowed to fight for “justice” for her along with her family. The US, in turn, has offered to send her back home in order to serve her sentence there if Pakistan signs two international conventions relating to prisoner exchange along with it.
The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has rallied behind the government. The main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Nawaz), has articulated the demand for Siddiqui’s release more aggressively. The Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid-e-Azam), or the PM-Q, originally floated by former President Pervez Musharraf, is speaking with two voices on the issue.
It is going to be an important issue for the All-Pakistan Muslim League (APML), which Musharraf now proposes to launch from his London exile. He has had to deny, hotly and repeatedly, the charge of his involvement in the mysterious arrest of Siddiqui in an Afghan city two years ago.
Her pre-arrest past was not shrouded in secrecy. Siddiqui moved to Houston, Texas, on a student visa in 1990, joining her brother. She attended the University of Houston for three semesters, then shifted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after being awarded a full scholarship.
Siddiqui moved back to Pakistan in 2002. She disappeared with her three young children in March 2003, shortly after the arrest of her second husband’s uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged chief planner of the 9/11 attacks. Her whereabouts remained unknown for over five years, until her arrest in July 2008.
One of her close relatives told a Pakistani newspaper: “They’re all lying … there’s something about Aafia. And we don’t know about it.”
According to the Afghan police, she was carrying in her purse handwritten notes and a computer thumb drive containing recipes for conventional bombs and weapons of mass destruction, instructions on how to make machines to shoot down US drones, descriptions of New York City landmarks with references to a mass casualty attack, and two pounds of sodium cyanide in a glass jar.
Siddiqui was apprehended by Ghazni Province police officers outside the governor’s compound. With two small bags at her side, crouching on the ground, she aroused the suspicion of a man who feared she might be concealing a bomb under her burqa. A shopkeeper noticed a woman in a burqa drawing a map, which is suspicious in Afghanistan, where women are generally illiterate.
Questions about her entire case have been raised following conflicting accounts of immediate post-arrest events. The official US version says that, on July 18, two FBI agents, a US Army warrant officer, a US Army captain and their military interpreters arrived in Ghazni to interview Siddiqui at an Afghan police facility. They met in a room partitioned by a curtain, behind which Siddiqui reportedly stood.
According to this version, the warrant officer sat down adjacent to the curtain, and put his loaded M4 carbine on the floor by his feet, next to the curtain. Siddiqui drew back the curtain, picked up the gun and pointed it at the captain. Then, she was said to have yelled, “Get the fuck out of here … May the blood of (unintelligible) be on your [head or hands].” The captain dove for cover to his left, as she yelled “Allah-o-Akbar” and fired at least two shots at them, missing them — so goes the interrogators’ report.
According to Siddiqui’s version, she stood up to see who was on the other side of the curtain. After one of the startled soldiers shouted, “She is loose,” she was shot. On regaining consciousness, she heard someone say, “We could lose our jobs.”
The Afghan police version says that the US troops had demanded that she be handed over, disarmed the Afghans when they refused and then shot Siddiqui mistakenly, thinking she was a suicide bomber.
During her trial, the defense said there was no forensic evidence that the gun was fired in the interrogation room.
Siddiqui was taken to Bagram Air Base by helicopter in critical condition. Her trial was an agonizingly prolonged one, the longest delay being of six months, allowed in order to perform psychiatric evaluations. She was given routine mental health check-ups ten times in August and six times in September. Finally, the judge held that she “may have some mental health issues,” but was competent to stand trial.
Siddiqui drew much ire in the US when she said she did not want Jews on the jury.
She demanded that all prospective jurors be DNA-tested. The defense argued, in extenuation of her comments, that her incarceration had damaged her mind.
She drew some sympathy, however, from the public as well as the judge after her sentence, when she urged forgiveness and asked the Pakistani people not to retaliate.
Sections of liberal opinion in Pakistan are concerned over the mileage that fundamentalist jihadi forces are drawing from the issue. A victory here can, ironically, give those forces added social legitimacy when they attack women for not being burqa-clad, for not being Islamic enough, for being seen with men etc. That is the complexity of it all. But even these liberal sections agree that the US role in the affair has done nothing to enfeeble those forces.
Lahore-based Daily Times, a leading newspaper, says:
“The US is already viewed as an authoritarian and arrogant superpower, and after this verdict its character is bound to take on an arbitrary dimension in perceptions. A murky case to begin with, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s ordeal is the subject of many speculations. It is still unclear what exactly happened to Dr. Aafia after her alleged disappearance from Karachi … it seems as if the US is bent upon making a horrific example out of Dr. Aafia.”
The paper adds:
“Now that the case is out of the courts, people will be waiting to see how the Obama administration will act. Only time will tell if the US president will step in to mitigate the consequences of this strange sentence by either pardoning Dr Aafia or sending her back to Pakistan …”
Dawn, another newspaper, says:
“… the case of Aafia Siddiqui was wrapped from the very beginning in all the contradictions and suspicions that characterize relations between Pakistan and the US.”
It, however, adds:
“Denialism embedded deep in the public psyche has allowed the real threat to the Pakistani state and society, religious extremism, to grow to dangerous proportions…. But long after the story of Dr. Siddiqui will eventually fade, Pakistan will still be faced with an internal enemy it has not even begun to comprehend.”
The release or repatriation of Siddiqui will cause much understandable jubilation as justice done to a “daughter of Pakistan.” We must all welcome such a dÃ©nouement — but also hope that it won’t be a victory for the Taliban in their war on women.
The story of Siddiqui provides a particularly sad illustration of the cruel fate of women in this war-torn region.
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Injustice in the Age of Obama
Barack Obama, a former law professor, should have a healthy respect for civil liberties, but his actions suggest not.
Commentary by Cindy Sheehan / Al Jazeera
(October 16, 2010) — Since being the defendant in about six trials after I was arrested for protesting the Iraq and Afghanistan occupations, it’s my experience that the police lie. Period.
However the lies don’t stop at street law enforcement level. From lies about WMD and connections to “al Qaeda,” almost every institution of so-called authority — the Pentagon, State Department, CIA, FBI, all the way up to the Oval Office and back down — lie. Not white lies, but big, Mother of all BS (MOAB) lies that lead to the destruction of innocent lives. I.F Stone was most definitely on the ball when he proclaimed, “Governments lie.”
Having clarified that, I would now like to examine a case that should be enshrined in the travesty of the US Justice Hall of Shame.
In February of this year, Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani mother of three, was convicted in US Federal (kangaroo) Court of seven counts, including two counts of “attempted murder of an American.” On September 23, Judge Berman, who displayed an open bias against Dr. Siddiqui, sentenced her to 86 years in prison.
The tapestry of lies about Dr. Siddiqui — a cognitive neuroscientist, schooled at MIT and Brandeis — was woven during the Bush regime but fully maintained during her trial and sentencing this year by the Obama (in)Justice Department.
Before 9/11/2001, Aafia lived in Massachusetts with her husband, also a Pakistani citizen, and their two children. According to all reports, she was a quietly pious Muslim (which is still not a crime here in the States), who hosted play dates for her children. She was a good student who studied hard and maintained an exemplary record, causing little harm to anything, let alone anyone.
After 9/11, when she was pregnant with her third child, she encouraged her husband to move back to Pakistan to avoid the backlash against her Muslim children — which was a very prescient thing to do considering the Islamophobia that has only increased in this country since then.
Following the move to Pakistan, Dr. Siddiqui and her husband divorced. Her life took a horrendous turn justly after. While Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) — supposed mastermind of the 9/11 plot — was being water-boarded by the CIA 183 times in one month, he gave Dr. Siddiqui up as a member of al-Qaeda. Was this a case of stolen identity, or was Mohammed just saying random words like you or I would to stop the torture?
There is some disputed “intelligence” that Aafia had married KSM’s nephew, a tenuous allegation at best, and even so, guilt by association has no place in the hallowed US legal system.
Following KSM’s torture-induced ‘insights’, Dr. Siddiqui was listed by Bushâ€™s Justice Department as one of the seven most dangerous al-Qaeda operatives in the world. A mother of three equipped with a lethal ability to ‘thin-slice’ your cognitive personality in seconds. If alleged association and a healthy interest in neuro-psychology are the definitive hallmarks of a ‘terrorist operative,’ then Malcolm Gladwell better start making some phone calls to Crane, Poole and Schmidt.
A Culture of Falsehoods
Face it, we all know that since 9/11, there have been numerous false “terror” alerts and lies leading to the capture and torture of hundreds of innocent individuals — and the heinous treatment we have all witnessed to from Abu Ghraib. Additionally, we are supposed to believe that multi-war criminal, Colin Powell, was “fooled” by faulty intelligence so much so that he paved the way for the invasion of Iraq by his false testimony at the UN but we are also supposed to unquestioningly believe the US intelligence apparatus when they lie about others such as Dr. Siddiqui.
In any case, in a bizarre scenario — to make a very long story short — Dr. Siddiqui and her three children disappeared for five years from 2003 to 2008, resurfacing in Ghazni, Afghanistan with her oldest child, a son who was then 11. She claimed that for the years she was missing, she was being held in various Pakistani and US prisons being tortured and repeatedly raped. Many prisoners, including Yvonne Ridley, maintain she was incarcerated in Bagram AFB and tortured for at least part of the five missing years.
After Dr. Siddiqui resurfaced, she was arrested and taken to an Afghan police station where four Americans — two military and two FBI agents — rushed to “question” her through interpreters. The FBI and military, claim that they were taken to a room that had a curtain at one end and that they did not know that Dr. Siddiqui was lying asleep on a bed at the other side of the curtain. As you read below it will become blatantly obvious that personnel involved from both institutions totally fabricated their stories.
This is the Americans’ version: They entered the room and one of the military dudes said he laid his weapon down (remember, they were there to interrogate one of the top-most dangerous people in the world) and Siddiqui got up, grabbed the weapon, yelling obscenities and that she wanted to “kill Americans.”
All 5’3″ of her raised the weapon to fire and she fired the rifle twice, missing everyone in the small room — in fac,t she even missed the walls, floor and ceiling since no bullets from the rifle were ever recovered.
Then one of the Americans shot her twice in the stomach “in self-defence.”
It was shown at the trial that her fingerprints were not even on the weapon. The only bullets that were found that day were in Dr. Aafia’s body. How many stories of military cover-ups have we heard about since 9/11? I can think of two right away without even trying hard: Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.
Dr. Aafia’s side is this: After she was arrested, she was again beaten and she fell asleep on a bed when she heard talking in the room she was in so she got out of the bed and someone shouted: “Oh no, sheâ€™s loose!” Then she was shot — when she was wavering in and out of consciousness, she heard someone else say: “We could lose our jobs over this.”
Even with no evidence that she fired any weapon, she was convicted (the jury found no pre-meditation) by a jury and sentenced to the aforementioned 86 years. It’s interesting that the Feds did not pursue “terrorist” charges against Dr. Siddiqui because they were aware that the only evidence that existed was tortured out of KSM — so they literally ganged up on her to press the assault and attempted murder charges.
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.
In Pakistan, the response to her verdict and sentencing brought the predictable mass protests, burning of American flags and effigies of Obama and calls for Pakistan to repatriate Dr. Siddiqui. They know who the real criminals are and who should be in prison for life!
At present, Hilary Clinton’s state department harps on about “soft power” and diplomacy, but what better way to quell US distrust in the Muslim world than to try such cases with due diligence and integrity.
In the US, not many people know about this case. Obviously many people were Hope-notized by the millions of dollars poured into the Obama PR machine — and believed when he said that his administration would be more transparent and lawful than the outlaws of the Bush era.
I guess they were mistaken.
Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Specialist Casey A. Sheehan, who was killed in Iraq on April 4, 2004. Since then, she has been an activist for peace and human rights. She has published five books, has her own Internet radio show, Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox, and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Cindy lives in Oakland, CA, and loves to spend time with her three grand-babies. You can learn more about Cindy at Peace of the Action.
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