Monday, November 17, 2008

"The Curious Case Against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui" (Updated)

I've been meaning to write my own essay on this important story for some time. Being strapped for time these days, I'm thankful to Alexa at Never In Our Names for doing a great job in her rendition of The Curious Case Against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.

According to a Wikipedia entry, Dr. Siddiqui was "a MIT and Brandeis alumna, originally from Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. In 2004, she was accused by the United States Government of being "associated with al-Qaeda". In March 2003, Siddiqui went missing along with her three children." Siddiqui essentially disappeared, along with her children -- probably "ghost prisoners" of the CIA -- and then surprisingly turned up under arrest in Ghazni, Afghanistan, although the circumstances of her appearance and arrest are a subject of much dispute.

I continue, quoting from Alexa's story (which should be read in its entirety):
Five years after she vanished from her parents' home in Karachi along with her three children, Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui appeared in a New York court in August, accused of trying to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan.

Accounts of her arrest and the shooting incident differ.

The Official Story is that Siddiqui, 36, was arrested outside the governor's office in Afghanistan's Ghazni province on July 17 after police searched her handbag and found documents on making explosives, excerpts from the book "Anarchist's Arsenal" and descriptions of New York City landmarks, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

The next day when U.S. soldiers and FBI agents went to question the U.S.-trained neuroscientist, she attacked them, the (PDF) Justice Department said in a statement. She fired two shots using the rifle of one of the U.S.. army officers but nobody was hit. The officer then fired back at her, using his service pistol and at least one shot hit her, the Justice Department said.

Afghan police in Ghazni however, told a different story, according to a report filed by Reuters. Afghan police said officers searched Siddiqui after reports of her suspicious behaviour and found maps of Ghazni, including one of the governor's house, and arrested her along with a teenage boy.

U.S. troops requested the woman be handed over to them, but the police refused, a senior Ghazni police officer said.

U.S. soldiers then proceeded to disarm the Afghan police at which point Siddiqui approached the Americans complaining of mistreatment by the police. The U.S. troops, the officer said, "thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and and took her". The boy remained in police custody.

Whatever the circumstance, Siddiqui was then flown to New York where she appeared in a wheelchair, looking frail and, according to her lawyers, in urgent need of medical attention.

The case bears recounting, not just because Siddiqui is a MIT educated mother of three, but because it has roused strong passions, especially in Pakistan.

Since the time of her disappearance in 2003, human rights groups have alleged Siddiqui had been taken into secret custody, one of thousands of Pakistanis who had disappeared in the U.S.-led war on al Qaeda and Taliban. They said they believed she was in Bagram, the U.S. air base in Afghanistan.

U.S. authorities strongly denied Siddiqui was in custody, and according to the New York Times, military and intelligence officials believed her to be in Pakistan until her arrest in Afghanistan in July.

Protests have taken place in Karachi, Lahore and even outside the court in Manhattan where Siddiqui appeared. The anger is directed as much, if not more, at the Pakistani government and its agencies who are accused of handing over Siddiqui to the United States as at Washington itself.

There are online petitions seeking Siddiqui's release and others warning this is only the tip of the iceberg and that there are many others at risk. Comments on blogs reflect anger, shame and helplessness to undo what many see as a terrible wrong done to her.

Count me in on that. Aafia went to MIT and Brandeis, married a Brigham and Women's physician, made her home in Boston, cared for her children, and raised money for charities. Aafia Siddiqui was a normal woman living a normal American life. Until the FBI called her a terrorist.
Everything about the Siddiqui case smells. Alexa quotes defense attorney Elaine Whitfield Sharp, courtesy of Cage Prisoners:
"We do know she was at Bagram for a long time. It was a long time. According to my client she was there for years and she was held in American custody; her treatment was horrendous."
The story continues:
On September 3, Siddiqi, 36, was produced before a federal grand jury in New York, which indicted her for possession of handwritten notes referring to a 'mass casualty attack' at various prominent locations in the US, such as Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge.

However, activists and her family believe that she is being targeted. "An ordinary Pakistani [has been] wrongfully taken to a foreign country without established judicial processes," said Dr Fouzia Siddiqui, Aafia's elder sister. Even the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has insisted that she was picked up by a Pakistani intelligence agency and handed over to the US authorities.

The picture that was released when she was brought to the court in New York showed a woman who seemed to have experienced years of torture - a broken and badly fixed nose, made up teeth, and crumbled lips. The HRCP described her as a person "almost as if on the deathbed". Gaunt, wounded, she was unable to even walk by herself....

... Aafia has been suffering and in pain in US prison for more than three months now. There are fears that she is now being brainwashed in order to render her incapable of giving evidence against any atrocities that might have been committed against her....

Two children of the victim are still missing. If they are still alive then it is possible that they are being used as hostages to pressure her. Allegations of her illegal detention, rape, etc, and the abduction of her children, are going unaddressed. Can she get justice from the US legal system?

That question will arise only after a case is brought up to seek justice for her.
The case of Aafia Siddiqui is especially heart-rending and infuriating. Nothing speaks to the inherent racism of the U.S. treatment of people from the Middle East and East Asia than the brutal indifference accompanying the disappearance of this mother's children, lost in U.S. custody, and likely held hostage. Where is the outrage in the U.S. press, who cried crocodile tears not so long ago about the way Michael Jackson held his child out a window to an admiring throng? Whose T.V. sets are filled with stories about dangers to "our" children, with "Amber Alerts", and fake concern about children and drugs? Siddiqui and her children are invisible to the Americans.

I thank Alexa at Never In Our Names for keeping hope for Dr. Siddiqui alive, and shining a bright light of anger and indignation into the darkest shadows of the U.S. "war on terror."

UPDATE: Not long after posting this article, ABC News reported that a mental health examination of Dr. Siddiqui in conjunction with her trial in New York federal court found the doctor to be mentally unfit to stand trial.
According to a Nov. 6, 2008, confidential forensic examination from a federal medical center in Carswell, Texas, mental health professionals have concluded, "Ms. Siddiqui is not currently competent to proceed as a result of her mental disease, which renders her unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her or to assist properly in her defense."

An excerpt of the evaluation was mentioned in the judge's order calling for a Wednesday hearing to address her mental health to stand trial.
My god, what has happened to this woman? How have they destroyed her?

Americans should demand an immediate investigation into the handling of the investigation, arrest, treatment under custody, and judicial hearings around Dr. Siddiqui.

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