by Fahad Ansari (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 1, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1431)
“We have captured 689 and handed over 369 to the United States. We have earned bounties totalling millions of dollars. Those who habitually accuse us of ‘not doing enough’ in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the government of Pakistan.”
So reads the back cover of the autobiography of former Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, describing how Pakistan’s economy was boosted by the “war on terror” through a system of kidnapping and renditioning of suspected al-Qaeda operatives. One such exchange appears to have involved a mother and her three children, the youngest only five months old, back in 2003. Seven years later, that lady, Dr.Aafia Siddiqui, has been sentenced by an American court for the attempted murder of US marines and FBI agents while she was being held captive in Afghanistan. She now faces life imprisonment. Her tale, which has been discussed in detail in a previous edition of Crescent International (October 2008), is one which Hollywood script writers can only dream about and one which shames the entire world.
Kidnapped, renditioned, detained in a secret prison for five years enduring systematic rape and torture, humiliated and oppressed, Aafia has now been convicted of attempted murder, armed assault and possession of and using a firearm, and faces the possibility of spending the remainder of her life in an American prison. Aafia’s conviction is as unsafe and flawed as the propaganda that she was an al-Qaeda operative, and is a damning indictment of the US criminal justice system which has proven itself incapable of affording Muslim terror suspects a fair trial. Aafia was convicted despite the fact that her fingerprints were not found on the rifle, no bullet shells or gunshot residue was found in the room where she is alleged to have fired upon the marines, and there were no bullet holes in the walls. Yet, both a bullet and shell casing from the 9mm revolver used to shoot Aafia were found in the same room.
If this isn’t enough to raise a reasonable doubt as to her guilt, how about the fact that accounts from Afghan counter terrorism police who were present at the time and the Governor of Ghazni province himself, Usman Usmani, contradict the official US story. According to them, after her arrest, US officials demanded to take over custody of Aafia. When the Afghan officers refused, the US team proceeded to disarm them. The Afghan police then state that Aafia stepped into the room which startled an American soldier who then shot her in the stomach. This corroborates Aafia’s own account of the incident where, fearing transfer to American custody again, she peeked through the curtain to see if she could escape. More problematic than this, even the testimonies of the US soldiers and officials present were contradictory, both against each other and against earlier statements they made. For example, the chief warrant officer described for jurors how when he first saw Aafia, she was squaring off to shoot the gun, but at another point in his testimony he said he first saw her as she lunged for the gun and made a split-second decision to let her grab it while he unholstered his sidearm. In reality, as her lawyer Elaine Sharpe commented, the verdict against Aafia was based not on facts but on fear.
Since her “official” arrest in July 2008, the US government has disseminated a plethora of lies and smears against Aafia in an attempt to demonise her to a level where no jury would ever acquit her. Prosecutors allege that Aafia was arrested in July 2008 when she was discovered loitering outside the compound of the Governor of Ghazni. The federal indictment against her states that she was found to be in possession of numerous suspicious items in her handbag including notes referring “to the construction of ‘dirty bombs,’ chemical and biological weapons, and other explosives” as well as descriptions of various landmarks in the United States, and “substances that were sealed in bottles and glass jars.” Since 2003, the FBI has stated that it was hunting for Aafia Siddiqui as she was an al-Qaeda “facilitator” who posed a “clear and present danger to the US” and was among the seven “most wanted” al-Qaeda fugitives. These allegations resurfaced in the media after Aafia was “officially” claimed to have been arrested in July 2008, with her being derogatorily referred to as “al-Qaida Mom.” In such a climate, was it any surprise that Aafia was convicted?
However, what is surprising is that despite all the propaganda and allegations against her, Aafia was never charged with any terrorism offence. It was accepted in court that she was not a member of al-Qaeda or linked to any terrorist organisation. Yet, the judge inexplicably prohibited the events of the prior five years to be discussed in court, which could have provided some context and explanation as to Aafia’s condition and circumstances surrounding her arrest. Nevertheless, prejudicial lines of questioning such as whether Aafia has ever done any work with chemicals and whether she had been in hiding for the last five years were allowed. Despite it having no relevance to the issue of whether Aafia shot the M4 rifle or not, the prosecution was permitted to cross-examine Aafia about the contents of the bag she was found with at the time of her arrest.
In her defence, Aafia said she was given the bag and was unaware of its contents. Even security measures at the court seemed designed to suggest that Aafia was a terrorist. A metal detector was installed outside the courtroom door on the second day to screen all individuals sitting in the public gallery (this is in addition to the metal detector at the main entrance to the courthouse). Members of the general public were required to show photo identifications with court security guards noting the name and address of each individual. When objected to as a prejudicial interference with Aafia’s right to a free and open trial, the judge said he would look at it, though attendees at the trial said a member of the court security detail told them the measures were on the direct order of the judge. Throughout the 12-day trial, Aafia was portrayed as a terrorist though she was not charged with a terrorism offence.
But at the same time, the defence was prohibited from discussing Aafia’s whereabouts for the previous five years, in effect allowing the prosecution to have their cake and eat it. No mention was made of her whereabouts during her five missing years. No explanation was given as to why a would-be terrorist would wander around outside an Afghan governor’s home with bag full of almost theatrically incriminating materials. No questions were raised about the whereabouts of her two missing children, one of whom is a US citizen. Yet, jurors were treated to titbits of the greater story as it trickled out during Aafia’s testimony where she made references to “secret prisons” and “torture,” thereby giving the impression of a mentally unstable person, before the judge reined her in.
Aafia said that on March 28, 2003, she and her three children were kidnapped by Pakistani security services, after her name was mentioned during the torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay earlier that month. She was separated from her three children and told that the youngest, baby Sulaiman, was dead. She only saw her eldest son Ahmad for the first time since her detention when she was arrested in 2008. She has still not seen her daughter Maryam, who would now be ten years old. Aafia testified that she was kept in secret prisons and repeatedly raped and tortured by her American captors. Her account is somewhat corroborated by the fact that other suspects to whom she was linked, such as Majid Khan and Ali ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Ali, also disappeared from Karachi at almost precisely the same time as she did. They did not reappear until September 2006, after their transfer to Guantanamo Bay from CIA custody. For more than three years, they had been secretly held by the CIA or one of the CIA’s proxies. Like many others, they had been arrested by the Pakistani intelligence services and handed over to CIA.
Her account is bolstered by the one person who claims to have met her between 2003 and 2008, her uncle, Shams ul-Hassan Faruqi. Faruqi claims that in January 2008, six months before her arrest in Ghazni, a white car carrying a burka-clad woman pulled up outside his gate. The woman beckoned him to approach and identified herself as his niece, Aafia. Faruqi says he recognised her by her voice. But she refused to leave the car and insisted they move to the nearby Taj Mahal restaurant to talk.
Aafia told her uncle that she had been in both Pakistani and American captivity since 2003, but was vague on the details. “I was in the cells but I don’t know in which country, or which city. They kept shifting me,” she said. Now she had been set free but remained under the control of intelligence officials based in Lahorewho wanted her to infiltrate al-Qaeda in Pakistan. But, Aafia told her uncle, she was afraid and wanted him to help her escape to Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban, who she believed would keep her safe. That night, Aafia slept at a nearby guesthouse and stayed with her uncle the next day. But she refused to remove her burka. On the third day, Aafia vanished again.
This account would explain a number of issues including Aafia’s disappearance for five years, her presence outside the Governor of Ghazni’s home, her fear of being handed back into American custody and most of all, her psychological condition.
What happened to Aafia remains a mystery and we may never know the full truth behind the circumstances of her kidnapping and illegal imprisonment. What is evident though is that she has suffered enough. Aafia dedicated her life to raising awareness of Muslim causes and the oppression of her brothers and sisters in Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan. She is a hafiz of the Qur’an and used to teach it to new Muslims. She regularly fundraised for charitable causes and provided Qur’ans to Muslim prisoners in the US. Aafia was a daughter, a mother, a sister who never abandoned a Muslim in need.
With her sentencing due on May 6, it is incumbent on all Muslims and people of conscience to ensure that in her hour of need, we do not abandon her, as her country, the “Islamic” Republic of Pakistan did when it sold her to the Americans in 2003. Aafia is the epitome of the oppressive regime that has come to be known as the “war on terror.” On March 28 this year, activists and organisations around the globe will be marking the anniversary of Aafia’s kidnapping with a series of events, vigils, film screenings, exhibitions and talks in what is coming to be known as “Aafia Siddiqui Day.” The least we can do is to be her voice and make du‘a. The Prophet (s) warned us that, “Whoever is present while a Muslim is humiliated before him, and is able to assist him [and yet does not], Allah will humiliate him before all of creation on the Day of Judgment.”