Sunday, September 14, 2008

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui's Crime?

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information that due to a bullet wound and removal of one kidney, Dr. Afia Siddiqui health is in a serious condition, but no medical assistance has been provided to her whilst she has been in American custody in New York.

by Aijaz Zaka Syed

Just when you think Uncle Sam's war has no more surprises to spring on an unsuspecting world, he comes up with yet another gem.

Take the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who grew up in the US and went to top universities including the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The woman who had been a topper throughout her remarkable career had to leave the US when the authorities began harassing her and her husband for their charity activities after 9/11.

The family settled down in Karachi and was never involved in any illegal activities. One day in March 2003, this talented young woman went missing with her three children when she was on her way to Karachi airport.

Dr. Siddiqui resurfaced this month after five years in a New York court as a "top Al-Qaeda terrorist". She was barely able to walk and speak, which was not surprising given the fact she had been recently involved in a "gunfight with FBI agents" in Afghanistan. The US authorities claim Dr. Siddiqui was captured near the governor's offices in Ghazni, Afghanistan last month with a bag full of "suspicious liquids in tubes." If you think this is an incredible yarn, here's some more food for thought. We are told Siddiqui assaulted a team of US troops and FBI officials with a highly sophisticated weapon when they went to quiz her in Afghanistan. And where did she get the weapon? Somebody had of course placed it near her rather conveniently. She is said to have fired several rounds with the high-tech weapon. Interestingly, while all those alleged rounds of firing with the alleged weapon failed to wound or injure America's brave soldiers, Siddiqui herself has ended up with a bullet wound in her chest.

Even though one has never been enamored of the Bushies' extraordinary intellectual powers, this cock and bull tale is an insult to the intelligence of American people as well as the rest of the world. I mean they could have at least employed more ingenuity of thought and imagination in cooking up this incredibly bizarre case against a lone, defenseless, half-dead woman who seems to have no clue where she is or what she is accused of. There are some basic questions that an ordinary mind like mine just can't seem to figure out.

FIRST, where was Aafia Siddiqui hiding or hidden all these years -— since she went missing in Karachi in March 2003? How did she turn up in the remote Ghazni province in Afghanistan, of all the God-forsaken places? And what happened to her three children?

Second, if the MIT-educated neuroscientist was indeed an Al-Qaeda mastermind, why wasn't she presented in a court of law all this while? Even today when she is facing the US law, she is not being tried on terrorism charges but for allegedly assaulting the US officials. So what's her original crime, if she has indeed committed a crime?

           Third, why wasn't the Pakistani government informed about her detention in Afghanistan and her subsequent deportation to the US? Or was Pakistan's erstwhile "Enlightened and Moderate" leader also involved in this international enterprise against a 31-year-old mother of three? There are so many gaping holes in this "case" that the US Constitution, Magna Carta and the UN Charter can all go through them at the same time. You abduct a completely innocent, married woman with a family and put her away for five years to conveniently discover her now as a terrorist in the lawless Afghanistan.

Elaine Whitfield Sharp, Siddiqui's lawyer, believes she has been put on trial now because she has "become a terrible embarrassment" to the US and Afghan authorities.

The question is why has she been reinvented now? It is quite possible that Siddiqui has been found now because of a relentless campaign by British journalist Yvonne Ridley. Ridley has been running a campaign called Cage Prisoner for the release of a mysterious female prisoner who has been held at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in total isolation and regularly tortured for five years.

The unknown female prisoner, known as the Prisoner No. 650 or the Gray Lady of Bagram, was brought to the world attention after Ridley read about the woman in a book by fellow Briton Moazzam Begg, a former Gitmo and Bagram prisoner. In his book, "Enemy Combatant", Beg talks of a woman's endless screams for help as she was tortured. Beg first thought he was imagining his wife's screams. "We now know the screams came from a woman who has been held in Bagram for some years. And she is Prisoner No. 650," Ridley disclosed at a recent press conference in Pakistan.

And I strongly suspect that Prisoner No. 650 is none other than Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. It is quite possible that her captors decided to end her isolation after the Pakistani press and activists like Ridley began increasingly talking about the Prisoner No. 650 and how she was tortured and abused physically, mentally and sexually for the past four years.

I find it hard to believe all this can happen in this age and time. When one read Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel laureate who died last week, years ago and his first person account of the Soviet gulag and how they turned living human beings into humanity's refuse, one thought it could never happen in our age and time. But one is not so sure now. If they could do this to a gifted, US-educated and trained scientist, I shudder to think of the fate of illiterate and impoverished men and women summarily picked up in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The Aafia Siddiqui case may have come to the world's attention because of some conscientious activists. But what about all those innocent individuals, who have just vanished down the black hole called the Guantanamo Bay, without a trial and without anyone looking for them? And who knows how many such gulags are out there and how many innocents they have sucked into their belly? This war has turned our world into a big gulag where there are no borders, no rule of law, no courts, no justice and no rights whatsoever. But, the neocons reassure us, all this is necessary to promote democracy and human freedom. Whatever happened to the America of Jefferson and Lincoln, the country that we all loved once and turned to for inspiration?

         Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based Journalist and an Editor of Khaleej Times, Dubai, UAE.
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