Seven Days for Seven Years: A Week-Long Vigil for Aafia Siddiqui at the US Embassy in London

30.4.10

One month ago, I addressed the disturbing case of the Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui in an article marking “Aafia Siddiqui Day,” in which I ran through what I regarded as some of the particularly pertinent questions to ask regarding her disappearance for five years, the whereabouts of her three children (who disappeared with her in March 2003, when she was reportedly kidnapped in Karachi), and the alleged incident with US soldiers in Afghanistan in 2008 that led to her “rendition” to the US for a trial that ended with her conviction in February this year.

The case of Aafia Siddiqui is one of the murkiest in the whole of the “War on Terror,” as Declan Walsh explained in the Guardian after Dr. Siddiqui’s conviction. Walsh wrote:

Hard facts have been elusive in one of the most intriguing and murky cases to emerge from the Bush administration-era “war on terror.” It started in March 2003 when Siddiqui and her three children mysteriously disappeared from Karachi, probably picked up by Pakistani intelligence. What happened next is hotly contested. Siddiqui’s supporters, led by the British campaigner Yvonne Ridley, insist she was sent to Bagram airfield north of Kabul, where she was detained and tortured by US forces. Sceptics say she was probably on the run in Pakistan, associating with Islamist extremists. In 2004 the FBI named Siddiqui as one of seven senior al-Qaeda figures plotting to attack America, which earned her the nickname “Lady al-Qaeda” in the US media.

As Walsh also noted, however, “few of those events were examined in the trial,” which focused on her supposed capture in Afghanistan in July 2008, when she “dramatically resurfaced” and tried to shoot a US soldier, and which led to her conviction, even though the prosecution “could produce little forensic evidence to support its case, with experts unable to produce incriminating bullet cases or fingerprints on the weapon Siddiqui allegedly fired.” As Walsh also noted, “the jury appeared to have been swayed by statements from at least seven witnesses, including an Afghan translator and several US soldiers,” and “may also have been swayed by Siddiqui’s erratic behaviour.” After the verdict was announced, Dr. Siddiqui’s lawyer, Elaine Sharp, claimed that the case had been decided on “fear not fact.”

On Saturday May 1, the Justice for Aafia Coalition is launching a week-long vigil for Dr. Siddiqui outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. The vigil, entitled, “Seven Days for Seven Years,” was planned to coincide with her sentencing, although this has now been postponed until July 21.

However, it is clearly an appropriate time to keep her story in the news, because, just a week after the seventh anniversary of her disappearance, one of her children resurfaced, apparently after seven years in US custody in Afghanistan.

According to reports summarized by Mary on Firedoglake’s Empty Wheel blog, “a girl approximately 12 years old, who spoke only English and Persian and claimed her name was ‘Fatima,’ was dropped off in front of the home of Siddiqui’s sister. Some stories indicate an American named ‘John’ may have been with her.” In addition, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that a senior policeman described how the girl was “wearing a collar ‘bearing the address of the house in case she wandered off.’”

A week later, “Fatima” was apparently identified, through DNA testing, as Dr. Siddiqui’s daughter Mariam, and an article on the Justice for Aafia Coalition’s website noted that she “claim[ed] she was kept in a ‘cold, dark room’ for seven years,” allegedly in the US prison at Bagram airbase.

With the re-emergence of Mariam, two of Aafia’s three children are now reportedly accounted for. As the article above also noted, in late August 2008, Michael G. Garcia, the attorney general of the southern region of New York, “confirmed in a letter to Siddiqui’s sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui, that her son, Ahmed, had been in the custody of the FBI since 2003 and that he was currently in the custody of the Karzai government in Afghanistan,” even though the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, had previously claimed that Washington “had no information regarding the children.” The article added that Ahmed was finally released to the custody of Siddiqui’s family in Pakistan in September 2009, and later “gave a statement to police in Lahore that he had been held in a juvenile prison in Afghanistan for years.”

However, as has also been reported (by Robert Fisk, amongst others), doubts have been expressed as to whether the boy identified as Ahmed is really Aafia’s eldest child, and, of course, the whereabouts of Suleiman — a baby at the time of his capture — are still unknown, although it may be, as has been hinted at over the years, that he was killed during the initial kidnapping in April 2003.

While the fate of Suleiman must remain the number one priority for those seeking the truth about Dr. Siddiqui’s case, it is also imperative that pressure is exerted on the US and Afghan governments to explain whether there is any truth to Mariam’s claim that she was held for seven years in Bagram, where her mother was also reportedly held, and what the story is regarding the “children’s prison” where Ahmed was detained, which, according to some rumors circulating, also held — or still holds — other children of “terror suspects” seized in the “War on Terror.”

If this story concerns you, and you are in London, or within reach of the capital, please consider attending the vigil. Email the Justice for Aafia Coalition if you would like to register for the vigil, and please also note that speakers will address the vigil at 6.30 pm on Wednesday May 5, including Bruce Kent and, via phone link, Amina Masood Janjua, the wife of Pakistani “ghost prisoner” Masood Janjua, and the Chair of Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, which campaigns for justice for the thousands of Pakistani “ghost prisoner” who have disappeared in their home country. For further information, please visit the Justice for Aafia Coalition’s website.

(‘DiggThis’)

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

10 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    Maryam Hassan of the Justice for Aafia Coalition sent the following clarification, following the article’s publication:

    Hi Andy,

    Thank you so much for writing this article. Just wanted to add:

    “an article on the Justice for Aafia Coalition’s website noted that she “claim[ed] she was kept in a ‘cold, dark room’ for seven years,” allegedly in the US prison at Bagram airbase”:

    This actually came not from Mariam but the Pakistani government — Senator Talha Mahmood said she was recovered from the US airbase at Bagram in the custody of an American known as ‘John’ (Urdu language press say “American soldier”) and he is the one who mentioned she had been kept in a “cold dark room” therein for seven years. The press conference is available on Youtube and the JFAC website (in Urdu for the most part).

    “However, as has also been reported (by Robert Fisk, amongst others), doubts have been expressed as to whether the boy identified as Ahmed is really Aafia’s eldest child”:

    I was really surprised that Fisk reported this because there is very little to indicate that and it relies only on the testimony of Aafia’s Uncle (as does Declan Walsh); there is a clear family resemblance; Fisk claims he is an Afghani orphan — he does not look at all ethnically Afghan but looks very obviously Pakistani. He speaks Urdu with a Karachi accent. At the time he was released there was reportedly DNA testing by governments to determine he was Aafia’s son. Aafia’s daughter’s DNA, according to the Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, matches that of Ahmed Siddiqui and Amjad Khan (their father).

    HRW’s Joanne Mariner mentions the following:

    According to an Afghan Interior Ministry official quoted in the Washington Post, Ahmed Siddiqui was held briefly by the Interior Ministry when he was arrested with his mother in July, and then he was transferred to the custody of the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS), the country’s intelligence agency. The NDS is notorious for its brutal treatment of detainees.

    Under Afghan and international law, Ahmed Siddiqui is too young to be treated as a criminal suspect. Under Afghanistan’s Juvenile Code, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 13. And according to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors the treatment of children globally, a minimum age of criminal responsibility below age 12 is “not … internationally acceptable.”

    Human Rights Watch has called upon the Afghan authorities to release Ahmed Siddiqui to members of his biological family, who reside in Pakistan, or to a child welfare organization that can provide proper care until he is reunited with his family. As Human Rights Watch has emphasized, an 11-year-old should never have been transferred to the custody of the NDS.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/mariner09102008.html

    Also, in the video, when Ahmed is reunited with his father for the first time he ran away in horror, identifying his father as the person who used to beat him in Afghanistan.

  2. Carlyle Moulton says...

    It is now obvious that the US and Afghan authorities had at the least two of Aafia Siddiqui’s children in their custody for period of 5 years. This makes no sense unless they also had Aafia Siddiqui under their control and were using the children as hostages coercively to interrogate her. It follows that Siddiqui herself was also in US custody shortly (minutes, hours maybe days) before she appeared on that street in Ghazni with all those documents and chemicals so conveniently incriminating of terrorism.

    This makes the rush by US agencies to interrogate her after the Afghan police arrested her a case of over-elaborate theater of which the only purpose was to create the impression that Siddiqui was not in US custody for the period of her disappearance. The whole chain of events leading up to her alleged shooting at US officials is a case of agents of the US acting in bad faith.

    This bad faith completely undermines the case against Siddiqui for her attempted murder of US soldiers. Aafia Siddiqui could have been under no illusion that the US attempt to rearrest her was not some kind of trick, portending evil for her. If a gun did become available to her, using it to shoot Americans provided the only slim chance of escape open to her.

    We can be certain of one thing: that what happened in that Afghan police station was theater designed to convert US imprisonment of Aafia Siddiqui from secret to openly acknowledged while keeping the 5 years of secret detention concealed. The documents and chemicals in her possession when she was arrested constitute a laughably inept attempt to set her up for a charge of terrorism.

    What we don’t know are whether subsequent happenings went according to the intended script. Maybe the intent was not to kill her but simply to get her back into US custody and convict her of a terrorism offense that would make it impossible for her to tell the story of secret imprisonment as she is held for life in a supermax prison under special administrative measures (i.e. incommunicado). Maybe the US personnel sent to rearrest her were not themselves in on the details of the scam and simply overreacted and shot her because of their irrational fears of anyone tarred with the brush of “terrorism”. However, one cannot rule out the possibility that the some of the US personnel sent to that Afghan police station constituted a death squad whose orders were to terminate her, and the problem was that they did an inept job and she survived with medical help.

    One cannot rely on the good faith in any of the US institutions involved in convicting Siddiqui of attempted murder, the judiciary, the FBI or the US Army. Some or all are involved in a cover up of something: illegal imprisonment, attempted death squad killing or accidental shooting.

    My main point is that Aafia Siddiqui was convicted in a trial in which the most relevant fact — that Siddiqui had been in US custody for years until shortly before she was arrested in Ghazni — was excluded from consideration. It was possible to exclude this information in a trial on a charge of attempted murder of US soldiers, where that would not have been possible in a terrorism trial using the planted documents and chemicals, so perhaps the death squad hypothesis is the most likely explanation.

    I suspect that after years of stonewalling by US authorities this will turn out to be another case of institutionalized malfeasance by the US state, as have the torture at Abu Ghraib, the deaths at Guantanamo, the brutal murders of innocent detainees in Afghanistan and the numerous atrocities committed against Iraqi and Afghan civilians by predator drone, Apache helicopter and special forces.

    The fact is that enough is already known that renders the official US story unbelievable. I cannot see how the US can keep Aafia Siddiqui from telling her side of the story just by using special administrative measures to silence her. Too many people will point out that such special administrative measures are especially convenient if their purpose is to conceal US wrong doing.

    .

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Excellent analysis, Carlyle. Thank you for providing it.

  4. Barbaric: 86-Year Sentence for Aafia Siddiqui | The Muslim Justice Initiative says...

    [...] truth about Aafia Siddiqui’s story, as I have mentioned in previous articles here, here and here, is difficult to discern, but too many unanswered questions had already been brushed off [...]

  5. Barbaric: 86-Year Sentence for Aafia Siddiqui « Global Voice For Justice says...

    [...] truth about Aafia Siddiqui’s story, as I have mentioned in previous articles here, here and here, is difficult to discern, but too many unanswered questions had already been brushed off [...]

  6. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui – The Punishment Does Not Fit the Crime | MuslimMatters.org says...

    [...] by Pakistani or American authorities—and was being held in a CIA secret prison somewhere (here, here, and here). By 2007 the Human Rights Watch group released a report calling Siddiqui one of the many [...]

  7. Compelling New Evidence About Aafia Siddiqui’s Detention by the ISI, and Her Rigged Trial in the US « Eurasia Review says...

    [...] is some discussion on the tape about the return of her daughter, Maryam. (Two unidentified voices are also heard.) V1: Oh, another thing. They found her daughter [...]

  8. Compelling New Evidence About Aafia Siddiqui’s Detention by the ISI, and Her Rigged Trial in the US « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] is some discussion on the tape about the return of her daughter, Maryam. (Two unidentified voices are also heard.) V1: Oh, another thing. They found her daughter [...]

  9. Compelling New Evidence About Aafia Siddiqui’s Detention by the ISI, and Her Rigged Trial in the US By Andy Worthington | Sailan Muslim - The Online Resource for Sri Lanka Muslims says...

    [...] is some discussion on the tape about the return of her daughter, Maryam. (Two unidentified voices are also [...]

  10. Compelling New Evidence About Aafia Siddiqui’s Detention by the ISI, and Her Rigged Trial in the US | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] is some discussion on the tape about the return of her daughter, Maryam. (Two unidentified voices are also […]

Leave a Reply

Back to the top

Back to home page

Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

RSS

Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium

XHTML & CSS

WordPress

Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:

Archives

In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

Andy's Flickr photos

Campaigns

Categories

Tag Cloud

Abu Zubaydah Afghans Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington Bagram British prisoners CIA torture prisons Clive Stafford Smith Close Guantanamo David Cameron Guantanamo Habeas corpus Hunger strikes Lewisham London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Photos President Obama Reprieve Save Lewisham A&E Shaker Aamer Torture UK austerity UK protest US Congress US courts WikiLeaks Yemenis