Gareth Peirce’s Statement in Support of Aafia Siddiqui


I recently watched (for the first time, I concede), the film “In the Name of the Father,” about the Guildford Four, in which Emma Thompson plays the part of Gareth Peirce, who exposed the abhorrent miscarriage of justice in that dreadful case of torture and false confessions, which was only overturned after Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson had spent 15 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, and Conlon’s father, Giuseppe, had died in prison.

Watching the film was a vivid reminder of how long Gareth has fought for society’s scapegoats, as the “terror threat” has shifted from the Irish to the Muslim community, and it’s my pleasure, therefore, to reproduce a statement by her, which was read out on Wednesday evening during a rally, with many speakers, as part of a week-long vigil for Aafia Siddiqui outside the US embassy in London. I reported Dr. Siddiqui’s story — one of the murkiest in the whole of the “War on terror” — in a previous article, and provided updates last week, while promoting this event, which I was unable to attend, because I was in Birmingham, at a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” with former Guantánamo prisoners Moazzam Begg and Omar Deghayes.

Gareth’s statement was originally published by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, which organized the vigil (which ends today) and maintains an excellent website.

A statement by Gareth Peirce in support of Aafia Siddiqui

One of the UK’s most high profile lawyers and a fearless campaigner for human rights, Gareth Peirce has represented the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the families of the victims of the Marchioness riverboat disaster and the Lockerbie bombing. More recently she has acted on behalf of UK detainees held in Guantánamo, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes as well as numerous detainees held under anti-terror legislation in the UK. In a career spanning more than 30 years, she is said to have “transformed the criminal justice scene in this country almost single-handedly.” Gareth was regretfully unable to attend the JFAC “Seven Days for Seven Years” Vigil on Wednesday 5th May. She sent this statement of support to the Justice for Aafia Coalition, which was read out during the vigil.

Perhaps the most disturbing case of all, amongst the many thousands which have caused us horror over the past eight and a half years, is that of Aafia Siddiqui. Since the time of her reported arrest and the extraordinary decision that she should be transported across the world for trial and not where she was claimed to have been arrested, every aspect has smacked of implausibility, reminding us of the false police accounts here of the early 1970s, where nothing had the ring of truth, but nevertheless only too easily juries would convict the innocent. A different nationality, a different religion, a different appearance: once the allegation of “terrorist” is attached, it must seem safer to the patriotic juror to convict, however unconvincing the prosecution’s evidence.

By a coincidence of timing, a number of men in this country have, for the past five years or more, been contesting their extraditions to the USA, some of them destined for trial in the same Federal District Court in Manhattan as Aafia Siddiqui. That means they have come to investigate and realise the true horror of the circumstances in which a defendant who awaits trial under Special Administrative Measures is held in the USA: entirely isolated, in a cell just 7 feet by 12 feet with a moulded concrete bunk. Food is delivered through a slot in the door. No contact with another person. Never to see the light of day. Even the strongest and fittest would be unable to do justice to themselves, even in the fairest of proceedings. No wonder, faced with the further spectre of the same grim solitary confinement continuing forever (with sentences of 100 years or more), some 97 percent of defendants in the USA plead guilty in an attempt to avoid the worst of the most severe consequences if convicted.

This is a case that cries out for a return, and with the greatest speed, to her own country now for Aafia Siddiqui.

Some day, maybe many years from now, shocking truths may see the light of day. But it is our collective experience that they are not meant ever to do so and that many innocent men and women spend their lives, and some die, before that day ever comes.

I and my colleagues lend whatever support we can offer, to achieving Aafia Siddiqui’s return to her own country, to normality, to freedom, and to a return by those with responsibility, to sanity, to justice and compassion.

Gareth Peirce
2nd May 2010

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.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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