On Wednesday December 1, from 6.30 to 9.30 pm, I’ll be discussing the fate of Aafia Siddiqui at the London Muslim Centre, 46-92 Whitechapel Road, London, E1 1JX, with other speakers including Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner and the director of Cageprisoners, and the journalist Yvonne Ridley, who is a patron of Cageprisoners, and has covered Dr. Siddiqui’s case extensively over the last few years. The event, which is free and open to all, will be chaired by Asim Qureshi, the executive director of Cageprisoners.
This event is taking place to raise awareness about the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who, in September, was given an 86-year sentence in a court in New York for allegedly trying — and failing — to shoot two US soldiers in Ghazni, Afghanistan in the summer of 2008, after which she was rendered to New York to be put on trial. The event’s deliberately provocative title reflects how an 86-year sentence for a disputed crime in which no one was even hurt, let alone killed, is effectively a death sentence for Dr. Siddiqui, who will die in a US prison unless pressure is maintained on the US government — and on the Pakistani government — to examine her case again or arrange for her to be transferred to Pakistani custody with the opportunity for her sentence to be reviewed.
In the last few years, I have publicized and taken part in several events focusing on Aafia Siddiqui’s case — most recently in east London (where I interviewed former Guantánamo prisoners Ruhal Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul) and outside the Pakistani embassy in London — and I never fail to mention how Dr. Siddiqui’s case is one of the most murky and troubling in the whole of the “War on Terror” initiated by the Bush administration, which led to countless horror stories, in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Iraq, in the CIA’s network of secret prisons, and in the program of “extraordinary rendition” that involved — and still involves — prisoners being disposed of by being sent to torture prisons in third countries, or in their home countries.
In fact, Dr. Siddiqui’s case seems to be central to the darkest aspects of the Bush adminstration’s global torture program, as she was almost certainly identified as a supposed al-Qaeda operative by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, after his capture in Pakistan on March 1, 2003, and his subsequent torture — including being waterboarded 183 times — in a secret CIA prison in Poland, presumably on the basis that her second husband, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, whom she had reportedly married shortly before her capture, was KSM’s nephew. Ali was himself seized a month after her, on April 29, 2003, and also held in secret CIA prisons before his transfer to Guantánamo with 13 other men (including his uncle) in September 2006, but there is no evidence that Dr. Siddiqui had any knowledge of the 9/11 plans or of any planned attacks in the future, and it seems more likely, therefore, that she is an example of what I once referred to as the “tangled web” of those who are falsely denounced by prisoners when they are subjected to torture instead of being questioned non-coercively by skilled interrogators.
In an article following the ruling in September, entitled, “Barbaric: 86-Year Sentence for Aafia Siddiqui,” I presented the outline of Dr. Siddiqui’s story, and suggested how the sentence hinted at a cynical cover-up by the US authorities, as follows:
Such a disproportionate sentence would be barbaric, even if Aafia Siddiqui had killed the soldiers she shot at, but as she missed entirely, and was herself shot twice in the abdomen, it simply doesn’t make sense. Moreover, the sentencing overlooks claims by her lawyers that her fingerprints were not even on the gun that she allegedly fired, and, even more significantly, hints at a chilling cover-up, mentioned everywhere except at Aafia’s trial earlier this year. Seen this way, her sudden reappearance in Ghazni in July 2008, the shooting incident, the trial and the conviction were designed to hide the fact that, for five years and four months, from March 2003, when she and her three children were reportedly kidnapped in Karachi, she was held in secret US detention — possibly in the US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan — where she was subjected to horrendous abuse.
More of Aafia Siddiqui’s story can be found in my earlier articles here and here, and also, of course, on the website of the Justice for Aafia Coalition. Post-sentencing, she is now held in the Federal Medical Facility in Carswell, Texas, a notorious establishment described in an article by Yvonne Ridley for Cageprisoners as the “Hospital of horror.” Please visit this JFAC page for details about how to send letters of support, and if you’re in London, please come along to the event at the London Muslim Centre on December 1.
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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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 July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michelle Matthews, Andy Worthington. Andy Worthington said: “Aafia Siddiqui: Sentenced to Death” – Event with Andy Worthington, Moazzam Begg, Yvonne Ridley, London, Dec. 1, 2010: http://bit.ly/igCa3o […]
Having read this and one of your other articles I’m stunned. Is it really the case that, having been taken in to US custody *with her children*, that all these years later no one knows (or is telling) what happened to the children?
Not quite. Last year and earlier this year, her eldest two children reappeared mysteriously, as I discussed here:
It is also presumed that her third child, a baby, was killed during her initial kidnapping in 2003.
As with everything else, however, what happened to the children has not been subjected to anything like the kind of scrutiny that would have resulted had they, for example, been seized in the West.
The article linked to above provides summaries of the story of the children, and further links to follow, but as you’ll see it’s as murky as everything else about Aafia Siddiqui’s life from 2003 to 2008.
As you usually do with those whose cases you analyze and report, Andy, wouldn’t attaching the word “murky” to those who’ve captured, tried and substantially lied about Aafia be more appropriate? Although I’m sure you don’t mean the implication to attach this term to the missing five years as if owned by the one missing – sounds like an implication that Dr. Siddiqui was deliberately involved in this murkiness? I may be oversensitive to all the US media headlines and labels which were blatantly misconstrued or careless….
Good to hear from you.
I think it’s clear that the murkiness attaches to Dr. Siddiqui’s case in general, rather than associating her with any of the things that happened to her. I wouldn’t blame you for being oversensitive, however …
Thanx, Andy. Any chance there will be an audio or video available of the event Wednesday? I for one would love to hear/see and use such a documentation.
Let us know if possible when/if…
All the best…
I’ll let you know after the event, Connie.
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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