Video: Aafia Siddiqui and America’s Disappeared – Andy Worthington Speaks at a Protest at the US Embassy in London

18.4.12

On Saturday March 31, I was delighted to be asked to speak at a demonstration outside the US Embassy marking the 9th anniversary of the disappearance of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who vanished with her three children in Karachi on March 30, 2003. It took nearly five and a half years until she reappeared in Afghanistan, where she was arrested by Afghan soldiers, and where, after apparently trying and failing to shoot at the US soldiers to whose custody she had been transferred, she was flown to the United States — rendered, one might say — where she was tried in New York, and, in September 2010, sentenced to 86 years in prison. (Click on the image to make it full-size).

I have written about Aafia Siddiqui’s case on many occasions, and have also spoken about her at several demonstrations and other meetings, but her story never becomes any easier in the telling, as it is so full of holes, involves rumours of her torture, the disappearance of two of her children for many years, and the presumption that her third child, a baby boy, was killed at the time of her disappearance. It also remains opaque and troubling because of the strange circumstances of her capture in 2008, her odd trial, and that hugely draconian sentence. Her alleged role as an al-Qaeda operative remains shadowy, and her current situation remains a source of alarm, as she is held in Carswell, in Fort Worth, Texas, a Federal Medical Center that provides specialized medical and mental health services to female offenders, but that has a terrible reputation for the abuse of the women held there.

The demonstration, which was organised by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, featured several other speakers, whose videos can be found here, and as many of them were speaking eloquently and at length about Dr. Siddiqui’s case, I took the opportunity to explain how she was one of many dozens of “high-value detainees” subjected to extraordinary rendition and torture in the Bush years, and to mention not only how there has been no accountability for those who authorised the program, but also how there has never been an official account of who was held.

We do, however, know that some of the many dozens of prisoners ended up in Guantánamo in September 2006, after years in secret CIA prisons, and I took the opportunity to talk about one of these men, Abu Zubaydah, the first of the “high-value detainees,” for whom the torture program was specifically developed. Zubaydah’s capture took place almost exactly a year before Dr. Siddiqui’s capture, and at the protest I drew on the various elements of this story that I described in my recent article, Ten Years of Torture: On Anniversary of Abu Zubaydah’s Capture, Poland Charges Former Spy Chief Over “Black Site”.

Below is another short video of Lt. Col. Lorraine Barlett, a member of the US Army Judge Advocate General Corps, who is currently serving as a defense counsel with the Office of Military Commissions, representing a Saudi prisoner, Ghassan al-Sharbi, who was charged under President Bush in 2008, but then had those charges dropped. He has not been charged again under President Obama. I was meeting Lt. Col. Barlett, and had suggested meeting at the rally, where I thought she would meet some interesting people, and be well-received, and I will be writing an article about her client in the near future. In the meantime, you can support his release via this Facebook page.

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Andrew Brel wrote:

    Interesting extract from Abu Zubaydah wiki page.

    Gerald Posner in his book “Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11″ claimed that Abu Zubaydah was duped by U.S. interrogators masquerading as Saudis and using painkillers and sodium pentathol, sometimes called “truth serum”. Zubaydah, he writes, thought he was in a Saudi prison, when in fact he was in Afghanistan. Posner says Zubaydah, “relieved” to find he was being quizzed by people he thought were Saudis, provided them with phone numbers for a senior member of the Saudi royal family who would “tell you what to do.” He says the U.S. interrogators were stunned when the numbers were traced to Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, a nephew of King Fahd.

    When the agents accused Zubaydah of lying, he revealed more details of Saudi and Pakistani ties to bin Laden, the author says, and in the space of one week, three of the four persons named by him were dead. Prince Ahmed, 43, died of a heart attack on July 22, 2002. The next day, a car crash killed Saudi Prince Sultan bin Faisal bin Turki al-Saud, 41. A week later, Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, 25, reportedly died “of thirst” while traveling east of Riyadh. Seven months later, a plane crash “in clear weather,” Posner says, killed Pakistani Air Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir, his wife and several aides in Pakistan.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that very interesting account by Gerald Posner, Andrew. I don’t know anyone’s who’s followed up on it to establish whether there’s any credibility to it or not, which is why I’ve not drawn on it previously, but it’s certainly worthwhile for people to know about it, and for there to be further research.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Andrew Brel wrote:

    It does seem strange that that 4 deaths should follow the naming by Zabaydah. Three Princes named – three dead within days – two in early 40’s and one of 25. Quite possibly that is a coincidence.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Difficult to know. However, here’s a skeptical account from Salon, in October 2003, which is interesting: http://www.salon.com/2003/10/18/saudis_2/

  5. arcticredriver says...

    Greetings Andy, thanks for all your efforts.

    When I first looked into her case, many years ago, I was troubled as to how many of the early press reports were consistent with her being the liberal spouse in her eroding marraige. Some said she wanted her kids to remain in the USA, and receive a liberal western education, while it was her husband who wanted them to receive an Islamic education in Pakistan.

    I am concerned she may never have been a terrorist at all, may not have married Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s nephew, may have been no more than a acquaintance of Majid Khan.

    The public record shows how bad US intelligence analysts are at bringing sanity checking to their narratives. Here are two intelligence related links that will make you weep with either laughter — or frustration. In 2004 Canada issued 30,000 quarters into general circulation that had a red poppy painted on them — covered by some kind of polymer. In 2005 and 2006 these coins triggered the suspicions of “American Defense contractors” in Canada. Who filed reports that they feared they were being tracked through “nanotechnology”.
    http://www.thestar.com/news/article/211189–u-s-feared-poppy-quarter
    http://www.thestar.com/article/211492–mysterious-spy-coin-simply-poppycock
    One spook claimed the coins were slipped into his pocket while he slept, because he always emptied his pockets into plastic bags before he went to bed.

    As these Toronto Star articles note, it seems once an idea starts circulating within the US intelligence establishment it is impossible to drive a stake through its heart, no matter how ridiculous it is.

    And when secret evidence is used at a trial the credibility of the evidence is never subjected to a public test.

  6. arcticredriver says...

    Concerning the phone numbers Gerald Posner suggests Abu Zubaydah offered — I think it should be recognized now that Abu Zubaydah and his boss, Ibn al Sheikh al Libi were not members of al Qaeda, or allies of al Qaeda — they were rivals.

    My reading of the public documents is that Osama bin Laden was jealous, and got the Taliban to shut down the camp these two men ran, because their older and more famous camp competed with his camp for recruits and because they drew their funding from the same pool of donors.

    I have never heard any hints that the Saudis assassinate members of their royal family, so I am skeptical that they assassinated, or allowed foreigners to assassinate, any Princes.

    It is worth bearing in mind that since Saudi kings have dozens of wives there are well over a thousand Saudis entitled to be called “prince”.

    Finally, I can’t remember whether you mentioned, or any of your readers mentioned, the recent death of William Sampson. He was a UK-Canadian citizen arrested and tortured, on trumped up charges, who was part of a prisoner exhange that brought home some of the first Saudis to leave Guantanamo.

    Poor guy, just like so many of the USA’s torture victims, his life was shattered.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Excellent points, as ever.

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