Andy Worthington and Omar Deghayes Discuss Aafia Siddiqui in East London, Saturday February 23, 2013


The power of Islamophobia, it seems, is such that when a tabloid newspaper — the Daily Star — published an article with the headline “Mosque terror doc fundraiser,” claiming that “Britain’s biggest mosque is under investigation after it scheduled a fundraising event for a convicted would-be killer,” it led to the event being moved.

The mosque in question was the East London Mosque, in Whitechapel, and the alleged investigation was by the Charity Commission. The Star reported that the Charity Commission “said it had started a probe into the mosque,” and had “not yet launched a full investigation,” but was “looking into the issue.” That sounds very vague, but it was enough to get the mosque jumpy, and the event has, as a result, been moved to another venue in Whitechapel.

As for the “fundraising event for a convicted would-be killer,” another way of putting it would be that the Justice for Aafia Coalition (also see here) is putting on a fundraising event for a US-educated Pakistani neuroscientist who disappeared for nearly five and a half years, from March 2003 to July 2008, when, they contend, she was kidnapped and she and two of her three children were held in secret prisons run by or for the CIA and the US government. The third child, a baby at the time of her disappearance, may, it appears, have been shot and killed at the time of Dr. Siddiqui’s kidnapping.

The “conviction” trumpeted by the Star is another claim that needs qualifying. Dr. Siddiqui was indeed given an 86-year sentence in a New York courtroom in September 2010, for allegedly trying to shoot some US soldiers in Afghanistan, but as Yvonne Ridley explained in a recent article for Ceasefire magazine, “The fact they shot her at close range and nearly killed her is often overlooked. To their eternal shame, the US soldiers serving in Afghanistan claimed in court under oath that the diminutive, fragile academic leapt at them from behind a prison cell curtain, snatching one of their guns to shoot and kill them. It was a fabricated story that any defence lawyer worth his or her salt would have ripped apart at the seams.”

Ridley also stated, “The scenario painted in court was incredulous and more importantly, the evidence non existent — no gunshot residue on her hands or clothes, no bullets from the discharged gun, no fingerprints belonging to Dr. Aafia on the gun. Other vital evidence removed by US military from the scene went missing before the trial … After being patched up in a medical wing in Bagram, she was then ‘renditioned’ to America to stand trial for an alleged crime committed in Afghanistan. Flouting the Vienna and Geneva Conventions, she wasn’t given consular access until the day she made her first court appearance.”

When the sentence was first delivered, I wrote an article entitled, “Barbaric: 86-Year Sentence for Aafia Siddiqui,” and I have made several appearances at events since (see here, here, here and here), as Aafia Siddiqui’s story has always struck me as one of the murkiest in the whole sordid, torture-soaked “war on terror” that the Bush administration embarked on with such sadistic relish in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. At Saturday’s event, I will be talking to my friend, the former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, about being imprisoned without rights, in vile conditions, separated from family, and we will reflect, as wlll the audience, on those lost years, when, it seems, Aafia Siddiqui and two of her children — who were just infants at the time — were subjected to the extra-legal horrors of America’s “war on terror.”

I’m looking forward to the event — and to seeing Omar and taking part in a discussion with him — and I don’t feel the need to apologise to the Daily Star for taking part in it.

The details are below:

Saturday 23rd February, 1.15pm-4.15pm: Her Pain, Our Shame: Have We Abandoned Aafia Siddiqui?
A Fundraising Conference at the Water Lily, 69-89 Mile End Road, London E1 4TT, featuring Ilyas Townsend, Imam Shakeel Begg, Adnan Rashid, and, at 3.25, Omar Deghayes in conversation with Andy Worthington.
For further information, please email the Justice for Aafia Coalition.

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, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “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.

16 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington and Omar Deghayes Discuss Aafia Siddiqui in East London, Saturday February 23, 2013 – says...

    […] Source […]

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    It was a great event today. My only complaint is that there could have been more people there, but thanks to those who turned up, and thanks to the organisers, and to Omar Deghayes for coming from Brighton and delivering what I thought was a powerful conversation between us about Aafia, Guantanamo, black sites, being completely separated from family, in a way that not even the worst convicted criminals are made to endure, the ongoing injustice of Guantanamo and Aafia’s conviction, and the need to keep struggling for justice to prevail! I anticipate that there will be a video available to watch soon.

  3. Suze says...

    Looking forward to the video. I would have been there but live the other side of the world. In uk in August so will be attending anything you have planned then. Keep strong persistent and courageous dear Andy.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks you very much, Suze, for the kind and supportive words.

  5. arcticredriver says...

    Dr Aafia’s unique plight is so puzzling.

    It bugs me when I read her described as a chemist, when her graduate degree is in neuropsychology.

    Did she really enter a second marraige to an al Qaeda leader? That is at odds with the reports that one of the reasons her first marraige fell apart was that she wanted to raise the children in the USA, where the could get a liberal education, while it was her first husband who wanted to have them get a more traditional Islamic education in Pakistan. A mother who wanted her children to receive a liberal education wouldn’t marry an al Qaeda type.

    One of the accusations against her was that when she returned to the USA, in November or December 2002, to circulate her resume, she was supposed to rent a post office box for Majid Khan. Well, I haven’t read of any real evidence being made public that he had any ties to terrorism either. He had legal residency status in the USA. Surely it was no crime for him to rent a post office box there? Surely it was no crime for her to pay for one on his behalf?

    I’ve read claims that the horrible broken nose was the result of domestic violence from her first marraige.

    With regard to the gunpowder residue — some of the early reports of the incident implied that while she had tried to pick up the m4, she had no fire-arms training, and did not know the rifle had to have the safety switch disengaged in order to fire.

    But the whole claim that she was hiding behind a curtain seems extremely far-fetched.

    Perhaps the most outrageous thing was the judge or prosecutor didn’t recognize that she was not capable of participating in her own defense. How did that happen? If she spent five years in secret detention that could certainly explain losing her mind.

    Sadly, she is supposed to have expressed anti-jewish sentiments, during her trial. I am ready to speculate that she may not have held any anti-jewish attitudes, prior to her disappearance in 2003. We know that Guantanamo guards tried to sow discord by warning the captives that the habeas attorneys were all jewish, and that they shouldn’t trust them.

    I am surprised that Americans are not more concerned over her two surviving children. They were both born in the USA, and are American citizens. Sadly, they too seem to have been deeply traumatized by their capture and detention, and theirs will be a long path to health.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. You make a lot of very good points – the questionable al-Qaeda marriage, the lack of a case against Majid Khan, the implausible story of her capture, the judge’s abdication of responsibility when faced with someone whose mental state was clearly precarious, the general lack of concern regarding her children … I wonder if we’ll ever find out what the full story is, and whether the US establishment really did create a situation in which a female torture victim could be silenced and hidden away forever, as it appears to be.

  7. arcticredriver says...

    Her two surviving children are American citizens. I am afraid it sounds like their capture and detention, and long separation from the rest of their family in the Afghan child welfare system have had a truly devastating effect on them.

    I really hope they get whatever help they need in their recovery.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Whenever I think about this horrible story, arcticredriver, and think about the two children having apparently been held in some form of detention for years, I understand why my friend Mariam, who runs the Justice For Aafia Coalition, has devoted s much time to Aafia’s case in particular. Everything about it is so shocking.

  9. e. gore says...

    I’d like to know more about her 2 surviving children. Surely, they must have many memories of where they were held for 5 years. Is it true that the daughter spoke only or mostly English?
    I have a hard time believing that Americans just accept her insane trial. There is absolutely no evidence that she even touched that rifle. In fact, the evidence seems to prove that it was never fired in that room, How she got convicted of shooting at the officers is beyond me.
    I read the psychiatric report from her trial. She certainly seemed mentally incompetent to me. I think her behavior at her trial was bizarre, with frequent incoherent outbursts. How did she go from a successful PhD to an incoherent paranoid in those 5 years?
    It was claimed that she worked at some charitable organization in Pakistan sometime during the missing years. Has that ever been verified?
    Where is her ex-husband these days? There always seemed to be something unbelievable about things he said about her. I have always wondered if, when he was questioned about some suspicious military-like purchases he made while in the US, the CIA didn’t persuade him to implicate her.
    I really believe that the US had to convict her and make sure that she stayed in solitary for fear that the story of what happened during the missing years would come out. I think she must have suffered some prolonged, hideous brutality at the hands of either the CIA or Pakistan to turn her from an intelligent woman into a psychotic.
    It’s hard to fathom the depravity of torturing someone in a black site for years and then subjecting them to a live burial in solitary to keep the torture a secret, but that’s exactly what the US gov and its court system seems to have done. And no one from the US gov or the CIA has the human decency to step forward and speak out against it.
    Doesn’t she have a brother who lives in Texas? Does he ever get to visit her or speak with her by phone? What is he saying about her present condition, and, if he is not saying anything-WHY NOT?
    This is all just too sickening, and the media just ignores it.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you for that heartfelt message, and your list of pertinent questions. I’m going to post your comments to friends at the Justice for Aafia Coalition:

  11. Carlyle Moulton says...


    It is several years now since Aafia Siddiqui started serving her 86 year sentence but there is something missing which we would have expected if she were a normal prisoner, we have not heard her account of what was done to her.

    I wonder whether she is gagged in some way, under special administrative measures or in a communications management unit or perhaps under a secret gagging order about the existence of which we are not allowed to know or is she silenced by threats against her family?

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Carlyle.
    Yes, it’s very troubling.
    Last July, Al-Jazeera ran an article about how she, at that time, hadn’t been heard from for a year, entitled, “The silence of Aafia Siddiqui”:
    And there were rumors about her death just six weeks ago:
    Her sister, Fowzia, is probably the best person to be in contact with.

  13. Carlyle Moulton says...


    Another thing that I find extremely weird is that Aafia’s surviving children have not said anything about their experiences in the time that they were missing, this if anything is stranger than Aafia’s silence, after all she is under the total control of the US government.

    The only scenario that makes sense to me is that both Aafia and her family have been silenced under threat of murder of Aafia or others in her family. The CIA and the ISI are both capable of murders that can be passed off an accident or disease. The motive would be that the US cannot tolerate widespread public knowledge of their treatment of Aafia during the period that they held her.

    As it is a small minority of the world’s population have a reasonably accurate picture of what happened but the US or some people in the US cannot tolerate this knowledge becoming widespread it would damage the US reputation far more than did the disclosure of the Abu Ghraib torture. Remember the US refused to disclose all the Abu Ghraib photographs.

    Probably the safest assumption is that Aafia has already been disposed of as death is a more efficient silencer than 86 years of incommunicado detention. When they need to pretend that she is alive they wheel out a women of similar size and shape dressed in enveloping Muslim female dress and who refuses to speak. No production of such a hidden woman should be accepted as proof that Aafia is still alive, members of her family need to speak to her face to face and relay her story to the world.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Moulton. I agree that the only way to ascertain that she is still alive is for the US to be transparent, and to allow family members to visit her. It is rather mind-boggling to think that she is so cut off that rumors arise that she’s dead, which isn’t a tolerable situation for anyone held by the US under any circumstances, let alone someone given an 86-year sentence for an essentially spectral crime.
    I fear that, as with the “high-value detainees” at Guantanamo, the reason for the silence is not that she’s dead, but so that there is no discussion of her abduction, incommunicado detention and torture. The HVDs have lawyers, but every single word they utter remains classified, whereas notes compiled by lawyers for the ordinary prisoners at Guantanamo go through a review process, and often end up unclassified. What does it say that, for eight and a half years, every word these men has uttered has remained silenced? I would suggest that it shows an obsession with trying to maintain total silence about the post-9/11 US torture program, and this obsession can also be seen to apply to Aafia’s case. In addition, as with some of the HVDs, the ISI is also involved, and it is probable that they are even more obsessed about hiding their actions than the CIA.

  15. Carlyle Moulton says...


    From the AlJazeera article to which you linked:-

    ” On both occasions, a woman enveloped in a burqa sat with her back to the embassy officers. She refused to show her face and did not utter a word, making it difficult for the embassy officials to say they had definitely met Siddiqui.

    “We are being presented with a person who is represented to be her, but we don’t know if that really is the case. Maybe it is not her we are seeing,” suggested Downs.”

    Is Aafia the kind of conservative Muslim who would find the need to hide her face with a burqa? No one should accept that a silent burqa enshrouded women is Aafia just because Americans say so. Likewise no one should accept that Aafia is actually alive unless the US allows people who recognize her to see her living face.
    We have every right to assume that either Aafia is dead or that she is being prevented coercively from communicating with the outside world.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree that it’s very worrying, Carlyle. I also found the following passage form that article very troubling:

    Fowzia spoke to her younger sibling over the phone for the last time in April 2014. […]

    “I remember her telling us that she would never refuse any chance to talk to her family or anyone who could help her. She said we have no idea what goes on at that prison. The doctors are wolves disguised as sheep,” Fowzia said.

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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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