Dr. Aafia’s Siddiqui story has been haunting most Pakistanis for months now. Famously known as ‘Prisoner 650′ at Bagram Base in Afghanistan, she is one of the missing persons of Pakistan, wanted by FBI on alleged links with Al-Qaeda.
Dr. Afia Siddiqui, a highly educated researcher who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, for about 10 years and did her PhD in genetics, mysteriously disappeared from Karachi in March 2003 along with her three children. Since then, US and Pakistani officials have continuously denied any knowledge about her.
It was only after British prisoner Moazzam Begg mentioned her in his book The Enemy Combatant that Human Rights Organizations and activists, British journalist Yvonne Ridley and MP Lord Nazir in particular, raised voice for Dr. Aafia kept in solitary confinement and her three children. A specially disturbing part of this story is that fate of her three children, aged between one month and 7 years at the time of her kidnapping, is still unknown.
In 2007, the media started giving Dr. Aafia’s case more serious attention and several reports were published about her tragic fate. Amnesty International included her on a June 2007 list as someone for whom there was “evidence of secret detention by the United States and whose fate and whereabouts remain unknown.”
Britainâ€™s Lord Nazir Ahmed, (of the House of Lords), asked questions in the House about the condition of Prisoner 650. According to one news story, “He [Lord Nazir] said she is physically tortured and continuously raped by the officers at the prison.” Lord Nazir has also submitted that Prisoner 650 has no separate toilet facilities and has to attend to her bathing and movements in full view of the other prisoners.
And it was on July 6, 2008, when a British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, called for help for a Pakistani woman she believes has been held in isolation by the Americans in their Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan, for over four years. â€œI call her the â€˜grey ladyâ€™ because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continues to haunt those who heard her. This would never happen to a Western Woman,â€ Ms Ridley said at a press conference.
Ms Ridley, who came to Pakistan to appeal for help, said the case came to her attention when she read the book, The Enemy Combatant, by a former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg. After being seized in February 2002 in Islamabad, Mr. Begg was held in detention centres in Kandahar and Bagram for about a year before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He recounted his experiences in the book after his release in 2005. Imran Khan, leader of Justice Party (PTI) has also been raising voice, held a joint press conference with Ms. Ridley on this issue, and criticised government of Pakistan for not doing anything and hiding facts about Prisoner 650.
After these reports in media, the US and Pakistani authorities were forced to admit just last week that Dr. Aafia was indeed in US captivity, the Prisoner 650 at Bagram Base.
CNN has released the official version of US Government today and according to Dr. Aafia’s attorney, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, “a lot of the allegations implausible” and argued that the charges “don’t pass the sniff test.” According to CNN:
A Pakistani scientist accused of shooting at U.S. officers while in Afghan custody last month was due to appear before a U.S. magistrate judge Tuesday morning in New York.
Aafia Siddiqui, whom the FBI had sought for several years for terrorism, faces federal charges of attempted murder and assault of a U.S. officer and U.S. employees, federal authorities said.
The 36-year-old American-educated neuroscientist is a suspected member of al Qaeda. If convicted, she faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each charge. On July 18 Siddiqui shot at two FBI special agents, a U.S. Army warrant officer, an Army captain and military interpreters who unknowingly entered a room where she was being held unsecured at an Afghan facility, officials said.
Siddiqui was behind a curtain when she used an officer’s rifle to shoot at the group, officials said. She shot twice but hit no one, they said. The warrant officer returned fire with a pistol, shooting Siddiqui at least once. She struggled with the officers before she lost consciousness and was then given medical attention. The day before the shootings, Afghan police arrested Siddiqui outside the Ghazni governor’s compound where they found bomb-making instructions, excerpts from the “Anarchist’s Arsenal,” papers with descriptions of U.S. landmarks, and substances sealed in bottles and glass jars, U.S. officials said Monday.
Responding to these allegation, Elaine Whitfield Sharp told DAWN, Geo and CNN:
“This is a very intelligent woman. What is she doing outside of the governor’s residence? The woman is a Ph.D. Is a woman like this really that stupid? There is an incongruity and I have trouble accepting the government’s claims,” the attorney said.
“If she was carrying fluids and was considered dangerous, then why was she left unattended in a room behind a curtain? And this dangerous, hardened criminal picks up a gun and misses?”
Dr. Aafia’s sister, Dr. Fauzia, held a press conference today along with Human Rights Activist Iqbal Haider and she urged authorities to presume her sister is innocent and is demanding that the government be required to prove any charges against her “beyond a reasonable doubt.” She appealed to the government of Pakistan, all religious, political parties and human rights organizations to play their active role in bringing her sister back home. At least, they should immediately hand over the children to the family as no law on earth allows that. This is one of the most serious violation of human rights. “I fear a political prosecution to protect the United States from embarrassment, rather than from ‘terrorism,’” Fouzia Siddiqui said. Iqbal Haider severely criticised US and Pakistani Governments and said that they promoting terrorism by doing inhuman acts like this.
I don’t know if Dr. Aafia has done anything illegal or not but the way she has been picked and handed over to US authorities along with three innocent children is a violation of even basic human rights and human dignity. What happened to the moral values, respect for law and Human Rights? If she has done something wrong, she should have been held accountable in the court of law and punished. But why detaining her illegally, along with 3 children, with any charge whatsoever for 5 years?
It should not be forgotten that the missing persons case was a turning point in recent Pakistan politics where Pervez Musharraf had a severe falling out with the then CJP Iftikhar Chaudhry who was investigating this case. After much public agitation on the issue, the Chief Justice ordered that EVERYONE to be produced in court and then charged so that a free and fair trial could be held. Something which couldn’t be done at that time as many of the missing were already handed over to US authorities secretly.
Dr. Aafia’s case reminds us that how important the rule of law and justice is if we are to survive as a nation. Pakistan should immediately demand US Government to release 3 innocent children picked up with Dr. Aafia and hand them over to her family. Whatever the allegations on her may be, there is no justification whatsoever for kidnapping and detaining three innocent children and keeping them away from their family for 5 years.