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  Aafia Siddiqui: Victimized by American Injustice

COMMENTARY:

Aafia Siddiqui: Victimized by American Injustice

by Stephen Lendman
Monday, 8 February 2010

As Prisoner 650, she was called the "Gray Lady of Bagram" because her screams were heard for years.... She was a pawn in America's "war on terror," used, abused, now convicted, and facing life in prison when sentenced, a victim of gross injustice.

On February 3, a Department of Justice press release headlined "Aafia Siddiqui Found Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court of Attempting to Murder US Nationals in Afghanistan and Six Additional Charges."

At her scheduled May 6 sentencing, she "faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each of the attempted murder and armed assault charges; life in prison on the firearms charge; and eight years in prison on each of the remaining assault charges. SIDDIQUI faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 years in prison on the firearms charge."

On February 3, New York Times writer CJ Hughes headlined: "Pakistani Scientist Found Guilty of Shootings," convicting her on all seven counts, including attempted murder - "capping a trial that drew notice for its terrorist implications as well as its theatrics," but omitting convincing evidence of Siddiqui's innocence. Instead, Hughes said she was arrested with "instructions (in her purse) on making explosives and a list of New York landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building." Her defense team acknowledged their existence, but Siddiqui denied packing them or knowing of their origin. She later suggested she copied them from a magazine, planned no terrorist acts, nor did her indictment claim them.

Hughes also said she "raised suspicions when she and her three children vanished in Pakistan in 2003." She didn't vanish. Her mother said she "left the family home in Gulshan-e-lqbal in a taxi on March 30, 2003 to catch a flight for Rawalpindi, but never reached the airport." Pakistani intelligence agents abducted her, turned her over to US authorities, after which her long ordeal of secret imprisonment, interrogations, and years of brutalizing torture began, even though she wasn't charged.

Her son Mohammed was later released on condition he say nothing. Her other two children, Maryam and Suleman, disappeared and may have been killed.

In May 2004, Pakistan's Interior Minister confirmed she was turned over to US authorities in 2003 after no link between her and Al Qaeda was established. In 2006, Amnesty International called her one of many of the "disappeared" in America's "war on terror." In 2007, a Ghost Prisoner Human Rights Watch report suggested she was held in secret CIA detention.

In February 2008, the Asian Human Rights Commission said she was brought to Karachi and severely tortured to secure her compliance as a government witness against Khalid Shiekh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind, related to Siddiqui through marriage to his nephew. He reportedly "gave her up" after capture on March 1, 2003, after which she and her children disappeared.

The charges were bogus and outrageous. Yet, on September 2, 2008, the Justice Department (DOJ) indicted her "on charges related to her attempted murder and assault of United States nationals and officers and employees." According to Michael Garcia, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (in his same day press release):

On July 18, 2008, "a team of United States servicemen and law enforcement officers, and others assisting them, attempted to interview Aafia Siddiqui in Ghazni, Aghanistan, where she had been detained by local police the day before....unbeknownst to the United States interview team, unsecured, behind a curtain -- Siddiqui obtained one of the United States Army's M-4 rifles and attempted to fire it, and did fire it, at another United States Army officer and other members of the United States interview team....Siddiqui then assaualted one of the United States Army interpreters, as he attempted to obtain the M-4 rifle from her. Siddiqui subsequently assaulted one of the FBI agents and one of the United States Army officers, as they attempted to subdue her."

Left unexplained was how this frail, weak, 110-pound woman, confronted by three US Army officers, two FBI agents, and two Army interpreters, inexplicably managed to assault three of them, get one of their rifles, open fire at close range, hit no one, and only she was severely wounded.

According to her attorney, Elaine Whitfield Sharp:

"how did this happen? And how did she get shot? I think you can answer that, can't you (and question the outrageous charges against her)?"

During proceedings, another defense lawyer, Linda Moreno, said no forensic evidence proved the rifle Siddiqui allegedly used had been fired since no bullets, shell casings, or bullet debris were recovered and no bullet holes detected.

Garcia didn't explain, nor about her abduction, torture and repeated raping at Bagram prison, Afghanistan where, as Prisoner 650, she was called the "Gray Lady of Bagram" because her screams were heard for years. Nor did he discuss her physical and emotional destruction. She was a pawn in America's "war on terror," used, abused, now convicted, and facing life in prison when sentenced, a victim of gross injustice.

Some Background

A Pakistani national, Siddiqui is deeply religious, attended MIT and Brandeis University where she earned a doctorate in neurocognitive science, married a Boston physician, raised money for charities, did volunteer work, distributed Korans to inmates in area prisons, and did nothing out of the ordinary. Yet the UK Times Online called her "Al-Qaeda woman." For ABC News, she was "Mata Hari," and the Justice Department targeted her as a terrorist, a woman guilty only of being Muslim in America at the wrong time.

When seized, the FBI said she was a potential "treasure trove" of information on terrorist suspects, sympathizers, or sleepers in America and overseas. CIA officer John Kiriakou called her "the most significant capture in five years," and an unnamed counterterrorism official said she's "a very dangerous person, no doubt about it." FBI Director Robert Mueller said she's "an Al Qaeda operative and facilitator." He and the others lied.

Those who knew her recalled she was very small, quiet, polite, and shy, barely noticeable in a gathering. However, she'd say what was needed when necessary. Her fellow students described her as soft-spoken, studious, religious, but not extremist or fundamentalist. She taught Muslim children on Sundays, and was dedicated to helping oppressed Muslims worldwide. She spoke publicly, sent emails, gave slideshow presentations, and raised donations as part of her faith, activism, and sincerity. Yet she was targeted as "a high security risk" despite no evidence then or now to prove it.

Siddiqui is innocent of all charges, yet the DOJ claimed she was involved in biochemical warfare. In fact, she devised a computer program, enlisted adult volunteers to watch various objects move randomly across the screen, then reproduce what they recalled. The idea was to learn how well they retained information after viewing it on a computer. It had nothing to do with terrorism, biochemical warfare, or blowing up New York targets, charges never appearing in her indictment.

Siddiqui's Trial and Conviction

Against her lawyers' advice, she spoke publicly for the first time, despite the risk and her frail condition. She explained her academic work, her post-doctorate teaching, her interests that included studying the capabilities of dyslexic and other impaired children, then recounted her ordeal.

After being abducted, she agonized over the fate of her children. In US custody, the relevant incident leading to her indictment went as follows:

  • at one point, she was tied down;
  • then untied;
  • left behind a curtain;
  • peaked through it; and
  • an American soldier shot her in the stomach;
  • another in her side;
  • then violently threw her to the floor unconscious.

She vaguely remembered being on a stretcher, placed in a helicopter, and getting a blood transfusion. She emphatically denied seizing and firing a weapon.

Under cross-examination, she said she was given the bag with incriminating documents, didn't know its contents or whether handwriting on them was hers. She explained her repeated torture at Bagram, the effects of the strong medications given her, and at one point said, "If you were in a secret prison, or your children were tortured," after which she was forcibly removed from court and the proceedings continued without her.

According to media reports, these revelations were "outbursts." On January 25, New York Times writer CJ Hughes reported numerous "disruptions....plagu(ing) the trial. Monday (January 25) was hardly an exception. The defendant was ejected from (court) - not once, but twice (for) loudly proclaiming her innocence." On January 19, she "had several outbursts in previous court appearances, raising questions about her competency to stand trial."

On February 4, AP writer Tom Hays said "True to form, Aafia Siddiqui did not go quietly," called her comments "combative," then claimed the prosecution presented "compelling testimony."

On February 5, the Islamophobic frontpagemag.com headlined "How a 'Nice American Girl' Became a Jihadist," saying "veiled Muslim women can be very aggressive, murderously so."

On February 3, the New York Daily News headlined, "Lady Al Qaeda Aafia Siddiqui convicted of attempted murder." Writer Alison Gendar accepted DOJ's charges as fact and added some of her own, saying:

"She grabbed a rifle at an 'Afghan police station' (she was at Bagram) and started shooting at the Americans sent to grill her. She was shot by the soldier whose weapon she swiped. (In 2008, she was) caught in 'Afghanistan' with '2 pounds of poisonous chemicals.' (During the trial), she disrupted the proceedings several times with 'strange outbursts.' "

An August 22, 2008 Fox News report said "emails obtained by FOXNews.com show messages sent by Siddiqui (during her time at MIT) soliciting money for Al-Kifah Refugee Center - a known Al Queda charitable front tied to Usama bin Laden and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing."

After a three week trial and two days of deliberation, a federal jury of eight women and four men convicted her on all charges, including attempted murder, armed assault, discharging a firearm during a violent crime, and assaulting US officers and employees. As a result, she potentially faces life in prison at her May 6 sentencing. It's not confirmed, but her lawyers may appeal given the bogus charges, long detention, and brutalizing torture, leaving her a shell of her former self, so physically and emotionally shattered she was in no condition to stand trial.

After the verdict, aljazeera.net headlined "US verdict sparks Pakistan protests," saying thousands in several cities rallied in her defense. Her relatives spoke publicly condemning the decision, her sister Fauzia saying "we're proud to be related to her. America's justice system, the establishment, the war on terror, the fraud of the war on terror, all of those things have shown their own ugly faces."

Her mother, Ismat said "I did not expect anything better from an American court. We were ready for the shock and will continue our struggle to get her released." Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman, Abdul Basit, said the government would try "to get her back to Pakistan and we would do everything possible and we'll apply all possible tools in this regard."

Al Jazeera's Islamabad correspondent, Kamal Hyder, explained the public disappointment "for failing to find a diplomatic way out and getting (her) back home, because they feel she was innocent." She was missing for five years like "many hundreds of (others who've) disappeared from Pakistan - still not accounted for - and now that Dr. Aafia's case has come up, that's likely to be a rallying point for the anti-American sentiment."

The UK-based Cageprisoners spokesman, Asim Qureshi, said "The case of Aafia Siddiqui carries great significance in terms of the ability of the Obama administration to administer justice. Already we have seen a blanket refusal to look at the facts of her detention prior to 2008. This verdict will only confirm what many already believe, that it is impossible for Muslim terrorism suspects to receive a fair trial in the US."

Defense lawyer Elaine Whitfield Sharp called the verdict unjust, in her opinion "based on fear....not fact," and the result is the continued ordeal of an innocent woman facing a potential life sentence.

Carefully orchestrated, the trial proceeded like numerous others, targeting innocent victims because of their faith, ethnicity, prominence, benevolent charity, activism, or other reasons for political advantage, ending with convictions and punitive incarcerations against innocent defendants, guilty of being Muslims in America at the wrong time when we're all just as vulnerable.

In a manipulated climate of fear, the same process repeats, using bogus charges, secret evidence, enlisted witnesses to cooperate, the defense prohibited from introducing exculpatory evidence, and proceedings carefully scripted to intimidate juries to convict.

Justice is again denied, Siddiqui another victim, a human tragedy, portrayed by the dominant media as a jihadist, and getting public sentiment to agree because disturbing truths are carefully suppressed.


Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His blog is sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on February 8, 2010.
 



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