[Ppnews] The Horrendous Case of Aafia Siddiqui
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 10 11:42:04 EDT 2008
September 10, 2008
Where Are Her Children?
The Horrendous Case of Aafia Siddiqui
By JOANNE MARINER
Everyone agrees that she's a 36-year-old mother of three young
children. But while the New York Post calls her the "Al Qaeda mom,"
and federal prosecutors claim that when she was arrested in July she
was carrying a bag packed with chemicals and handwritten notes about
a "mass casualty attack," Aafia Siddiqui's lawyers say she's a victim.
"This woman has been tortured and she needs help," explained
Elizabeth Fink, one of her defense counsel, at an August 11 court hearing.
Siddiqui disappeared in Pakistan in March 2003. Together with her
three children - then aged 6 years, 5 years, and 6 months - she
reportedly left her parents' home in Karachi to visit her uncle in
Islamabad, but never arrived. Last July, more than five years later,
she mysteriously reappeared in US custody in Afghanistan. Based on
their interviews with her, and a pattern of similar cases, her
lawyers claim that she has spent the last five years as a secret
captive of Pakistani or American authorities.
Siddiqui's oldest child, Ahmed, was found with her in Afghanistan.
The whereabouts of her two younger children are unknown.
Disappearance from Karachi, Reappearance in Ghazni
The name Aafia Siddiqui first came to public attention on March 18,
2003, when the FBI issued an alert requesting information about her.
Siddiqui, a US-educated neuroscientist, was then living in Pakistan.
The US government later alleged that Siddiqui was linked to al Qaeda
suspects Majid Khan and Ali 'Abd al-'Aziz Ali (also known as Ammar
al-Baluchi), and news outlets reported that she had acted as an al Qaeda fixer.
Majid Khan and Ali 'Abd al-'Aziz Ali both disappeared from Karachi at
almost precisely the same time as Siddiqui did. They did not reappear
until September 2006, after their transfer to Guantanamo from CIA
custody. For more than three years, they had been secretly held by
the CIA or one of the CIA's proxies. Like many others, they had been
arrested by the Pakistani intelligence services and handed over to
CIA as part of the "war on terror."
When Siddiqui disappeared, on approximately March 28, 2003, the
Pakistani papers mentioned reports that she had been "picked up in
Karachi by an intelligence agency" and "shifted to an unknown place
for questioning." A year later, in a follow-up story, the Pakistani
papers quoted a Pakistani government spokesman who said that she had
been handed over to US authorities in 2003.
But unlike Khan and a number of others, Siddiqui did not reappear in
US custody in 2006; nor was she heard from in 2007. It was not until
July 2008, after her case had started gaining political notoriety,
that she suddenly reappeared in Afghanistan.
According to the official US account, Afghan police arrested Aafia
Siddiqui and her son in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on July 17, 2008. The
federal indictment against Siddiqui states that the Afghan police
officers who arrested her found suspicious items in her handbag,
including notes referring "to the construction of 'dirty bombs,'
chemical and biological weapons, and other explosives." Siddiqui's
lawyers reject this account, suggesting that the charges against
Siddiqui are a sham.
US federal prosecutors allege that the day after her arrest, while
still in Afghan custody, she grabbed a gun from the floor and fired
it at a team of US soldiers and federal intelligence agents who were
visiting the Afghan police compound where she was being held. Nobody
was killed in the scuffle, but Siddiqui was injured. In August, she
was charged with assaulting and trying to kill US officials. She is
currently in US federal custody in New York City, awaiting arraignment.
An Unlikely Story
Siddiqui's story seems improbable, no matter which version you
believe. If you trust the US story, you have to imagine that Siddiqui
succeeded in hiding for more than five years -- despite the intense
interest of US and Pakistani intelligence services - then decided to
pop up in Afghanistan with an all-purpose terrorism kit, and then,
upon her arrest, decided to take advantage of a security lapse to
blast away at US soldiers and FBI agents. More than the al Qaeda mom,
as the New York Post dubs her, she would have to be al Qaeda's Angelina Jolie.
The claim that she was hidden away in secret detention all these
years might seem equally unlikely. But when one realizes that the
people she was allegedly linked to were themselves held in secret
detention, and that the Pakistani intelligence services were covertly
arresting dozens of people in Karachi during this period, the story
Because Siddiqui's disappearance fit neatly into a larger pattern,
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and several other human
rights groups included Siddiqui on a 2007 list of people suspected to
have been in CIA custody.
Although the US government has denied that the United States held
Siddiqui during the period of her disappearance, the federal court
that is hearing her case should facilitate an in-depth investigation
of her lawyers' claims. The possibility that Siddiqui was held for
five years in secret detention before her official arrest is not only
deeply relevant to her mental state at the time of the alleged
crimes, it goes to the integrity of the court's jurisdiction.
11-Year-Old Ahmed Siddiqui
Besides the question of where Siddiqui herself has been all of the
years, an even more pressing question is where are her children?
To date, the whereabouts of the two youngest children - who should
now be about 5 and 10 years old - are unknown. But Siddiqui's oldest
son, Ahmed, an 11-year-old with American citizenship, is in Afghan custody.
According to an Afghan Interior Ministry official quoted in the
Washington Post, Ahmed Siddiqui was held briefly by the Interior
Ministry when he was arrested with his mother in July, and then he
was transferred to the custody of the Afghan National Directorate of
Security (NDS), the country's intelligence agency. The NDS is
notorious for its brutal treatment of detainees.
Under Afghan and international law, Ahmed Siddiqui is too young to be
treated as a criminal suspect. Under Afghanistan's Juvenile Code, the
minimum age of criminal responsibility is 13. And according to the UN
Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors the treatment of
children globally, a minimum age of criminal responsibility below age
12 is "not ... internationally acceptable."
Human Rights Watch has called upon the Afghan authorities to release
Ahmed Siddiqui to members of his biological family, who reside in
Pakistan, or to a child welfare organization that can provide proper
care until he is reunited with his family. As Human Rights Watch has
emphasized, an 11-year-old should never have been transferred to the
custody of the NDS.
"Treatment Fairly Characterized as Horrendous"
Siddiqui's lawyers say that she is a physical and psychological
wreck. Her nose has reportedly been broken; she is deathly pale, and
her mental state is extremely fragile. Siddiqui refused to attend her
most recent court hearing, unhappy with the prospect of an invasive
strip search, but at an early hearing she seemed in obvious pain.
"She is a mother of three who has been through several years of
detention, whose interrogators were Americans, [and] who endured
treatment fairly characterized as horrendous," said Elaine Sharp, one
of Siddiqui's lawyers. As this case progresses, in the coming weeks
and months, the court should ensure that the public learns the truth
of these claims.
Joanne Mariner is an attorney with Human Rights Watch in New York.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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