[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


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 
gains plausibility.

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.

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