[Ppnews] The Siddiqui Case - Lawyers Release Explosive, Secretly Recorded Tape
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Feb 14 12:47:30 EST 2011
February 14, 2011
A COUNTERPUNCH SPECIAL REPORT
A New Turn as Lawyers Release Explosive, Secretly Recorded Tape
The Siddiqui Case
By VICTORIA BRITTAIN
In 2003 an MIT-educated expert in childrens
learning patterns, Dr Aafia Siddiqui, disappeared
with her three children in Pakistan. Was she, as
the Americans said, an Al Qaeda operative who in
2008 emerged after five years undercover,
carrying a handbag full of chemicals and plans
for major terror attacks in the US, and then
attempted to shoot US soldiers? Or was she, as
her family, and most people in Pakistan have
always maintained, seized by Pakistani agents for reasons unknown?
Now new evidence of the kidnapping of Dr Siddiqui
prises open part of one of the most shocking of
the myriad individual stories of injustice in the
war on terror. It also underlines the
recklessness and perfidy of a key United States
partner in the war on terror, which carries its own threat of explosion.
Dr Siddiqui was sentenced in a New York court
last year to 86 years for attempted murder of US
soldiers in Afghanistan. Her mysterious five-year
disappearance before that, her reappearance in
Afghanistan in 2008, her subsequent trial in the
US, and the confusion surrounding all these
events, have made Dr Siddiquis a symbolic case
in much of the Muslim world. Now a senior law
enforcement officer has claimed to have been
involved personally on the day she was seized,
with her three children, by Pakistani police
agents in Karachi in March 2003 and handed over
to the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI.
The FBI put out a wanted for questioning alert
for Dr Siddiqui just before she disappeared. She
was later high on the US wanted list, with the US
claiming that she was living undercover as an Al
Qaeda agent. She was a "clear and present danger
to the US", the then-U.S. Attorney General John
Ashcroft said in 2004. For all these years the
Pakistani government repeatedly denied holding
her, and after her arrest in Afghanistan in 2008
spent $2 million on US lawyers for her trial.
After her conviction, the Pakistani Prime
Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, committed himself to
work for her return from a US prison. Dr Siddiqui
had become, the daughter of the nation and the
centre of a popular cause he could not afford to ignore.
The new evidence, on a secretly recorded audio
tape, is a potential earthquake in the
chronically unstable political situation in
Pakistan, where rage against the US runs deep and
wide, especially as civilian casualties mount
with the use of drone aircraft. Already the case
of Aafia Siddiqui has periodically brought tens
of thousands of people out on the streets in the
last two and a half years in protest at what has
been done to her by the United States military
and legal systems since she reemerged, in US
custody and seriously wounded, in 2008. The
Pakistani media have always claimed that the ISI
was responsible for her disappearance and that
the Americans were involved too. The tape reopens
the whole question, not just of Dr Siddiqui, but
of the corroding effect of the US alliance with
Pakistans military and intelligence elite in a
war on terror which has had so many Pakistani
victims. The ISI has run its own agendas, hand in
glove with various US officials at various
periods, ever since the war against the Soviets
in Afghanistan, and then becoming godfathers of
various Afghan factions tearing that country
apart. There are plenty of astute Pakistani
journalists with the language skills to use this
tape to the utmost to embarrass their own security services and the government.
For the US too there are questions to answer
about the extensive cover-up of what happened to
Dr Siddiqui and her three children - two of whom
are US citizens, and appear to have spent five
traumatized years separated from their mother and
from each other, in various prisons. It is
scarcely credible that high officials in the Bush
and Obama administrations over the years were
unaware of what their troublesome allies in
Pakistan had done with her and her children.
On April 21 2003, a senior U.S. law enforcement
official told Lisa Myers of NBC Nightly News
that Siddiqui was in Pakistani custody. The same
source retracted the statement the next day
without explanation. At the time, Myers told
Harpers Magazine, we thought there was a
possibility perhaps hed spoken out of turn.
According to the Associated Press, [t]wo federal
law enforcement officials, speaking on condition
of anonymity, initially said 31-year-old Aafia
Siddiqui recently was taken into custody by
Pakistani authorities. But later, the U.S.
officials amended their earlier statements,
saying new information from the Pakistani
government made it doubtful she was in custody.
An FBI spokesperson also formally denied that the
agency had any knowledge of Dr. Siddiquis
whereabouts, stating that the FBI was not aware
that she was in any nations custody.
Dr Siddiquis mother was visited by an unknown
man a few hours after her disappearance and
warned to keep her mouth shut if she ever wanted
to see her daughter and grandchildren again. In
2003, in a closed hearing when the FBI had
subpoenaed some documents from Dr Siddiquis
sister, an FBI official confirmed to her family
that she was alive and well, but would answer no questions on her whereabouts.
The new audio evidence was secretly taped in a
social situation last year; children can be heard
in the background. It was given, unsolicited, to
one of the many lawyers involved in Dr Siddiquis
case in the US. The source, whose identity has
been protected, told lawyers at the International
Justice Network that he had made the tape after a
social evening when he had heard shocking things
about Pakistani counter terrorism, about the
fabrication of evidence, and about Dr Siddiquis
disappearance, discussed casually by a senior
official. He felt outraged and returned for a
second evening with a recorder and got some of
the previous discussion repeated. If it can help
anyone I had to do it, he said to the IJN
Executive Director Tina Foster who has
represented Dr Siddiquis family since January
2010. IJN are experienced hands in war on terror
cases. They represent a number of prisoners in
Bagram air base prison in Afghanistan, some of
them rendered from Abu Ghraib, Dubai and Thailand
by the CIA, as well as several disappeared people in Pakistan.)
The witness is a Pakistani/American and he has
been extensively interviewed by IJNs lawyers who
tell me they are entirely confident of the
tapes authenticity, the sources account and
thus the identity of the prime subject.
IJNs source says he was introduced by a mutual
friend whose home he was visiting, to a man he
identified to lawyers at International Justice
Network as Imran Shaukat, the Superintendent of Police for Sindh province.
A full report, and the four hour tape, in Urdu,
Punjabi and English, is being released by the
International Justice Network in the United
States at 6am EDT Monday, and can be accessed
with the permission of the witness. Portions of
the tape concerning Dr Siddiqui were made
available to this reporter and were
independently translated for this article. As of
midnight Sunday, EDT, this excerpt can be
listened to <http://ijnetwork.org/report/IJNetworkTape.WAV>here.
Mr Shaukat (who is voice 2 on the tape) says, I
am stationed in Karachi. I head the counter
terrorism department for Sindh province.
In the key passage in the tape for the Siddiqui case he is asked by:
Voice 1 (who is the witness) Did you arrest her?
V 2. Yes, I arrested her. She wore glasses and a
.. When she was caught she was travelling to
.She was hobnobbing with clerics.
V 1 So what happened after the arrest. Did ISI ask for her custody?
V 2 Yes, we gave her to ISI
V 1 ISI or something else?
V 2 ISI, so we gave her to them.
Mr Shaukat also describes her as stick thin and
a psycho, and, elsewhere as not a handler, a
minor facilitator presumably for Al Qaeda -
and he mentions a connection to Osama Bin Laden.
Asked then why couldnt she help them get Bin
Laden, he replies, Well, they are not fools.
They wouldnt inform her of their forwarding
address. And he says too about the children, we
took them with us. They were American nationals,
children are American nationals, they were all born there.
There is some discussion on the tape about the
return of her daughter, Maryam. (Two unidentified voices are also heard.)
V1: Oh, another thing. They found her daughter yesterday.
V2: Shes home already.
V1: Yes, shes home. She speaks English
only. She was in the prison. She is seven or
eight years old. And she only speaks English.
UM1: Eight years old?
V1: Yeah. Children were in prison and
they spoke to them in American English.
UM1: Is she home?
V1: Yeah. They got her home.
V2: They were actually, I.
V2: Its five or six months.
UM2: Is she in Karachi?
V1: She got home today, yesterday.
V2: Well, it goes back to before I came here.
V1: I read the news just yesterday, today. Maybe, in the night.
V2: Its two or three-months old.
All that has been reported in the public domain
to date is that Maryam was returned a day or two
before the recording. But, according to the
childrens lawyer, Tina Foster, Mr Shaukats
description is consistent with how Maryam was repatriated to Pakistan.
Elsewhere in the tape Imran Shaukat talks about
how the Pakistani police and ISI work to
disappear or to use people they have taken into
custody. According to Amina Masood Janjua at
Defence for Human Rights, there are currently
about 500 people who have disappeared in Pakistan
as part of the war on terror this does not
include Sindhi and Balochi separatists. Part of
the audio describes the doctoring or
manufacturing of documents, creating false
identities, using body doubles, with reference to
various terrorist attacks, including Mumbai.
This is a game of double dealing, direct them
right and exit left, Mr Shaukat says at one point.
Such details are an explanation of the
extraordinary litany of contradictory stories
about Dr Siddiqui, including curious reported
sightings by family members, that were launched
into the public domain over the five years after
her disappearance. In this John Le Carre world of
ruthless manipulation of the vulnerable it is
impossible to know how, or whether, she could
have been used in counter terrorisms goal at the
time of finding Osama Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.
From other sources it has been established that
Dr Siddiqui was separated from her children for
the five years of her ordeal, and that the two
older children, born in 1996 and 1998, were not
together, but in separate prisons, and that the
third child, Suleman who was six months old on
the day of the disappearance, probably died then.
For nearly eight years now, manufactured
confusion has surrounded the disappearance and
the subsequent whereabouts of Dr Siddiqui and her three children.
The confusion only deepened with the second
section of the story, which was her mysterious
reappearance in 2008 in Afghanistan, and the
bizarre circumstances of her being seriously
wounded by two shots to the stomach by a US
soldier. John Kiriakou, a retired CIA officer
with extensive background in Al Qaeda- related
work told ABC News, I dont think weve captured
anybody as important and as well connected as she
since 2003. We knew that she had been planning,
or at least involved in the planning of, a wide
variety of different operations. Such statements
set the tone for the Western media on her return under arrest to the US.
Her subsequent trial in New York, ending with the
86 year sentence, is the third section, when,
extraordinarily, Al Qaeda and terrorism were not
made part of the case against her which was
narrowly focussed on the alleged attempted murder incident.
Dr Siddiquis background was an unexceptional one
of a highly educated young woman from a
privileged, professional family, some of them
settled in the US and most of them educated in
the West. She spent a decade studying at
universities in Texas, and at MIT - where she
graduated in biology summa cum laude - and at
Brandeis, where she took a PHD in cognitive
neuroscience. She specialized in the science of
how children learn, and in addition had a class
teaching dyslexic children. Besides her academic
work she lived a busy life in the Muslim
community in Boston, attending cake sales and
auctions to raise money for Muslim refugees in
the Bosnian war. She was married to a doctor from
Pakistan in a classic arranged ceremony conducted
by phone. The couple had two children.
Life in Boston soured when her marriage began to
break down. There are reports from her professors
in Boston that they saw her with bruises on her
face. And her husband, Dr Amjad Khan, told
Harpers Magazine reporter Petra Bartosiewicz in
2008 that his wife had once had to go to hospital
after he threw a bottle at her. There are
photographs of her with a deep cut across her
face. She returned home to Pakistan in late 2001.
In a brief reconciliation back in the US a few
months later she became pregnant with her third
child. On August 15, 2002, after an incident in
which witnesses claim that Dr Khan pushed him,
Dr. Siddiquis father collapsed and died of a
heart attack. A few days later, while Dr.
Siddiqui was still pregnant with their youngest
child, Suleman, Amjad Khan separated from her and
immediately married again. Dr Khan gave custody
of the children to Dr Siddiqui on condition they
received an exclusively Islamic education
Dr Khan came under FBI suspicion in May 2002 for
various items purchased by him on the internet
when the couple were living in Boston. He said
they were for big game hunting, and he was not
arrested, but both he and his wife had come under suspicion.
In March, 2003, a global alert went out with both
of them wanted for questioning by the FBI. A few
weeks after Aafia Siddiqui disappeared, her
husband had a four-hour interview with US and
Pakistani agents, and US suspicions of Dr Khan
were dropped. About two months later Dr Khan
travelled to Saudi Arabia for some time.
Dr Khan told Harpers Magazine
Intelligence factory how America makes its
enemies disappear, by CounterPunch contributor
Petra Bartosiewicz - that his contacts in the
agencies informed him then that Siddiqui had
gone underground. He went on to say that he had
no idea where his children were a claim he would
later contradict. He also told Harpers that he
and his driver saw Siddiqui in a taxi in Karachi
in 2005. But they did not follow her. After her
arrest in 2008 Mr Khan told a reporter from the
Pakistani daily News that he thought his former
wife was an extremist and that of course she
had been on the run. After Ms Bartosiewicz left
Pakistan, she had an email from Dr Khan saying
that he had received confidential good news
from the ISI that Mariam and Suleman were alive
and well with their aunt Fowzia. (In fact at
that point one was in prison and the other was dead.)
Dr Siddiquis disappearance in March 2003 came
amid a feverish whirl of arrests and
disappearances in Pakistan, including Khaled
Sheikh Mohammad, who has claimed to have been the
master mind of 9/11, and many other Al Qaeda
related attacks, and has been named as the
killer of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.
Khaled Sheikh Mohammad was important enough to
the Americans to be water-boarded 183 times.
Shortly after Dr Siddiquis disappearance, Khaled
Sheikh Mohammads nephew, Ammar Baluchi, was
arrested in connection with 9/11. The two men
were taken to Guantanamo Bay, then to various
CIA-run secret prisons known as black sites for
torture, before being returned to Guantanamo Bay.
US officials then had Dr Siddiqui on an Al Qaeda
wanted list and linked her to Baluchi, claiming
he was her second husband. Her family, and other
sources in Pakistan have denied the marriage, but
it remains probably the most repeated detail
about her and the one that has given her an
indelible image as a terrorist. This was not the
only lurid story about her she was also alleged
in a UN report to have been a courier of blood
diamonds from Liberia for Al Qaeda with a
sighting reported there in June, 2001. Her
lawyer, Elaine Sharp stated that Dr Siddiqui had
been in Boston at that time and she could prove
it. That story died away, but the further damage to her reputation was done.
For five years nothing sure was in the public
domain about what happened to her and the
children, though the rumours grew, turning her
into a tragic martyr for many, or a poster for Al
Qaeda ruthlessness for others . Several former
detainees at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan
claimed to have seen her there, while US
officials quoted in Wilileaks denied she had been.
A senior Pakistani journalist, Najeed Ahmed,
followed the story for five years and reported
witness testimony of someone who claimed to have
been part of the arresting team, which he said
was a joint operation with the FBI. (Mr Ahmed
made a public statement about his research in
2009, but died the next day, reportedly of a heart attack.)
In mid-July 2008 Pakistanti lawyers filed a
habeas corpus for Dr Siddiqui in Islamabad. And
within days, in Act 2 of the drama, Aafia
Siddiqui reappeared, in Ghazni, in Afghanistan,
allegedly carrying in her handbag chemicals,
instructions for making biological weapons, and
plans for terrorist strikes with mass casualties
in the US. She was then involved in a shooting
incident in a police station in Ghazni in which
she was badly wounded by a US soldier. It is
uncontested that she was seated behind a curtain
in a small room, where, according to the US
soldiers, one of them put down his gun and she
came from behind the curtain, seized it and
attempted to shoot. She says she merely looked
round the curtain. None of the soldiers or FBI
personnel present were hurt, but she was
hospitalized with two shots in her abdomen and brought under arrest to the US.
Act 3 was her trial in New York for attempted
murder of soldiers and FBI agents with an M4
rifle, picked up from the floor near a US
soldier. There were no charges of terrorism or Al Qaeda links.
Dr Siddiqui had a tangle of high-flying legal
teams, several of whom were not on good terms.
Her first court appointed lawyer, Liz Fink, a
famous New York political lawyer, withdrew, and
the second team appointed by the court, was
headed by Dawn Cardi, an expert in matrimonial
and family law. The lawyers funded by the
Pakistani government were led by Linda Moreno, an
attorney with successful experiences in two high
profile war on terror related cases, those of
Professor Sami Al-Arian and Ghassan Elashi, and
who is a Guantanamo Bay defence lawyer with
security clearance. Ms Moreno is also known for
earlier political work as one of the lawyers for
the American Indian Movement leader Leonard
Peltier. Her team included Charles Swift,
formerly a military defender of Guantanamo
detainees who made a reputation as a critic of
the Military Commission system, and Elaine Sharp.
Even the narrow grounds of the case on the
shooting was full of curiosities and
contradictions: there was no physical evidence on
the gun of Dr Siddiqui having held it, no bullet
casings from it or holes in the walls of the
small room where it took place, except from the
other gun which wounded her. Defence counsel made
two visits to Afghanistan to get the forensic
evidence, which could, and should, have got the
whole case dismissed. Linda Moreno described the
defence forensic case as very compelling, with
no physical evidence whatsoever that she ever
touched the gun
.no DNA, no fingerprints, no
bullets recovered, no bullet holes. The military
and FBI witnesses, Ms Moreno said, contradicted
each other, and under cross-examination even
contradicted their own earlier stories. She went
on to say that the government wanted to scare
the jury with stories of her alleged terrorist
past, and steered away from the actual case.
One key piece of evidence was not in the trial
and only emerged from Wikileaks, which revealed a
Defense Department report that was not released
by the military, so was unavailable as evidence
in Dr Siddiquis defence. The incident report
does not say Dr Siddiqui fired the gun she is
alleged to have snatched and fired, merely that
she "pointed" it. Six American soldiers took the
stand powerful testimony for a jury. I argued,
what happened at the front, stays at the front.
The Wikileaks document would have added to my
argument about the dubious credibility of the soldiers, Ms Moreno told me.
Dr Siddiquis relations with her lawyers were
impossibly difficult and she tried repeatedly to
fire them. Most never saw her except in court.
Linda Moreno told me, She was clearly damaged
extraordinarily frail, very tiny. It broke my
heart when Aafia did not trust anyone, me, the
although I could understand it.
She reminded me of American/Indian resisters I
worked with way back
. her resistance was
clearly to the legal process and she saw all the
attorneys as part of that process.
Against the lawyers strongest advice, Dr
Siddiqui spoke in court herself. She said that
she had been tortured, and rendered to the US,
and that her children were also tortured in the
secret prison. The government never rebutted
these allegations. But she lost the jury, who
looked openly sceptical. Sadly, she came over as
sometimes arrogant and capricious, and sometimes
rambling according to Ms Moreno. Another
observer said, she was very articulate,
intelligent, well-spoken, and people mistook that for well functioning.
With so much confected fear and prejudice against
her going back years, a media that did not hold
back in its characterization of her as Al Qaeda
Mommy, and the impact of six soldiers testifying
against her, a New York jurys guilty verdict was
probably a foregone conclusion. But Judge
Bermans sentence that would put her away for
life, was not. Ms Moreno described the event, in
my 30 years of trials I have never seen anything
like what happened on sentencing day the judge
walked into court and handed out pre-printed
power point presentations on how he had come to decide on 86 years
Two veteran lawyers not connected with this case,
but with extensive experience in other cases
related to the war on terror, described the
sentence, respectively, as extraordinary,
.. outrageous, and one described the
case as absolutely full of holes. An appeal is planned.
Meanwhile part of the story of the missing five
years is in the heads of two of her three
children - the two older ones who are US
citizens. When they emerged separately - in
Pakistan, they were reunited with Dr Siddiquis
mother, and her sister , Fowzia, who is a
Harvard-trained child psychiatrist and
neurologist, in Karachi. They have never told
their stories, but even the little that is known
hints at the horror this family has lived through.
The older one, Ahmed, then aged 12, told his aunt
that he only met his mother the day after she was
picked up in Ghazni, and that he did not
recognize her after five years apart. Fuzzy film
footage of them together being questioned in a
press conference the day after his mother was
found, has long circulated on the internet. This
was the morning before the shooting incident.
Ahmed remembers nothing about what happened to
him next, only that he was visited by a US
consular official in Afghanistan who told him
that he was a US citizen. The official also told
him that his brother, Suleman, was dead.
Ahmed remembers being taken out of the taxi where
he was with his mother and siblings five years
before, and remembers, before he lost
consciousness, seeing the baby, six month old
Suleman, lying in the road and bleeding. Ahmed,
told his aunt that he had been called Ali, and
several other different names, while he was in
custody, and that when he was told his name now
was Ahmed, he knew that meant he was going to be
moved again. She initially reported that he was
suffering from PTSD and that he needed extensive psychological help.
His sister Maryam, reappeared nearly two years
later, in April 2010. She spoke perfect English
with an American accent and no Urdu. She was
simply dropped off outside the family home in
Karachi with a note on a string around her neck.
At some stage the Afghan prime minister Hamid
Karzai was contacted by the family for help in getting both children back.
There are very powerful vested interests that
have worked to prevent Dr Siddiqui from ever
giving an account that would be believed of what
happened to her. The same interests are still at
work trying to prevent the two children from ever
becoming witnesses in this backstory of the war
on terror. Late last year a kidnap attempt was
made on the children, despite the family home
being guarded by armed Pakistani police 24 hours
a day. Two men, carrying firearms and holding big
sacks, were found behind the door of the
childrens bedroom by their grandmother. The men
ran off when she screamed, and were driven away
by a waiting car nearby, before the police guards
to the house could catch them.
The release of the tape gives a lever to
Pakistani public opinion and Pakistani opposition
politicians such as Imran Khan, who have long
supported the family, towards forcing an end to
this sinister ordeal, with the return home of Dr Siddiqui.
And there is another lever just now. Tina Foster
of IJN has written to the Interior Minister Mr
Rehman Malik, reminding him that in over a year
of meetings he has been promising to help in Dr
Siddiquis repatriation. The letter says that
now, when the US is demanding the return of the
US government employee Raymond Davis, held after
a shooting incident in Pakistan in which he is
alleged to have killed two men, is the
governments best ever chance to negotiate an
exchange. The new threat by some congressmen to
withhold aid from Pakistan if he is not returned,
Hilary Clinton cancelling a meeting with
Pakistans foreign minister, and the report of
possible espionage charges against Davis, ratchet
up a pressure that could change the prospects for Dr Siddiqui.
Whether Dr Siddiqui will ever be able to tell the
full story of what happened to her over five
years is another question. It is hard to imagine
making anything close a recovery from such
multiple personal and family trauma, in which she
was isolated from every solid link with her past
identity. Did the ISI use her, or her identity,
on errands to Al Qaeda? A minor facilitator, as
the tape calls her? The contradictions in her own
reported words, such as allegedly telling FBI
agents while she was in a military hospital shot
through the stomach and in restraints, that she
was indeed married to the notorious Khaled Sheikh
Mohammads nephew Baluchi, are manifold, but not any guide to the truth.
In her initial weeks in a US prison in Brooklyn
she exhibited deeply disturbed behaviour such as
saying she was saving her food for her children.
Her mental state has since deteriorated and is
very unpredictable, according to lawyer Elaine
Sharp who has visited her several times. She is
now incarcerated in solitary confinement in the
Carswell Federal Medical Centre at Fort Worth,
Texas, the only US prison medical facility for
women. She has no contact with the outside world.
Three of the four prison psychiatrists who
interviewed her for the court said they believed
she was malingering and that her mental illness
was faked. But, given the record of some doctors
contribution to government work in the war on
terror, it is hard to find this persuasive in the
face of the known facts of her separation from
her children in traumatic circumstances, her long
isolation, and the documented brutal procedures of the ISI in many other cases.
In the US none of the lawyers, doctors,
politicians and intelligence agents who devised
and participated in the horrors done to so many
individuals as part of the war on terror, have
paid any price in public for it. But in this case
there is the force of public opinion in Pakistan
which will demand nothing less than public trials
of those responsible for ordering Dr Siddiquis
kidnapping, as well as those who carried it out,
and were part of the vast charade that has been
played with her over those years.
Victoria Brittain is a former associate foreign
editor of the Guardian. Her books include
Lives, Hidden Deaths and
of Dignity. She has spent much of her working
life in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. She can
be reached at <mailto:victoriacatherine at yahoo.com>victoriacatherine at yahoo.com
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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