[Ppnews] The Algerian Kidnappers and the Case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 18 19:21:52 EST 2013

Weekend Edition January 18-20, 2013

Most Wronged Woman in the World?

  The Algerian Kidnappers and the Case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui


The only thing that surprised me when I heard that the Algerian 
kidnappers had called for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui was that it 
hadn't happened sooner.

Don't get me wrong, as a former hostage myself, there is no way I 
condone the actions of what has unfolded in a remote corner of the 
Algerian desert.

And my heart goes out to the families of those who have lost loved ones 
in the unfolding drama at a gas plant siege said to have been 
mastermindedby Mohktar Belmokhtar. The infamous one-eyed Algerian 
militant apparently with ties to al Qaida, has claimed responsibility 
for launching Wednesday's attack.

It also goes without saying there is no way the kidnappers, whether 
politically or criminally motivated, can be justified in their actions.

But an injustice is an injustice and as the only western journalist to 
have specifically gone to Afghanistan to investigate the case of Dr 
Aafia Siddiqui, I have to say her plight has become a cause célèbre 
around the Muslim world.

And I have an uncomfortable feeling that more and more westerners will 
be kidnapped as their captors demand the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a 
woman I once called the most wronged in the world.

So just who is Dr Aafia Siddiqui and why is a group of North Africans 
calling for her release?

Well it's very easy to get emotional about a wronged Muslim woman caught 
up in the War on Terror but I am not basing my case on emotion just some 
simple cold, hard facts and forensic evidence ... or lack of it, but 
more of that and her bizarre story  later.

Her family will certainly not be pleased that a group of Algerian 
terrorists have called for her release because it will give a perception 
in some quarters that Dr Aafia must be an Islamic extremist. It's a 
narrative pushed by US intelligence although it has to be said in her 
trial the opening statement of the prosecutor stated quite clearly that 
she was not al-Qaida nor a terrorist sympathiser.

The case of the mother-of-three is well known in every household in 
Pakistan from the most religious to the most secular ... the majority of 
which have been demanding her repatriation for years. Now she is known 
as the Daughter of the Nation although her story has travelled well 
beyond Pakistan's borders.

Thousands of Muslim children have been named after her because of all 
that she has come to symbolise. Everything that she represents stems 
from the injustices created by America's War on Terror ... the kidnaps, 
renditions, torture, rape and waterboarding.

The brilliant academic, educated in top US universities, is tonight 
languishing in a Texan jail serving an 86 year sentence after being 
found guilty of trying to kill American soldiers.

The fact they shot her at close range and nearly killed her is often 

To their eternal shame, the US soldiers serving in Afghanistan claimed 
in court under oath that the diminutive, fragile academic leapt at them 
from behind a prison cell curtain, snatching one of their guns to shoot 
and kill them. It was a fabricated story that any defence lawyer worth 
his or her salt would have ripped apart at the seams.

The scenario painted in court was incredulous and more importantly, the 
evidence non-existent -- no gunshot residue on her hands or clothes, no 
bullets from the discharged gun, no fingerprints belonging to Dr Aafia 
on the gun ... other vital evidence removed by US military from the 
scene went missing before the trial. Come on, we've all seen episodes of 
CSI -- the science doesn't lie.

After being patched up in a medical wing in Bagram, she was then 
renditioned to America to stand trial for an alleged crime committed in 
Afghanistan. Flouting the vienna and Geneva Conventions, she wasn't 
given consular access until the day she made her first court appearance.

The trial was held in New York, a stone's throw from where the Twin 
Towers once stood making it impossible not to invoke the memories of 
that horrific day on september 11 which for some forever turned Muslims 
into Public Enemy Number One.

A lack-lustre legal team forced on Dr Aafia by the US authorities failed 
to sway the jury of her innocence, despite the overwhelming scientific 
evidence that she could not have snatched a soldier's gun, let alone 
pulled the trigger.

I went into the cell a few weeks after the shooting in July 2008 and 
discovered that the soldiers had panicked and sprayed the room with 
bullets as they struggled to flee. The evidence is there on film shot 
during my visit and handed over to the defence team.

Seeing Dr Aafia emerge unshackled and unhooded from behind a curtain 
caused blind panic among the young soldiers who had been briefed by the 
FBI they were going to arrest one of the most dangerous women in the world.

I interviewed eyewitnesses, senior Afghan police officers who one after 
another told me what happened. Yet the only Afghan brought to court to 
give testimony against her was the FBI's translator who now has a green 
card and lives in New York with his family.

What the jury was not told is that Dr Aafia, and her three children, all 
aged under five at the time, had been kidnapped from a street near their 
home in Karachi and disappeared from 2003.

The FBI put out a story at the time that she had in fact gone on a jihad 
to Afghanistan -- it was a ludicrous tale without foundation and, as 
every mother of young children knows, a journey to the local corner shop 
with toddlers is a monumental challenge so heading off to fight in 
Afghanistan with a pram, pushchair and toddler in hand is simply 
inconceivable. The FBI narrative was destroyed by Boston-based Elaine 
Whitfield Sharp, a lawyer hired by the Siddiqui family when Dr Aafia 
first disappeared.

The missing years of the academic's life reveal a story which is now 
known to virtually everyone in the Muslim world where she is widely 
regarded as a victim of George W Bush's War on Terror.

As she tried to tell the jury how she was held in secret prisons, with 
no legal representation, cut off from the outside world since 2003 where 
brutal interrogation techniques were used to break her down, she was 
silenced by the judge who said he was only interested in the cell 
shooting incident.

Judge Richard Berman, a modest little man with much to be modest about, 
insisted he was not interested in the missing years; it had no relevance 
to the case he insisted.

She testified that after completing her doctorate studies she taught in 
a school, and that her interest was in cultivating the capabilities of 
dyslexic and other special needs children. She emerged as a 
humanity-loving nurturer and educator, the gentle yet resolute seeker 
for truth and justice.

As the evidence continued we learned that she didn't know where her 
three children were -- it was sensational content for those who knew the 
real story. She talked of her dread and fear of being handed back to the 
Americans when she was arrested in Ghazni and was held by police.

Terrified that yet another secret prison was waiting for her she 
revealed how she peaked through the curtain divider into the part of the 
room where Afghans and Americans were talking, and how when a startled 
American soldier noticed her, he jumped up and yelled that the prisoner 
was loose, and shot her in the stomach. She described how she was also 
shot in the side by a second person. She also described how after 
falling back onto the bed in the room, she was violently thrown to the 
floor and lost consciousness. This ties in exactly with what I was told 
by the counter terrorism police chief I interviewed in Afghanistan back 
in the autumn of 2008 -- I remember him laughing as he told me how the 
US soldiers panicked, shot randomly in the air as they stampeded out of 
the room in a blind panic.

Of course there's no way a bunch of soldiers are going to admit they 
lost it, but according to those I interviewed for my film "In search of 
Prisoner 650  in Afghanistan" that's exactly what happened.

Two of her missing children have since been found and reunited with 
their extended family in Karachi. It is still not clear where the 
children were held when they were snatched from a street in Karachi but 
there's no disguising their American accents ... possibly picked up from 
their jailers.

So why did the FBI want to speak to Dr Aafia in the first place and why 
did they portray her as a dangerous terrorist on the run? if she was the 
person they painted why wasn't she charged with terrorism offences and 
why was the prosecutor at pains to point out that she was not al Qaida?

The bottom line is Dr Aafia Siddiqui should not be in prison and as long 
as this injustice continues she will become a rallying call for anyone 
who wants to pick a fight with America.

Acknowledging the injustice and returning Dr Aafia to her home in 
Pakistan will not stop extremists from causing terror, but it might make 
the lives of US citizens a lot safer if this wrong is put to right.

/*Yvonne Ridley* is a British journalist and a patron of Cageprisoners, 
as well as being the European president of the International Muslim 
Women's Union and the Vice President of the European Muslim League./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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