[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
by YVONNE RIDLEY
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
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
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
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
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
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