Monday, November 30, 2009

More Questions, No Answers

On Saturday, I mentioned Aafia Siddiqui as one of the possible detainees at the Bagram Special Ops "black" prison. I've posted on her unusual case in the past, the first time (on August 18, 2008) here, where I noted the unusual lack of coverage of the story in the US:

And, as far as I can tell, that's the last of the coverage of Dr. Siddiqui's case in the NY Times or any other news outlet. One would think that the unusual circumstances of a woman terrorist, trained in the US, alleged to have close ties with the very organization blamed for 9/11 would have launched an avalanche of stories, you know, like the avalanche of stories on Dr. Ivins, the presumed anthrax terrorist. Instead ... crickets.

One month later, I posted again on this unusual story, and noted that very little hard information was available:

We still have no idea on where Ms. Siddiqui has been since she disappeared in 2003, nor where her children are. The answer to that question will probably have to wait until trial, assuming the case goes that direction.

That was over a year ago, and I don't recall reading or even spotting any updates from New York where surely there had been at least one hearing. It's as if Ms. Siddiqui's story never existed. I admit there are several possible reasons for that. The first is the notorious short attention span of Americans which I believe is fostered by the media. The second is the ongoing attempt to keep anything having to do with the Global War on Terror classified as "So Secret We'll Have To Kill You If You Find Out." I suspect a combination of the two is at work here, but I still was haunted by that story, so I did a little research. I got lucky.

An article written by Declan Walsh for the UK's Guardian on November 24, 2009, provides an update on the legal process, but raises a lot of the same questions for which there are still no adequate answers.

Mr. Walsh begins by giving the prosecution's version of the shooting which is the only charge Ms. Siddiqui is facing, and notes that version is flatly denied by her:

Whether this extraordinary scene is fiction or reality will soon be decided thousands of miles from Ghazni in a Manhattan courtroom. The woman is Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist and mother of three. The description of the shooting, in July 2008, comes from the prosecution case, which Siddiqui disputes. What isn't in doubt is that there was an incident, and that she was shot, after which she was helicoptered to Bagram air field where medics cut her open from breastplate to bellybutton, searching for bullets. Medical records show she barely survived. Seventeen days later, still recovering, she was bundled on to an FBI jet and flown to New York where she now faces seven counts of assault and attempted murder. If convicted, the maximum sentence is life in prison.

The prosecution is but the latest twist in one of the most intriguing episodes of America's "war on terror". At its heart is the MIT-educated Siddiqui, once declared the world's most wanted woman. In 2003 she mysteriously vanished for five years, during which time she was variously dubbed the "Mata Hari of al-Qaida" or the "Grey Lady of Bagram", an iconic victim of American brutality. ...

Yet only the narrow circumstances of her capture – did she open fire on the US soldier? – are at issue in the New York court case. Fragile-looking, and often clad in a dark robe and white headscarf, Siddiqui initially pleaded not guilty, insisting she never touched the soldier's gun. Her lawyers say the prosecution's dramatic version of the shooting is untrue. Now, after months of pre-trial hearings, she appears bent on scuppering the entire process.

Ms. Siddiqui is certainly not cooperating in her own defense, which, given the possible history of the case would certainly make sense. It is that history which Mr. Walsh makes every effort to clarify by speaking to US officials and to Ms. Siddiqui's family and supporters. The contrasts are stark indeed.

But Siddiqui's family and supporters tell a different story. Instead of plotting attacks, they say, Siddiqui spent the missing five years at the dreaded Bagram detention centre, north of Kabul, where she suffered unspeakable horrors. Yvonne Ridley, the British journalist turned Muslim campaigner, insists she is the "Grey Lady of Bagram" – a ghostly female detainee who kept prisoners awake "with her haunting sobs and piercing screams". In 2005 male prisoners were so agitated by her plight, she says, that they went on hunger strike for six days.

For campaigners such as Ridley, Siddiqui has become emblematic of dark American practices such as abduction, rendition and torture. "Aafia has iconic status in the Muslim world. People are angry with American imperialism and domination," she told me.

But every major security agency of the US government – army, FBI, CIA – denies having held her. Last year the US ambassador to Islamabad, Anne Patterson, went even further. She stated that Siddiqui was not in US custody "at any time" prior to July 2008. Her language was unusually categoric.

Still no answers, but at least someone looked into the matter. Frankly, I am beginning to come down on the side of Ms. Siddiqui's family and their version. If Ms. Siddiqui was believed by US officials to be part of the web of those who continue to plot against America, then why is the shooting incident the only charge she faces? Is it because the evidence of her active participation just isn't there, or is it because it was obtained in ways so foul and unacceptable to decent human beings that it can't face the light of judicial scrutiny?

And if Ms. Siddiqui is not the "Gray Lady of Bagram," than who was? There seems to be no doubt that some woman was held and tortured for an awfully long time in that black hole. Too many prisoners have related consistent accounts of what they heard.

Unfortunately, no one in the US media seems to be too concerned about Ms. Siddiqui nor about the freedom-destroying secrecy surrounding her and her case. That is just as dispiriting as the case itself.



Anonymous larry, dfh said...

Thanks for the update on this disgusting situation. I look to you to keep me informed on this, because, as you say, everyone else seems to have forgotten/ignored it.

10:28 PM  
Blogger ondelette said...

Did you see Petra Bartosiewicz's article in Harper's?
Probably more reliable than Declan Walsh.

10:38 PM  

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