Sunday, August 17, 2008

A New Low

On August 5, US newspapers carried the story of the capture of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who was trained in neuroscience here in the United States. Typical of the stories was this one in the NY Times. The report was fairly neutral, but there were some gaps in the coverage which seemed a little puzzling. Dr. Siddiqui was brought back to the US and charged in a New York federal district court for the crime of shooting at FBI agents. There was no other terrorism related charge, yet she was identified as someone who worked closely with Al Qaeda. Rather curious, don't you think?

Yesterday, during my usual visit to Watching America, I came across this opinion column written by Aijaz Zaka Syed for the United Arab Emirates' Khaleej Times Online. It raises similar questions and suggests some possible answers.

JUST when you think Uncle Sam's war has no more surprises to spring on an unsuspecting world, he comes up with yet another gem.

Take the case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who grew up in the US and went to top universities including the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The woman who had been a star student and a topper throughout a remarkable career had to leave the US when the authorities began harassing her and her husband for their charity activities in the wake of September 11 upheavals.

The family settled down in Karachi and was never involved in any illegal activities. One day in March 2003, this talented young woman went missing with her three children when she was on her way to Karachi airport.

Dr Siddiqui resurfaced this week after five years in a New York court as a 'top Al Qaeda terrorist'. She was barely able to walk and speak, which was not surprising given the fact she had been recently involved in a "gun fight with FBI agents" in Afghanistan. The US authorities claim Dr Siddiqui was captured near the governor's offices in Ghazni, Afghanistan last month with a bag full of "suspicious liquids in tubes."

If you think this is an incredible yarn, here's some more food for thought. We are told Siddiqui assaulted a team of US troops and FBI officials with a highly sophisticated weapon when they went to quiz her in Afghanistan. ...

There are some basic questions that an ordinary mind like mine just can't seem to figure out.

First, where was Aafia Siddiqui hiding or hidden all these years - since she went missing in Karachi in March 2003? How did she turn up in the remote Ghazni province in Afghanistan, of all the God-forsaken places? And what happened to her three children?

Second, if the MIT-educated neuroscientist was indeed an Al Qaeda mastermind, why wasn't she presented in a court of law all this while? Even today when she is facing the US law, she is not being tried on terrorism charges but for allegedly assaulting the US officials. So what's her original crime, if she has indeed committed a crime?

Third, why wasn't the Pakistani government informed about her detention in Afghanistan and her subsequent deportation to the US? Or are Pakistan's Enlightened and Moderate leaders also involved in this international enterprise against a 31-year old mom of three? ...

The question is why has she been reinvented now? It is quite possible that Siddiqui has been FOUND now because of a relentless campaign by British journalist Yvonne Ridley. Ridley herself had been a prisoner of the Taleban regime for 11 days just before the US invasion in 2001 and converted to Islam after her strange experience in Afghanistan.

Ridley has been running a campaign called Cage Prisoner for the release of a mysterious female prisoner who has been held at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in total isolation and regularly tortured for five years.

The unknown female prisoner, known as the Prisoner No. 650 or the Grey Lady of Bagram, was brought to the world attention after Ridley read about the woman in a book by fellow Briton Moazzam Begg, a former Gitmo and Bagram prisoner. In his book, Enemy Combatant, Beg talks of a woman's endless screams for help as she was tortured. Beg first thought he was imagining his wife's screams.

"We now know the screams came from a woman who has been held in Bagram for some years. And she is Prisoner No. 650," Ridley disclosed at a recent Press conference in Pakistan.

And I strongly suspect that Prisoner No. 650 is none other than Dr Aafia Siddiqui. It is quite possible that her captors decided to end her isolation after the Pakistani Press and activists like Yvonne Ridley began increasingly talking about the Prisoner No. 650 and how she was tortured and abused physically, mentally and sexually for the past four years.

Pure speculation by Yvonne Ridley and Aijaz Zaka Syed? Perhaps. Anti-American rhetoric by a disgruntled Arab? It's certainly possible. Ten years ago I would have dismissed this report out of hand. After all, surely no civilized government would behave in such a fashion, and, if it did, surely our free press would have gone through walls to uncover the behavior.

That was ten years ago. Now, I'm not so sure.

Let's go back to that NY Times article:

The lawyer, Elizabeth M. Fink, told the judge that the allegation that her client, who the lawyer said weighed 90 pounds, had picked up the rifle and attacked the Americans, was “patently absurd.” [Emphasis added]

The article also mentions the disappearance of Dr. Siddiqui in 2003 and the contention by her lawyers that she was held by the Americans. The article states only that US authorities denied the detention.

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.

I don't claim to know if the Khaleej Times article is accurate or mere speculation. I do know, however, if even one part of it is true, our descent into a barbaric hell is complete. Mr. Syed's column concludes with the following:

This war has turned the whole world into a big gulag where there are no borders, no rule of law, no courts, no justice and no rights whatsoever. But, the neocons reassure us, all this is necessary to promote Democracy and Human Freedom of course.

Whatever happened to the America of Jefferson and Lincoln, the country that we all loved once and turned to for inspiration?

I don't know, Mr. Syed. But apparently the country no longer exists.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the same suspicions when I read that article. Thanks for putting this stuff together.


4:18 AM  
Blogger kelley b. said...

We are a long, long way from the America we were sold.

Keep your eyes open and working, Diane.

4:23 AM  
Blogger kelley b. said...

Incidently, as far as I can tell that bit about her weighing 90 lbs has been scrubbed from the New York Pravda's website.

Just sayin'.

4:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't Senator Durbin get into a heap of trouble for calling this government behavior a gulag? And then he backed down?

4:53 AM  
Blogger gpasley said...

I find the fact that she's been hauled into the U.S. court system to be very supportive of the assertions in this many other Pakistani nationals, or any other -nationals for that matter, accused of supporting al Queda are here in the U.S....? ZERO, that's how many. They needed to get her out of Afghanistan, where others could identify her by, if nothing else, her screams. This is indeed, a horrible new low.

Why is her presence here in the U.S. not questioned by the media? It's so blantantly contrary to every other case involving al Queda suspects, you'd think someone would notice...

7:28 AM  
Blogger danps said...

Diane, I've linked to this post over here.

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am curious as to what it is about this particular story, and I'll assume it is true, is what made you think our descent into hell is complete.

With only one exception, the question of her kids, her story seems remarkably the same as so many others we've been hearing about.

I don't think we've reached Hell's bottom, but we're certainly in it's atmosphere, and the time to start the engines was some time ago.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:09 AM  
Blogger miguel said...

Wikipedia has a surprising amount of info on Ms Siddiqui, it's a good read,

To kelley b., I still see the 90lb reference in the Times article.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

Thanks for the comments, folks. And to those of you who have linked to this post, more thanks.

For a really astute update, check out Jim Henley's post at Unqualified Offerings.

Clearly Jim has better google skills than I do, because he found the Fox article which explains everything.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

I'm thrilled to see Liz Fink is her lawyer. I know Liz. She's really good at these cases and works really hard for her clients.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you start to run gulags the consequence is accusing people of crazy plots to poison Stalin/Bush and others.

The old USA is in hiding and will come back as soon as we get a president that doesn't need gulags. We have to make sure that if Obama wins, he does include gulags in his post partisan pie in the sky.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Bwian said...

After living and working in Abu Dhabi for a few years, reading the Khaleej Times and the Gulf News, I can assure you these guys are pretty serious about writing. They seem to have these strange notions about accuracy, honesty, maybe even living up to the best that Islam imagines for them.

If you ever need to check a story against something close, these two papers are great for English language publications in the Middle East.

Yes, they (the people I met and worked with) really do wish the US would go back to being inspirational and exemplary on the world stage.

Abu Ghraib on the front pages of every Arabic paper I walked by on the way to work made for one of the worst days of my life. Had to have an emergency staff meeting just to denounce my country and assure everyone that I was just as outraged as they were - probably more. At least they were accustomed to their governments doing bad things and being helpless to change it.

~ Brian in Seattle

5:24 PM  

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