FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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 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 overlooked.

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.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
Stavros Mavroudeas
Blatant Hypocrisy: the Latest Late-Night Bailout of Greece
Arun Gupta
A War of All Against All
Dan Kovalik
NPR, Yemen & the Downplaying of U.S. War Crimes
Randy Blazak
Thugs, Bullies, and Donald J. Trump: The Perils of Wounded Masculinity
Murray Dobbin
Are We Witnessing the Beginning of the End of Globalization?
Daniel Falcone
Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen, an Interview with David Hilfiker
Gloria Jimenez
In Honduras, USAID Was in Bed with Berta Cáceres’ Accused Killers
Kent Paterson
The Old Braceros Fight On
Lawrence Reichard
The Seemingly Endless Indignities of Air Travel: Report from the Losing Side of Class Warfare
Peter Berllios
Bernie and Utopia
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
Indonesia’s Unnatural Mud Disaster Turns Ten
Linda Pentz Gunter
Obama in Hiroshima: Time to Say “Sorry” and “Ban the Bomb”
George Souvlis
How the West Came to Rule: an Interview with Alexander Anievas
Julian Vigo
The Government and Your i-Phone: the Latest Threat to Privacy
Stratos Ramoglou
Why the Greek Economic Crisis Won’t be Ending Anytime Soon
David Price
The 2016 Tour of California: Notes on a Big Pharma Bike Race
Dmitry Mickiewicz
Barbarous Deforestation in Western Ukraine
Rev. William Alberts
The United Methodist Church Up to Its Old Trick: Kicking the Can of Real Inclusion Down the Road
Patrick Bond
Imperialism’s Junior Partners
Mark Hand
The Trouble with Fracking Fiction
Priti Gulati Cox
Broken Green: Two Years of Modi
Marc Levy
Sitrep: Hometown Unwelcomes Vietnam Vets
Lorenzo Raymond
Why Nonviolent Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work (Unless You Have Lots of Bombs)
Ed Kemmick
New Book Full of Amazing Montana Women
Michael Dickinson
Bye Bye Legal High in Backwards Britain
Missy Comley Beattie
Wanted: Daddy or Mommy in Chief
Ed Meek
The Republic of Fear
Charles R. Larson
Russian Women, Then and Now
David Yearsley
Elgar’s Hegemony: the Pomp of Empire
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail