Dr Aafia Siddiqui: In Her Own Words
On the same day that President Obama stood in front of the world to deliver a beautiful speech about the importance of human rights, justice and democracy to America, and only a few miles away, a young woman was receiving 86 years sentencing for bogus charges that many have described as nothing short of absurdity. On the afternoon of September 23, 2010, federal judge Berman in
Manhattan sentenced the young woman, Dr Aafia Siddiqui, to life imprisonment for assaulting two FBI agents, two Army interpreters, and three US Army officers when she, a frail woman weighing only 110-pound, “burst from behind the curtain, grabbed an American soldier’s rifle (weighing 10-12 Kilos) and started firing”. According to the allegation against her, she hit no one but was herself shot in the abdomen.
The conviction of Dr Aafia a year ago was based on prosecutor Christopher LaVigne’s stuttered submission that since the varying testimonies of the US soldiers were similar; hence, they had to be true. Yes, very absurd. However since her sentencing, military documents relating to Aafia’s case have been leaked on Wikileaks and they made no mention about her grabbing any gun or attempting to shoot anyone. Crucial information that would exonerate Aafia were denied her lawyers on the basis that they are classified. Thank God for Wikileaks however, a short while after her sentencing, the documents were simply leaked exposing lies after lies about the case, including the fact that America uses torture on its victims and incarcerate innocent people in ghost prisons scattered around the world, among other horrible things. Spending her 8th Ramadan in hellish conditions America has kept her, the conviction of Dr Aafia Siddiqui on spurious charges and her sentencing is an enduring symbol of what American injustice represents for millions across the world.
Dr Aafia Siddiqui was born in Karachi, Pakistan on 2 March 1972 as last of the three children of Mohammad Siddiqui, a doctor trained in England, and Ismet, a homemaker. After completing her initial education she moved to the US in order to study at the University of Houston. Due to the success of her studies, she was able to procure a transfer to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study a BSc in Biology. Her sister, Fawzia Siddiqui, a Harvard-educated Neurological doctor said of Aafia’s brilliance and intelligence: “As you know, in every household, the person who is the youngest is also the most favoured and cared for. But Aafia was special amongst us from very early on Maa shaa’Allaah; from first grade - ever since she started school, and even before that she was very considerate, tender-hearted and she always came top in all her classes. She never came second… in any subject, any method, whether it is a reading competition, or an essay writing competition, any kind of competition... if Aafia was taking part in it, then the first prize was bound to go to Aafia. Her record has always been this way throughout. Maa shaa’Allaah, she was extremely intelligent.” Dr Aafia is a deeply religious woman, a Hafizha’l Qur’an herself who distributed Qur’an at the local prisons, eventually she got her PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from the Brandeis University. In one of the jottings in the diary she kept in the university, she had reasoned about da’wah efforts in America: "Imagine our humble, but sincere daw'ah effort turning into a major daw'ah movement in this country! Just imagine it! And us, reaping the reward of everyone who accepts Islam through this movement, through years to come . . . Think and plan big." At another time, she wrote: "May Allah give this strength and sincerity to us so that our humble effort continue, and expands until America becomes a Muslim land."
Dr Aafia’s tragic story started immediately after the terrorist attacks in America on September 11, 2011. Within days of the 9/11 attacks, the FBI launched the PENTTBOM investigation – thousands of foreign Muslims were detained and placed through vigorous checks and, in many cases, detained for long periods without charge. The wide net of suspicion was cast and it soon became difficult for many Muslims to live in the US due to harassment they faced by the FBI and other authorities. As a result, Siddiqui and her husband returned to Pakistan. During their short stay in Pakistan in 2002, Aafia and her husband divorced and later that year she returned to the US to settle in the Baltimore area in order to look for academic work.
After Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's arrest in 2003, the FBI issued a ‘wanted for questioning’ alert for Aafia Siddiqui and her ex-husband. The couple, together with Fawzia Siddiqui, had operated a non-profit organisation called the Institute of Islamic Research and Teaching. The organisation was started in 1999 and was to become an important focus in their lives. According to Newsweek, Aafia was found to have funded Benevolence International and the Al Kifah Refugee Centre. Although Aafia’s personal involvement was only a small part of the wider efforts taking place at the time to help the beleaguered people in the Balkans. Email sent from her account during these periods, which have now been made public, showed very clearly that her efforts particularly concentrated on the plight of orphans in Bosnia and that her attempts to aid such victims were quite sincere. There is no record of any of her emails being in relation to raising funds for violence but rather focused on the humanitarian disaster in the country. An Imam in her local mosque had once said of her charitable work raising money for Bosnian orphans: "You know, we were all active, but to see a woman who was active in this way was really something nice."
Her husband, Mohammed Amjad Khan, was detained and questioned but was then released soon after. Five days after the FBI alert however, while Aafia Siddiqui and her children were on their way to the airport to visit her uncle in Islamabad she was detained at Karachi airport. From that moment till 2008 Dr Aafia and her three children simply disappeared, with the Pakistanis and Americans denying any knowledge of their whereabouts. The press, American press in particular, went crazy with speculative stories of Aafia being “a high profile Al Qaeda operative”, “the most wanted woman in the world”, “brokering diamond in Africa to fund Al-Qaeda’s operations” and MSNBC’s Newsweek even identified her as a microbiologist who, according to her lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, was referenced as “being involved in biochemical warfare”. Then in the most bizarre set of events, the ‘disappeared family’ whom the Pakistani and American officials had denied were in their custody emerged from obscurity to become international news. Her case had been raised publicly and within three weeks of the international press storm whipped up by press conferences, an FBI agent visited the Texan home of Siddiqui’s brother and informed him that she was arrested and being detained in Afghanistan. At last the Americans admitted publicly for the first time what the world had already know, that it was keeping Aafia in the dreaded Bagram prison in Afghanistan, where according to others held at the prison, she was known as the “Grey Lady of Balgram”- a ghostly female detainee who kept prisoners awake "with her haunting sobs and piercing screams". Once her presence in US custody was publicly acknowledged, the US prosecutors quickly prepared for transfer of jurisdiction from Afghanistan to the US.
According to the US indictment, Aafia Siddiqui was extradited to the US from Afghanistan for allegedly, “unlawfully, willingly, and knowingly...[prepared to]use a deadly and dangerous weapon and...forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, and interfere.” Also she is alleged to have attempted to kill officers and employees of the United States. These trumped up charges were the best the American prosecutors could come up with after 5 gruesome years poor Aafia lived through in their hands. Nothing related to terrorism could be included in the ludicrous charges.
Before her sentencing, Aafia Siddiqui's life was effectively destroyed by years of horrific daily tortures, repeated rapes, and other terrible abuses in Balgram Prison at America's Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan (Afghan equivalent of Guantanamo Prison). America had turned her very worst on a defenseless lady; torture agents, overdosed on steroids, felt uninhibited to commit the most horrific crimes against her knowing full well they enjoy complete immunity from prosecution and accountability. Well, in this world. To date, America puts itself above the law and refuses to be a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC) where the depraved creatures who tortured her, depraved creatures whose only claims to being humans are at best feeble could be forced to account for their horrific crimes. Instead America continues to pursue Bilateral Immunity Agreements (BIAs) with other countries just to ensure immunity for US nationals from ICC.
Aafia Siddiqui's trial in the US was a complete travesty of justice and mockery of the legal process. The lawyers were not even able to access their client due to strip searches and the trial took place in New York where there was little chance of her receiving a fair trial. The judge, acting in consonance with the political dictate, threw out any motions to speak about her treatment prior to the claim that she shot at US officials.
Like Dr Sami Al-Arian's concocted case before hers, the entire trial of Aafia was manufactured only for one purpose: to convict another Muslim activist that America wanted to get rid of by all means necessary. At her trial, the district attorney said word-by-word, and the judge too in his final verdict, that after all the torture interrogations, they found no evidence, no links of her with Al-Qaida, with Taliban, or ties to any terrorist organisation or form of terrorism. The accusations she got 86 years for were 7— 3 of them being on how she pointed a gun at US soldiers (how she raised a gun in front of soldier #1, in front of soldier #2, and in front of soldier #3) - three separate crimes from one single accusation. The 4th one is that she lifted the gun and said, “God is the Greatest.” The 5th allegation is that she made “God is the Greatest” slogans, and this is the 6th charge “which for us was a curse so she basically cursed us”. The 7th one was that after getting shot, “when we were arresting her, picking her up, when we were putting the ventilator and she was fighting, she was resisting arrest.” Laughable nonsense was it not that it’s at the same time tragic.
Dr Aafia said during her trial: “I died in that very moment when my tiny baby soul was snatched from me, when my children were separated from me, but that death was nothing when for the first time my clothes were ripped. The Afghans didn’t even do what America has done”
At the conclusion of her trial, the judged remarked: “I had no evidence, but the $2 million dollar lawyers that our government had hired—they wrote a few things of such importance that made me decide because of Aafia’s political and Islamic thinking, and the way she stood up and talked to me in court—for these reasons, I am extending her sentence.” Then he sentenced her to 86 years in prison- for “Aafia’s political and Islamic thinking”, and for the way “she stood up and talked to me in court”.
An iconic victim of American brutality, Aafia turned to the judge and said, “Judge, I forgive you.” The judge was shocked and said, “Thank you. I wish other people were like you.” Then he said, “You will now be spending the rest of your life in a federal penitentiary.” To which Aafia responded while starting to leave the courtroom, “I beg to differ from you. My fate lies with my Allah and my destiny is with my God. That decision of my fate is my God's, not yours. And Mr Judge, I thank you for letting me graduate from another MIT.” On hearing this, the judge called her back, pondering over her parting words. So Aafia continued, “Your court: The Manhattan Institute of Theatrical Arts.” These were Aafia’s remarks at which everyone had tears in their eyes as well as- everyone broke out in laughter as well. That she was making everyone laugh after hearing such a big sentence, she put her destiny in the hands of Allah, and said to people, “Do not do any sort of wrong action, don’t get emotional, don’t burn things, stay peaceful.” These were Dr Aafia’s very last words.