The Gray Lady of Bagram
by SevenStrings, Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 01:27:25 PM EDT
I would like to highlight the curious case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. She is a Pakistan born, MIT/Brandeis trained neuroscientist who went missing in 2003, and showed up in 2008 in a US court, accused of fighting for Al Quaeda.
For a background, I would like to quote from Wikipedia
Aafia Siddiqui was born in Pakistan in March 1972. She came to the United States, and attended colleges in the Boston, Massachusetts area. As a sophomore at MIT in 1992, Siddiqui received a Carroll L. Wilson Award for her research proposal, "Islamization in Pakistan and its Effects on Women." As a junior, Siddiqui received a $1,200 fellowship through MIT's LINKS program to help clean up Cambridge elementary school playgrounds. During her undergraduate career, she lived in McCormick Hall and worked at the MIT libraries. She graduated from MIT in 1995.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence asserts that Siddiqui has ties to Guantanamo captive Ammar al-Baluchi.
In 2002, 'Ammar directed Aafia Siddiqui--a US-educated neuroscientist and al-Qa'ida facilitator--to travel to the United States to prepare paperwork to ease Majid Khan's deployment to the United Staes. 'Ammar married Siddiqui shortly before his detention.
Al-Baluchi is now held in extrajudicial detention in the Guantanamo Bay detention camps, in Cuba.
On March 1, 2003, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, one of the original 22 FBI Most Wanted Terrorists, was captured in Pakistan. Siddiqui may have drawn the FBI's attention when she was named by the captured senior al-Qaida operative, as CNN reported on April 3, 2003. According to Newsweek, FBI Agents also found evidence that she had rented a post-office box to help another Baltimore, Maryland-based individual alleged to have been an al-Qaeda contact who had been assigned by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to blow up underground gasoline-storage tanks.
At that time, the Boston Herald also reported her being linked to alleged terrorist Adnan El Shukrijumah, "whose name surfaced among the belongings of" Mohammed. In any case, she attracted international attention at that time as the first woman to be sought by the FBI in connection with its pursuit of al-Qaeda.
On March 29, 2003 United Press International reported that the FBI purportedly believed Siddiqui may be a "fixer" for al-Qaeda, moving money to support terrorist operations.
Siddiqui's uncle claimed in the spring of 2003 that she had been detained in Pakistan and was being questioned by or for the FBI, which was denied by the FBI. The lead FBI investigating office in Boston also stated that as far as the FBI was aware, Siddiqui was not arrested by any other nation either. On 28 February 2007 Human Rights Watch said that Siddiqui "may have once been held" in secret detention by the CIA.
The family of Aafia Siddqiui asked attorney Elaine Whitfield Sharp of Marblehead, Massachusetts, to serve as their spokeswoman in the media.
`Pakistani woman detained at Bagram airbase'
British journalist Yvonne Ridley says woman being held in solitary confinement for 4 years
By Muhammad Bilal
ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani woman has spent the last four years, and remains to this day, in solitary confinement at the United-States run Bagram airbase detention facility in Afghanistan, British journalist and peace activist Yvonne Ridley told reporters on Sunday.
"Today I am crying out for help, not for myself but for a Pakistani woman neither you nor I have ever met. She has been held in isolation by the Americans in Afghanistan and she needs help," Ridley said.
Ridley said she first learnt about the woman while reading a book by Guantanamo ex-detainee Moazzam Begg. Ridley added that one of the four Arabs who escaped from the Bagram cell in July 2005 also told a television channel that he had heard a woman's cries and screams in the prison but never saw her. "I call her the Grey Lady of Bagram because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her," she said.
The woman is registered as Prisoner number 650 and the US officials can't deny the fact, Ridley said. "I demand that the US military free the Grey Lady immediately. We don't know her identity, we don't know her state of mind and we don't know the extent of the abuse or torture she has been subjected to," Ridley said.
This would never happen to a Western woman, she added.
Taliban captured Ridley in September 2001 for entering Afghanistan without legal documents. Ridley was freed after 11-day detention and later embraced Islam in June 2003. Pakstan Tehreek-e-Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan was also present at the occasion. Khan demanded the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government ask the US to provide details of the woman.
The woman could be Dr Aafia Siddiqui who was picked from a Pakistani airport few years back, Khan said, adding that keeping any one in illegal detention was violation of human rights.
The Foreign Office denied knowledge of the alleged detention of a Pakistani woman, ARY TV reported.
FO spokesman said the allegation would be looked into.
When she went missing in 2003, Dr. Siddiqui had 3 children with her.. ranging from 6 months to 4 years old. The whereabouts of those children are not known. This is a fairly big deal in Pakistan right now. Following the article in the Daily Times, several calls were made for an explanation, and for the release of her, and her children. One example of that is this one
Release her children, at least
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Dr Aafia Siddiqui's story has been haunting most Pakistanis for months now. Famously known as "Prisoner 650" at Bagram Base in Afghanistan, she is one of the missing persons of Pakistan, wanted by the FBI on alleged links with Al Qaeda.
A highly educated researcher who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and where she obtained her PhD in genetics, Dr Siddiqui mysteriously disappeared from Karachi in March 2003 along with her three children. Since then, US and Pakistani officials have continuously denied any knowledge about her.
A particularly disturbing part of this story is that the fate of her children, aged between one month and seven years at the time of her kidnapping, is still unknown. Lord Nazir Ahmed of Britain's House of Lords asked questions in Parliament about Dr Siddiqui. And it was on July 6, 2008, when British journalist Yvonne Ridley called for help for a Pakistani woman she believes has been held in isolation by the Americans at Bagram in Afghanistan for over four years. "I call her the 'grey lady' because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her. This would never happen to a Western woman," she said at a press conference in Islamabad.
Ms Ridley, who came to Pakistan to appeal for help, said the case came to her attention when she read the book, The Enemy Combatant, by a former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg. After being seized in February 2002 in Islamabad, Mr Begg was held in detention centres in Kandahar and Bagram for about a year before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He recounted his experiences in the book after his release in 2005.
After these reports in the media, the US and Pakistani authorities were forced to admit just last week that Dr Siddiqui was indeed in US captivity. According to her attorney, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, "a lot of the allegations are implausible."
On Aug 5 she appeared before a US federal court in New York where she was charged with attempted murder and assault of a US government officer and US employees, counts which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years each. Afghan authorities said that they had arrested her outside the Ghazni governor's compound and that they also they found bomb-making instructions, excerpts from the "Anarchist's Arsenal," papers with descriptions of US landmarks among other things from her purse.
Dr Siddiqui's sister Fauzia said at a press conference in Karachi on Tuesday that the government of Pakistan and all religious, political parties and human rights organisations should play a role in bringing her sister back home. At least the children should be immediately handed over to the family as no law on earth allows a government to hold innocent children.
I don't know if Dr Siddiqui has done anything illegal or not but the way she has been picked and handed over to US authorities along with three innocent children is a violation of basic human rights and human dignity. What happened to moral values, respect for law and human rights? If she has done something wrong, she should have been held accountable in the court of law and punished. But why detain her illegally, along with three children, without any charge whatsoever for five years?
Dr Siddiqui's case reminds us how important the rule of law and justice is if we are to survive as a nation. Pakistan should demand that the US government immediately release her three innocent children and hand them over to her family. --posted by Darwaish on pakistaniat.com on Aug 5.
As described in the article above, Dr. Siddiqui mysteriously appeared in a US court on Aug 05, 2008. The FBI claims that she was captured only recently in Ghazni. I do not know the facts of the case, but there appears to be some interesting discepancies. Turning to wikipedia again,
American account of Second capture
Shorty after press rumors suggested that Siddiqui had been in Bagram for the last five years, the US government arrested Aafia Siddiqui on charges related to her attempted murder and assault of United States officers and employees in Afghanistan.
The US claims that Siddiqui was not captured in March 2003, that she was arrested on July 17, 2008 outside the home of the Governor of Ghazni. The US account of the July 18, 2008 shooting is that FBI agents, interpreters, and several GIs entered the room where Aafia Siddiqui was supposed to be only to find she wasn't there. According to the US account when they didn't find Siddiqui there, the GIs didn't search for her -- they set down their weapons -- whereupon Siddiqui burst from behind a curtain, grabbed an M-4, and opened fire. One interpreter who was accompanying the officers seized the firearm from her. Another heard her say, "Allah akbar!God is great!" US officials claim they have no idea where Siddiqui has been in the five years since she was captured on March 17, 2003.
Siddiqui arrived in New York on August 4, 2008, and was presented before a United States Magistrate Judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Siddiqui refused to accept the charges. Siddiqui's lawyer stated that no one can believe the FBI story and that Siddiqui had actually been captured in Karachi, Pakistan along with three of her children.
Huma Yusuf, writing in Pakistan's International News, argued that Siddiqui's reappearance highlights the importance for the restoration of the Judges President Musharref had controversially fired in 2007. Prior to their dismissal and house arrest the Supreme Court of Pakistan was conducting inquiries into the extrajudicial detention and disappearance of over 500 Pakistanis, including Siddiqui.
On August 8, 2008 the Daily Times reported that Aafia was captured in Ghazni with her eldest son, Muhammad Ahmed. The report stated that documents existed that confirmed that Affia and her children had been captured in March 2003.Sources close to the matter claimed the Interior Ministry asked the provincial home departments for detailed reports on missing persons a couple of weeks ago, and that the list prepared by the Sindh Home Department included Dr Siddiqui and her three children, Maryam, Ahmed and Suleman. The report confirmed MI detained Dr Siddiqui and her three children in Gulshan-e-Iqbal on March 30, 2003, later handing her over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Afghan account of the second capture
Reuters reports that Afghan officials offered an account at odds with the American account. According to Reuters Afghan police apprehended Siddiqui, and a teenage boy, in Ghazni because they triggered suspicions near the Governor's mansion. Reuters reported that the next day local police officials had a dispute with American official over her custody -- and they then proceeded to "disarm" the Afghan police, at which time Aafia who was not armed, was not resisting, was shot by a jumpy GI:U.S. soldiers then proceeded to disarm the Afghan police at which point Siddiqui approached the Americans complaining of mistreatment by the police. The U.S. troops, the officer said, 'thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and and took her.'"
This is a fairly big deal in Pakistan... but I have not seen any reporting on this in the US. For one indication of the impact, I would like to quote from this opinion piece in Dawn (the leading English language newspaper in Pakistan)
Prisoner No. 650 and a war on innocents
By Aijaz Zaka Syed
JUST when you think that Uncle Sam's war of terror has no more surprises to spring on an unsuspecting world, it 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. She appeared in a New York court this past week as a `top Al Qaeda' terrorist.
She had to leave the US when the authorities began harassing her and her husband for their charity activities in the wake of the Sept 11 upheavals. The family lived in Karachi and one day in March 2003, this talented young woman went missing with her three children when she was on her way to Karachi airport to catch a flight to Islamabad.
This week, after five years, she resurfaced in a New York court. She was barely able to walk and speak, which was not surprising given the fact she had been involved in a "gunfight with FBI agents" in Afghanistan. The US authorities claim Dr Siddiqui was captured near the governor's offices in Ghazni only last month with a bag carrying "suspicious liquids in tubes". 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 godforsaken 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 US officials. So what's her original crime, if she has committed one?
Third, why wasn't the Pakistani government informed about her detention in Afghanistan and her subsequent deportation to the US? Or is Pakistan also involved in this international enterprise against a 31-year old mom of three?
There are so many gaping holes in this `case' that Elaine Whitfield Sharp, Siddiqui's lawyer, believes she has been put on trial now because she has "become a terrible embarrassment" to the US and Afghan authorities.
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 Taliban 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 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 `Prisoner No. 650' and `The Grey Lady of Bagram', was brought to the world's attention after Ridley read about the woman in a book by fellow Briton Moazzam Beg, 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.
"However, 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 of the mysterious `Prisoner No. 650' and how she was tortured and abused physically, mentally and sexually for the past four years.
The Aafia Siddiqui case may have come to the world's attention because of some conscientious activists. What about all those innocent individuals, who have just vanished down the black hole called the Guantanamo Bay, without a trial and without anyone looking for them?
The writer is a Dubai-based commentator.
If you are in a position of influence in the newsbusiness, I would urge you to look at this story carefully. It is a fairly big deal in Pakistan, and can potentially be explosive. For that reason alone, it deserves more attention. In addition, this case would represent the first (or second, after the recent case of the anthrax scientist) example of a highly trained scientist turning to terrorism. A quote I heard recently was "I am not too worried about terrorists acquiring the scientific skills necessary for chem/bio warfare, I am worried about scientists becoming terrorists"
As for myself... I do not know the facts of the case, but I do find it difficult to accept that an MIT trained neuroscientist with 3 children ranging from 6 months to 4 years, and who has previously worked on women's issues, would end up working for Al Quaeda. Al Quaeda (and the Taliban) have not exactly been very good for women's rights !