Aafia Siddiqui Still Languishes in Prison After 20 Years

by Judy Bello, December 22, 2023

Aafia Siddiqui, a young Pakistani woman from an upper middle class family in Karachi, came to the U.S. to attend the University of Houston where her brother was already a student, received her bachelors degree from MIT, and a doctorate from Brandeis University in neuropsychology.  Her father, a doctor, had worked in Africa as a missionary when she was a child, and her older sister Dr. Fowzia is a respected neurosurgeon in Karachi.  After college, Dr. Afia was in a marriage arranged by her parents, but there were issues with her husband.  After 9/11 his internet activities were being tracked by the FBI, and she was having a very difficult time with him as well, so she returned to her family home in Karachi, pregnant with two small children in tow.

There, she gave birth to her 3rd child and shortly after, her father died and she divorced her abusive husband.   Meanwhile, the witch hunt that followed 9/11 reached full force in Pakistan, and especially in conservative Sunni areas like the affluent neighborhood where the Siddiqui family lived.  When the baby was a few months old, Aafia decided to visit her uncle in Rawalpindi.  But she was too late. On the way to the airport, her cab was stopped, and she was abducted by the Pakistani ISI along with her children.

Dr. Aafia was first taken to a black site in Rawalpindi, where they tried to use her to infiltrate an organization  thought to be affiliated with Al Qaeda terrorists, using the lives of her children to blackmail her.    When this failed to be productive, she was sent to Bagram where she was horribly abused.  The baby may have been killed when Aafia was first arrested, but his fate is unclear.  Meanwhile, her 3 year old daughter was adopted by an American couple, and her 5 year old son was placed in a children’s prison in Kabul.  It all smacks of dirty dealing and nefarious negotiations behind the scenes.

Aafia’s sister Fowzia had searched for her tirelessly.  At some point she received confirmation that Dr.  Aafia was in Bagram, and filed a complaint with the authorities.  Shortly thereafter, Sister Aafia was seen on the street in Gazni with her son, whom she either did not recognize or did not want to identify.  She was confused, and spoke no Pashto, so she could not communicate with the people around her.   The police recognized her from the Americans’ “Most Wanted” list and called them.   They said that she had been in hiding with “the terrorists“, though this is unlikely since she did not speak their language.  Both children remember being taken by the Americans shortly after her initial abduction.

In custody, Dr. Aafia was somehow provided with a rifle, and the story was that she picked it up and shot at a group of soldiers gathered to hear her confession.  There was no gunpowder residue on her hands or clothes and no bullet or casing was found in the room, except the ones behind her and the ones removed from her abdomen.  The day after her surgery, she was flown to the U.S.  and arraigned in a Manhattan courtroom on charges of assault and attempted murder.    Under international law, she should have faced her charges in an Afghan or Pakistani courtroom.   Though her charges had nothing to do with “terrorism“, they wanted to try her in a U.S. court.

Dr.  Aafia was initially heavily sedated and watched over by FBI agents whose job it was to elicit testimony from her.  Her trial in a Manhattan court was tainted by secret evidence and hearsay testimony.  She was sentenced to 86 years in prison due to a terrorism enhancement, though the actual charge would result in a sentence of only 10 or 15 years, leaving aside the fact that there was no evidence on which to convict her.    There was no proof that she had actually fired a gun, no gun, no bullets, nothing.  Only the testimony of a couple of soldiers who had trouble keeping their stories straight.  They did not have to prove  ‘terrorism‘ because it was an enhancement to the sentence based on secret information provided to the judge.

Later, in the psychiatric ward of Carswell prison, where she is to this day, she was noted to be fearful and at times confused.   Despite her obvious trauma and stress, she was housed with particularly violent prisoners, denied basic medical care and subjected to extreme security measures designed for violent terrorists.  She was resistant to disrobing in public to comply with extreme prison security procedures, and subject to beatings by the violent criminals she was housed with. The psych report presented to the court cited ‘defiance‘ rather than symptoms of trauma.

Around this time, her son, now 10 or 11 years old was returned to her sister’s custody.  A while later, the daughter turned up outside the gate of her family home home in Karachi.  The girl, who had been 3 years old at the time of her mother’s arrest, was familiar with Christian worship and spoke only US English.

I met Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui in 2012, along with hers and Aafia’s mother, and Aafia’s children.    While there, I joined a large street parade calling for Dr.  Aafia’s return to her mother land.  Her treatment at the hands of the Americans raises anti-American fervor among the people there.  However convenient this may be to the Pakistani government, I would not let the U.S. off  easily.  It was the U.S. that tortured and abused Sister Aafia, and the U.S. that has imprisoned her for more than a lifetime under hellish circumstances.  What is their motive?

At home, I sent letters to Sister Aafia for months.  All were returned with a variety of reasons.  Initially they said she had rejected the mail, but since the envelope was never opened, it is clear it was never presented to her.  I tried enclosing a card in an envelope made of paper with a faint photo of the courtyard of her mothers home.  Cards started coming back with “wrong address”, “insufficient postage” and “no one by that name here”.  I called the prison and I said that it is a matter of public record that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was incarcerated there.  The person on the other end replied that they did not know anything about it, and could not help.

I have published various recitations of Dr. Aafia’s story several times over the last decade.  Like many of the men in Guantanamo Bay Prison, she was never charged with a terrorism related action.  Apparently, after she was arrested, a young Pakistani man in Guantanamo, who was shown her photo, claimed that he had met her with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan.   She, at the time, would still have been in the US.  This young man had a reputation for making up stories about other prisoners, and was recently rewarded with resettlement in Belize.

— Clive Stafford Smith (@CliveSSmith) December 4, 2023

Sister Aafia, on the other hand, an innocent woman was tortured and abused, and finally condemned to a living death:

The report below is excerpted from Pakistan Aaj TV, followed by excerpts from The News.
published on Workers World, December 13, 2023

Islamabad: Human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith [Dec. 5] said Dr. Aafia Siddiqui — a Pakistani neuroscientist jailed in the United States for over a decade — has been sexually assaulted at least twice during her incarceration, in addition to the ill-treatment she was meted out at the Bagram jail in Afghanistan.

Speaking with Geo News, Smith, who represents Dr. Aafia, said his client has been abused and tortured more often and that she informed him about the sexual assaults in a meeting. The counsel also mentioned that the Pakistani government was also aware of the two instances of sexual assault.

Smith’s comment pointed towards a report prepared by Aisha Farooqui, Pakistan’s former consul general in Houston, in 2018, citing the physical and sexual abuse that Dr. Aafia was subjected to during her detention. The report also recommended diplomatic authorities take her case to the highest level and find a way to repatriate Dr. Aafia.

Smith revealed that a sexual assault complaint was, therefore, filed on her behalf. “Dr. Aafia was also sexually assaulted in Bagram jail,” he added. He further shared the details about the reason behind the assaults endured by his client at the United States-run prison in Afghanistan when the American military was based in the country and operating its bases on Afghan soil.

The video above points out that the Pakistani government has not made a sincere effort to bring Dr. Aafia home.   The U.S. State Department says that Pakistan has never asked for her to be repatriated.  In fact, the basis of their reasoning seems simplistic over so many governments, and especially in the case of Imran Khan who was very helpful early in the process.   I don’t believe Dr. Aafia’s continuing encarceration is  about having a tool to rally the Pakistani public.  Can the U.S. influence the leaders of Pakistan, a country where the U.S. engineered a coup less than a year ago?  I wonder.  And of course, our leaders deny it as do Pakistan’s new leaders.  But still, the U.S. has more reason to hold her than the Pakistani government.

U.S. officials have been consistently dishonest about their crimes over the long years.  And, they have long been able to coerce Pakistani officials to support their will. In fact, Dr. Aafia’s abduction is proof of that.  I think that the U.S. does not want to release Aafia Siddiqui  because she might testify to the horrors that they prosecuted against the people of Afghanistan and the people of Pakistan, and in particular, against this modest, well educated, and cultured woman, this petite and gentle woman and her children, because that is their process.  It is what they do.  And Aafia Siddiqui is the living proof of it.

*Featured Image: Dr. Aafia, then and now. On the left she is speaking about women’s rights in Islam (her mother was an organizer of this issue while she was growing up) and on the left, in Carswell prison after 20 years of abuse.



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