Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the frail neuroscientist kidnapped in Pakistan and tortured and brutalized for many years in Kabul’s notorious Bagram prison, was sentenced to 86 years by a US court in New York on September 23.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the frail neuroscientist kidnapped in Pakistan and tortured and brutalized for many years in Kabul’s notorious Bagram prison, was sentenced to 86 years by a US court in New York on September 23. While few people had entertained high hopes that justice would be done by a judge — Richard Berman — who had already exposed his deep antipathy and hostility toward Aafia Siddiqui, the long sentence still came as a shock. For most observers it was proof that in the US’s so-called war on terror, no effort will be spared to target innocent people. “Oppression,” as the noble Qur’an says, “is worse than murder” (2:192). Even US courts have been pressed into targeting innocent people while US death squads perpetrate horrible crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and now increasingly in Pakistan without hindrance.
“It is my judgment that Dr. Siddiqui is sentenced to a period of incarceration of 86 years,” said Judge Berman presiding over the case. Defiant to the last, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui denounced the trial and said an appeal would be “a waste of time. I appeal to God.” Hundreds of her supporters had gathered on the court grounds and adjoining areas protesting against her trial and conviction. Tens of thousands of people also held a rally in her support in Pakistan denouncing the US and the Pakistani government for its complicity in the torture and rape of an innocent woman.
The Justice for Aafia Coalition (JFAC) released the following statement after her sentencing: “We are deeply saddened by the harsh sentence passed on Dr. Aafia Siddiqui by Judge Richard Berman today. At such a difficult time, our thoughts and prayers are with Aafia’s family, who have been separated from her since March 2003.” The Coalition also pointed out that while not a shred of evidence was presented in court against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the judge relied entirely on allegations made by US soldiers and others. She was accused to trying to grab a gun from a marine — yes, this frail woman weighing 100 pounds and merely 5’3” tall who had endured torture and rape for five years. She was so strong that she was able to grapple with a brute marine and grab his gun.
She was convicted despite the fact that her fingerprints were not found on the rifle, no bullet shells or gunshot residue was found in the room where she is alleged to have fired on the marines, and there were no bullet holes in the walls. Yet, both a bullet and shell casing from the 9mm revolver used to shoot Dr. Aafia Siddiqui were found in the same room. The judge wanted people to suspend all reasoning and accept such a concocted story. The Manhattan jury did just that ignoring even the fact that according to official US story, she was “captured” in Afghanistan on August 3, 2008 and presented in a US courtroom the following day. How did the Americans perform this miracle of transporting a woman, suffering from two bullet wounds to her stomach, so swiftly to New York?
“We hoped that Judge Berman would have opened his eyes to the manifest injustice that has been committed against Dr. Siddiqui and repatriated her to her country. But it seems that Judge Berman was adamant in his position despite the enormous level of public support for Aafia. Last week, Iran, in a goodwill gesture, released Sarah Shourd, an American woman accused of espionage, a crime against the state punishable by death. We are disappointed that the United States has been unable to exercise a similar degree of mercy and leniency in the case of another innocent woman who stands accused of crimes against its government,” said the JFAC’s statement.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s lawyers maintain that she and her three children were abducted by Pakistani and US agents in March 2003 as she was on her way to the airport in Karachi. She was rendered to Afghanistan where she was detained by American forces for more than five years. Stories about her abduction appeared in the Karachi daily, Dawn, in April 2003 in which her uncle accused Pakistani intelligence agents of abducting her. Aafia Siddiqui claims she was abused and tortured throughout her detention. She was convicted in February 2010 of allegedly firing on US soldiers while in custody, a charge she has strenuously denied. Her son Ahmed was released in September 2008 from Afghan custody, and her daughter Maryam was eventually recovered in April 2010 but the third child is still unaccounted for and feared to have been killed by Afghan or American forces.
Her supporters and other people struggling to secure justice for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui have accused successive Pakistani governments of complicity in her arrest and rendition to torture. This has gained further credence by what the former Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf said in his autobiography that was ghost written for him. On the back cover, Musharraf says: “We have captured 689 [al-Qaeda and Taliban members] and handed over 369 to the United States. We have earned bounties totalling millions of dollars. Those who habitually accuse us of ‘not doing enough’ in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the government of Pakistan.”
It is interesting to note that Musharraf used the word “bounty” for people thus rendered to the US for torture. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was identified as prisoner 650 in Bagram’s notorious prison where her screams during torture and rape were heard by other prisoners incessantly. Among them is the former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg who spent three years in the US torture chamber before being released without any charge. Moazzam was and remains an aid worker. He, too, was arrested by Pakistani intelligence agents and sold to the Americans for a bounty.
The allegations against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui are similarly false but in the US, the justice system has become so tainted that it is virtually impossible to get a fair trial or justice. Mere allegation of being a member of al-Qaeda or linked with it in some remote ways is enough to condemn one to a long prison sentence, provided one survives the brutal firing by marines or other equally trigger-happy American soldiers. Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and Omar Khadr stand out as two of the most egregious examples of American brutality and indifference to the rule of law. Indeed, their torture and kangaroo style trials reveal the US has become an outlaw.
Meanwhile, JFAC and other groups supporting Dr. Aafia Siddiqui have vowed to continue their struggle to secure justice and to try to secure her freedom so that she may be united with her family and loved ones. It will not be easy but securing peace and justice has never been an easy struggle especially in an environment where every Muslim is automatically considered a terrorist or a potential terrorist.