Frail and reflecting pain and fear, Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist sentenced to 86 years in prison by a New York court, was allowed a visit for the first time in 20 years.
Her younger sister, Dr Fauzia Siddiqui, accompanied by Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Senator Mushtaq Ahmed and human rights lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith visited her at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Texas on May 31.
They spoke to Dr Aafia Siddiqui via telephone.
The three-hour conversation, from behind a thick glass window, was monitored and recorded.
Describing the details of their three-hour-long telephone conversation, Senator Mushtaq Ahmed said that Dr Aafia Siddiqui looked “miserable and terrified” of the torture she has suffered in jail.
“[Her] front four teeth were broken and is having difficulty in hearing due to a head injury. She was continuously saying ‘take me out of this hell’,” Senator Mushtaq Ahmed wrote on his Twitter account.
He said that Dr Aafia Siddiqui was in poor health and her eyes welled up in tears repeatedly reflecting both pain and fear.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Dr Aafia was taken away in chains, as if she would escape from the maximum-security prison.
It was through the efforts of the internationally-renowned human rights lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith that the meeting took place.
The British lawyer who works with CAGE, a British group representing wrongfully convicted prisoners, was able to secure the release of Abdul Rabbani and Ahmed Rabbani from the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison.
The Rabbani brothers were kidnapped by the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, from Karachi in 2002 and handed over to the Americans.
After spending 20 years in the notorious American gulag at Guantanamo Bay, the brothers were released because they were completely innocent.
In his 2006 book, In the Line of Fire, written for him by Humayun Gauhar (son of Altaf Gauhar who wrote Ayub Khan’s book, Friends Not Masters), General Pervez Musharraf writes on p.237:
“We have capture 689 and handed over 369 to the United States. We have earned bounties totaling millions of dollars.” Among Musharraf’s prize catches was one Abu Zubaydah accused by George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld as being the “most high valued al-Qaeda operative”.
Abu Zubaydah was mercilessly tortured—waterboarded 83 times in a single month, slammed against a concrete wall and subjected to other forms of torture first at various black sites and then at Guantanamo Bay.
American officials lied through their teeth to justify their crimes against Abu Zubaydah and many other innocent people.
Let us, however, return to the story of Dr Aafia Siddiqui.
Who is she and why her case matters?
She was kidnapped by the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, from Karachi in April 2003.
Accompanied by her three children, she was on her way to the airport to take a flight to Islamabad.
The Pakistani-born neuroscientist who obtained her PhD from Brandeis University in the US after studying at MIT, was accused of being an al-Qaeda operative.
She was taken to Bagram airbase where she was tortured and repeatedly raped.
She was known as ‘Prisoner 650’, and had disappeared in the horrific torture chamber at Bagram until Moazzam Baig, a Guantanamo prisoner wrongfully incarcerated like hundreds of others, discovered her.
The British journalist Yvonne Ridley, who was held by the Taliban but impressed by their respectful treatment, accepted Islam and became an advocate for Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s release.
In an article published in Middleeast Monitor on May 29, 2018, Yvonne Ridley revealed that she was almost on the verge of securing Aafia Siddiqui’s release through a prisoner swap.
Senior members of the Taliban Shura had approached her in 2013 saying they were willing to swap Robert “Bowe” Bergdahl, an American soldier held captive by the Taliban, in exchange for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui.
She secretly negotiated with the American military and the deal was confirmed including a full presidential pardon for Dr Aafia Siddiqui.
Before the swap could take place, the ISI got wind of it and pressured the Taliban to block it.
Bergdahl was swapped in June 2014 for five Taliban prisoners held by the Americans at Guantanamo Bay.
Why the ISI does not want Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s release?
One can only speculate but the fact is there must be apprehension among ISI operatives that after retiring from service, they could he hauled before a court of law in Pakistan and face the consequences of kidnapping a Pakistani citizen.
After all, General Musharraf was convicted by a Pakistani court of violating the constitution when he was forced out of office in August 2008.
He was sentenced to death but fled the country and died in Dubai in February 2023.
That the judge who had the temerity to sentence Musharraf to death, died a week after delivering the guilty verdict, is a different matter!
The ISI’s servitude to the Americans can also be gleaned from how Raymond Davis, a CIA contractor who shot and killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight in January 2011, was allowed to escape justice.
Then ISI chief, General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, was personally involved in pressuring the victims’ families to accept payment in return for forgiving Davis (see also here).
If they refused, Pasha threatened them with dire consequences.
Why was Pasha so keen to save an American killer while the same agency was involved in kidnapping hundreds of innocent people, including Aafia Siddiqui and handing them over to the Americans for bounty payments?
This is what mercenaries do.