Detainee Aafia Siddiqui: It’s women and children now

Better days

It may be all quiet on the Western front, but apparently it’s not that relevant. Recently, two ghost detainees, who disappeared in Pakistan in March 2003, conveniently reappeared last month in Afghanistan where they were promptly arrested by American officials.

The first detainee, Aafia Siddiqui, is a 36-year-old Pakistani national and MIT PhD graduate, now being held in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York. The second is her 12-year-old American son – her eldest child – still being held in Afghanistan. Her two younger children (also American citizens) also disappeared with her in 2003, but their whereabouts are still unknown. The youngest was only 6-months at the time.

Elaine Sharp, Aafia’s lawyer, interviewed her last week and says it is certain that she was held in Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan. They had to talk through the food slot at the bottom of Aafia’s cell door for the entire 3 hour session.

“The whole situation made it impossible for me to meet properly with my client,” says Sharp. “The abuse was horrendous. It was physical, as well as psychological. It was torture.” In early 2003, the FBI announced it wanted to take Aafia Siddiqui in “for questioning,” though they admitted they had “no information indicating this individual is connected to specific terrorist activities.”

A few weeks later, Aafia and her three children were picked up by Pakistani police and were not seen or heard from again for the next five years. The FBI, however, continued to list her as “wanted,” denying that she was held by Pakistan – or any other country. In May 2004, then-Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller accused Aafia of being an al-Qaeda member, claiming she was still at large.

Their evidence: While in America, Aafia opened a PO box. Also, her bank account displayed suspicious behavior. That is to say, she made automatic withdrawals to a few Muslim charities. However, more puzzling than her disappearance is Aafia’s reemergence. Why would the US concoct a scenario that would bring Aafia out of total oblivion and back into the public eye? To give her a chance at justice?

On the one hand, human rights groups have been pressuring the US to bring an end to the captivity of the “Grey Lady of Bagram,” Prisoner 650, the woman whose screams and agony have haunted the hearts of released Bagram prisoners (until now, the US denies holding any women at the airbase). Perhaps Aafia is the Grey Lady, finally given face and name.

On the other hand, this is an election year, a time of great opportunity for politicians. Those on the way out can actually have something to show for their term-and-a-half “War on Terror,” while those trying to come in can have something to flex their muscles with.

Speculation aside, Aafia faces trial here in the US, being charged with attempted murder and assault of US personnel. No al-Qaeda. No terrorism. The government has nothing on her except their story of her second arrest in Afghanistan this past July.

The story goes that some US personnel entered the room where Aafia was kept and, on not seeing her, one agent put down his M4. Then Aafia, half-starved, allegedly jumped out from behind a curtain, picked up the gun, and began shooting (conveniently for them, she missed).

This story would not seem so ridiculous until you realize they had to make something up to explain Aafia’s gunshot wound (they say she was shot in self-defense). The bullet wound went septic from lack of proper treatment and put her in danger of death. The judge then ordered an emergency medical assessment, to see whether or not she will need to be moved to a hospital for immediate treatment.

Today, Aafia sports a broken nose, improperly reset. Her teeth have been pulled out. One of her kidneys has been removed, leaving a gashing scar down her abdomen. It is reported that she has been repeatedly raped. She is dehydrated and weak, unable even to walk. Psychologically, Aafia is confused and possibly suffers from brain damage.

But the physical and psychological nightmare hasn’t ended for her. Before and after every legal visit or trip to the court, Aafia is stripped naked and has to endure a cavity search. She has informed her legal team that she will not accept visits anymore due to the degradation and humiliation of the procedure.

Aafia is due to face trial this September. Ahmad, her eldest child, is still detained in Afghanistan. The other two, certainly the youngest American prisoners of war ever, are still unaccounted for. America’s disappeared in the War on Terror have been given scant attention. With women and children now victims, will the silence be broken?

Marryam Haleem is studying Comparative Literature and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her blog, Muddled Thoughts, can be found at littlem85.blogspot.com.


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