What About Aafia Siddiqui?

Today, let’s briefly re-visit one “frontier” of America’s War of on Terror.

About a month or so ago we in the West began to hear about Dr. Aafia Siddiqui (pictured right), an American-educated Pakistani doctor who disappeared from Karachi, Pakistan in 2003, who had all of sudden re-appeared. It is reported that on her way to the airport, with her three very young children, she was kidnapped by American forces (denied by them). She has since turned up as of July of this year in U.S. military custody. What has happened to her in that time has been up for speculation and debate around the world. Many news outlets, Western and Eastern, have covered this disturbing story. We at MMW decided to take a look and see how the coverage has played out. Although there was some coverage of her case by Newsweek, CNN, and some other outlets in 2003 and 2004, I will focus mainly on the 2008 coverage by news agencies and magazines mainly.

The West

This BBC article from August 6th of this year actually mentions the many stories which have circulated about Siddiqui, including pointing out that it has been falsely reported that she holds a microbiology doctorate – a degree which could link her to terrorism smoothly. However, the BBC points out that her doctorate is in fact in neuro-cognitive science. Something not so handy to terrorists. The article, as well this BBC article, also makes it clear that no terrorism links to Siddiqui have been proven and it is indeed still unclear as to why she is still being held in custody by the U.S. They present possibilities as to the reasons, the most frightening of which is that she married the nephew of the man accused of masterminding the 9-11 attacks. As the BBC so eerily points out, “[t]hat may be the only “crime” that Aafia Siddiqui has committed. ”

CNN‘s coverage isn’t as extensive, and they do not seem as concerned or perplexed by her detention as does the BBC. They do however mention Amnesty International’s concerns regarding her detention – something which the BBC also highlighted (a picture of Siddiqui in detention is below). This CNN piece did however present the side of her lawyers in more detail than did the BBC. Perhaps because of access. However, the overall sense seemed to be that the criticisms of Siddiqui’s detention were presented as an afterthought, usually via her lawyers’ words. The BBC, in contrast, appeared to sprinkle skepticism throughout their pieces.

However, this Boston Magazine article from 2004 paints a very human picture of the woman. The author is very obviously critical of the allegations against Siddiqui. She presents Siddiqui as a human, a woman. Not as some terrorist, or alleged terrorist, as other media pieces have. She reminds us that Siddiqui is a human after all, a mother, a daughter (though both her parents have since passed away), and a sister.

Additionally, this recent Counterpunch piece asks about her children, whom are rarely mentioned except to say that they also disappeared with her. What happened to them? No one seems to be asking. This piece presents disturbing details which truly make one worry about her children, as well as her.

Other tid-bits:

This ABC News piece does not present her side of events and just briefly and quickly mentions that “[t]here is some dissent in the intelligence community on Siddique’s potential value” as a “treasure trove” of information on Al Qaeda operatives in the US. Even other pieces lack the skepticism seen in BBC and Pakistani pieces. CBS and NBC lacked any substantial reporting on the case, except to repeat what others had already presented.

The Right:

And of course there are the sub-intelligent, right-wing, Islamophobic gems are out there as well. One such gem- referring to her as Lady Al Qaeda. We can always trust Fox “News” to be “fair” and “balanced” – as balanced as Charles Manson. This article doesn’t even present Siddiqui’s lawyers’ objections and argument. It simply implies that Siddiqui is indeed a terrorist, stating erroneously again that she has a biology degree. How conveniently vague. Considering that a few news outlets have since corrected this misinformation, this seems especially deliberate on the part of Fox “News.” Though they did, in a muffled “voice” state that nothing has been proven. That must have been hard to write. And the New York Post has dubbed her the “Al Qaeda mom.” What else would one expect from right-wing, Islamophobic publications? Not to mention that the New York Post seems to have secret sources which no other outlet has, and who says things no one else seems to have.

Some disturbing elements that most of the pieces I read (the ones mentioned above as well as others) had in common:

  • Most mentioned her religiousness. Many mentioned her wearing a headscarf. Some mentioned her preaching Islam to others. All in an attempt to “place” her. To explain how perhaps she may have chosen the path of terrorism she allegedly did. To show how it all started. These made me feel uncomfortable. Even though the articles did not clearly state a link, the implication could be that a religious Muslim, who does da’wah (which a few of them mentioned), is capable of joining an international terrorist network. All those who are open about being religious Muslims could then be seen as either sympathizers of, or participants in, terrorism. All are suspicious.
  • All mentioned that there was no concrete evidence that she was a terrorist – to varying degrees of emphasis. I wish many had emphasized this a little more. After all, the concept of innocent until proven guilty has been a cornerstone to Western justice. Even if the US has all but eliminated it in cases of Muslims accused of terrorism, it does not mean that the media should not rigorously question its neglect.

The East


According to this BBC article, Pakistani newspapers reported the incident of Siddiqui’s disappearance the day after it happened, though not naming Siddiqui. Pakistan’s leading English newspaper, The Dawn, has had numerous articles on the topic.

For the most part The Dawn seems to be reporting the facts of the case. However, in most of their coverage they mention that human rights organizations have aired concerns. They also report instances of protest, which barely appeared in the Western articles. And like the BBC articles, these articles also sprinkle skepticism about the case and its details, referring to them as “strange.”Additionally, the fears of many Pakistanis about the mistreatment of Siddiqui, as has happened to so many other Pakistanis, has been reported.

Throughout reading the articles, I was looking for any mention of Siddiqui’s children, who also disappeared with her in 2003. This Daily Times article was the first I came across which mentioned her son, or someone the authorities assume is her now 11 year old son, who is in Afghan custody. The other articles (mentioned above) which mention her children at all, I came across later.

As expected the Pakistani papers are reporting much more detail regarding this case. As already mentioned, protests occurring in Pakistan, human rights groups fearing the violation of her rights, politicians’ attempts to extradite her to Pakistan, and Pakistani delegations meeting with Siddiqui.


Western media is divided on their coverage. Non-American agencies’ presentation seems more concerned with human rights organizations’ statements on the case. Right wing American media is skewering her, having a field day mocking and trivializing her experiences. Pakistani media is reporting more details, including the concerns of human rights groups in and outside the country, protests, and campaigns.

The case has proven to be disturbing and puzzling. Many questions still remain to be answered. Let’s just hope that the media can bring the answers to us as quickly as possible. Just make sure to check out the right sources for information.

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