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Aafia Siddiqui and America’s Disappeared

By Andy Worthington

April 17, 2012 "Information Clearing House" ---  On Saturday March 31, I was delighted to be asked to speak at a demonstration outside the US Embassy marking the 9th anniversary of the disappearance of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who vanished with her three children in Karachi on March 30, 2003. It took nearly five and a half years until she reappeared in Afghanistan, where she was arrested by Afghan soldiers, and where, after apparently trying and failing to shoot at the US soldiers to whose custody she had been transferred, she was flown to the United States — rendered, one might say — where she was tried in New York, and, in September 2010, sentenced to 86 years in prison.

I have written about Aafia Siddiqui’s case on many occasions, and have also spoken about her at several demonstrations and other meetings, but her story never becomes any easier in the telling, as it is so full of holes, involves rumours of her torture, the disappearance of two of her children for many years, and the presumption that her third child, a baby boy, was killed at the time of her disappearance. It also remains opaque and troubling because of the strange circumstances of her capture in 2008, her odd trial, and that hugely draconian sentence. Her alleged role as an al-Qaeda operative remains shadowy, and her current situation remains a source of alarm, as she is held in Carswell, in Fort Worth, Texas, a Federal Medical Center that provides specialized medical and mental health services to female offenders, but that has a terrible reputation for the abuse of the women held there.

The demonstration, which was organised by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, featured several other speakers, whose videos can be found here, and as many of them were speaking eloquently and at length about Dr. Siddiqui’s case, I took the opportunity to explain how she was one of many dozens of “high-value detainees” subjected to extraordinary rendition and torture in the Bush years, and to mention not only how there has been no accountability for those who authorised the program, but also how there has never been an official account of who was held.

We do, however, know that some of the many dozens of prisoners ended up in Guantánamo in September 2006, after years in secret CIA prisons, and I took the opportunity to talk about one of these men, Abu Zubaydah, the first of the “high-value detainees,” for whom the torture program was specifically developed. Zubaydah’s capture took place almost exactly a year before Dr. Siddiqui’s capture, and at the protest I drew on the various elements of this story that I described in my recent article, Ten Years of Torture: On Anniversary of Abu Zubaydah’s Capture, Poland Charges Former Spy Chief Over “Black Site”.

Below is another short video of Lt. Col. Lorraine Barlett, a member of the US Army Judge Advocate General Corps, who is currently serving as a defense counsel with the Office of Military Commissions, representing a Saudi prisoner, Ghassan al-Sharbi, who was charged under President Bush in 2008, but then had those charges dropped. He has not been charged again under President Obama. I was meeting Lt. Col. Barlett, and had suggested meeting at the rally, where I thought she would meet some interesting people, and be well-received, and I will be writing an article about her client in the near future. In the meantime, you can support his release via this Facebook page.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon. www.andyworthington.co.uk/

 

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