Document:Seven Days for Seven Years
One month ago, I addressed the disturbing case of the Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui in an article marking “Aafia Siddiqui Day,” in which I ran through what I regarded as some of the particularly pertinent questions to ask regarding her disappearance for five years, the whereabouts of her three children (who disappeared with her in March 2003, when she was reportedly kidnapped in Karachi), and the alleged incident with US soldiers in Afghanistan in 2008 that led to her “rendition” to the US for a trial that ended with her conviction in February this year.
Hard facts have been elusive in one of the most intriguing and murky cases to emerge from the Bush administration-era “war on terror.” It started in March 2003 when Siddiqui and her three children mysteriously disappeared from Karachi, probably picked up by Pakistani intelligence. What happened next is hotly contested. Siddiqui’s supporters, led by the British campaigner Yvonne Ridley, insist she was sent to Bagram airfield north of Kabul, where she was detained and tortured by US forces. Sceptics say she was probably on the run in Pakistan, associating with Islamist extremists. In 2004 the FBI named Siddiqui as one of seven senior al-Qaeda figures plotting to attack America, which earned her the nickname “Lady al-Qaeda” in the US media.
As Walsh also noted, however, “few of those events were examined in the trial,” which focused on her supposed capture in Afghanistan in July 2008, when she “dramatically resurfaced” and tried to shoot a US soldier, and which led to her conviction, even though the prosecution “could produce little forensic evidence to support its case, with experts unable to produce incriminating bullet cases or fingerprints on the weapon Siddiqui allegedly fired.” As Walsh also noted, “the jury appeared to have been swayed by statements from at least seven witnesses, including an Afghan translator and several US soldiers,” and “may also have been swayed by Siddiqui’s erratic behaviour.” After the verdict was announced, Dr. Siddiqui’s lawyer, Elaine Sharp, claimed that the case had been decided on “fear not fact.”
On Saturday May 1, the Justice for Aafia Coalition is launching a week-long vigil for Dr. Siddiqui outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. The vigil, entitled, “Seven Days for Seven Years,” was planned to coincide with her sentencing, although this has now been postponed until July 21.
However, it is clearly an appropriate time to keep her story in the news, because, just a week after the seventh anniversary of her disappearance, one of her children resurfaced, apparently after seven years in US custody in Afghanistan.
According to reports summarized by Mary on Firedoglake’s Empty Wheel blog, “a girl approximately 12 years old, who spoke only English and Persian and claimed her name was ‘Fatima,’ was dropped off in front of the home of Siddiqui’s sister. Some stories indicate an American named ‘John’ may have been with her.” In addition, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that a senior policeman described how the girl was “wearing a collar ‘bearing the address of the house in case she wandered off.’”
A week later, “Fatima” was apparently identified, through DNA testing, as Dr. Siddiqui’s daughter Mariam, and an article on the Justice for Aafia Coalition’s website noted that she “claim[ed] she was kept in a ‘cold, dark room’ for seven years,” allegedly in the US prison at Bagram airbase.
With the re-emergence of Mariam, two of Aafia’s three children are now reportedly accounted for. As the article above also noted, in late August 2008, Michael G. Garcia, the attorney general of the southern region of New York, “confirmed in a letter to Siddiqui’s sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui, that her son, Ahmed, had been in the custody of the FBI since 2003 and that he was currently in the custody of the Karzai government in Afghanistan,” even though the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, had previously claimed that Washington “had no information regarding the children.” The article added that Ahmed was finally released to the custody of Siddiqui’s family in Pakistan in September 2009, and later “gave a statement to police in Lahore that he had been held in a juvenile prison in Afghanistan for years.”
However, as has also been reported (by Robert Fisk, amongst others), doubts have been expressed as to whether the boy identified as Ahmed is really Aafia’s eldest child, and, of course, the whereabouts of Suleiman — a baby at the time of his capture — are still unknown, although it may be, as has been hinted at over the years, that he was killed during the initial kidnapping in April 2003.
While the fate of Suleiman must remain the number one priority for those seeking the truth about Dr. Siddiqui’s case, it is also imperative that pressure is exerted on the US and Afghan governments to explain whether there is any truth to Mariam’s claim that she was held for seven years in Bagram, where her mother was also reportedly held, and what the story is regarding the “children’s prison” where Ahmed was detained, which, according to some rumors circulating, also held — or still holds — other children of “terror suspects” seized in the “War on Terror.”
If this story concerns you, and you are in London, or within reach of the capital, please consider attending the vigil. Email the Justice for Aafia Coalition if you would like to register for the vigil, and please also note that speakers will address the vigil at 6.30 pm on Wednesday May 5, including Bruce Kent and, via phone link, Amina Masood Janjua, the wife of Pakistani “ghost prisoner” Masood Janjua, and the Chair of Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, which campaigns for justice for the thousands of Pakistani “ghost prisoner” who have disappeared in their home country. For further information, please visit the Justice for Aafia Coalition’s website.