The shady story of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

Adnan Firoze
Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui Was Sentenced In New York, But No One Is Asking The Correct Questions In This Mysterious Case. Photo Courtesy : Flickr

Questions remain unanswered but 86 years of confinement remains confirmed


Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, once declared world’s most wanted female terrorist according to the FBI is a Pakistan born, MIT graduated neuroscientist and a mother of three who is serving a 86 years of life of imprisonment and her curious trial took place in the New York Federal court. Her blurry story had created uproar in both the east and the west – some appealing for a re-trial and some are signing petitions for her undisputed freedom. Ironically, none seemed to be concerned about her story – the epitome of international espionage which remains blurry to this day.


The MIT educated Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was born on March 2, 1972 in Karachi, Pakistan. She was educated in MIT for her undergraduate studies and later she entered Brandeis University as a graduate student in cognitive neuroscience. She got married to Dr. Amjad Khan in 1995, a young Karachi doctor over the telephone who will become rather significant to her story. Nonetheless, during her student life in US, she had always been a fervent Muslim activist as she participated in campaigns for the causes of the likes of Bosnia and Chechnya. However, there were ties of Al-Qaida to several of the charities she worked for e.g. Mercy International Relief agency, for one.


Her marital and family life becomes quite significant to the shadowy mystery that surrounds this dubious case. After the 9/11 tragedy, life for the couple became rather unbearable on US soil as they faced several kinds of harassments. The couple faced interrogation in May, 2002 by the FBI regarding some suspicious internet purchases they had made. The purchase consisted of about $10,000 worth of night-vision goggles, body armour and 45 military-style books including The Anarchist’s Arsenal. The husband argued that those purchases were meant for hunting expeditions. Even though her husband – Dr. Amjad Khan along with herself were Muslim activists and conservative Muslims, there was a difference in the degree of devotion towards the cause(s) the couple stood for. According to Dr. Khan, she had always been fierier and more politically active than him. Due to this difference, the marriage did not last. After the birth of their third child – Suleman, they got divorced in 2002 when they abandoned US and returned to Pakistan.


The post-divorce life of Aafia is depicted by the US officials in a conveniently lucid manner. She was remarried to Ammar al-Baluchi – the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who was one of the plotters of the 9/11 incident in Karachi. The denial of this wedding by Aafia’s family was trumped by its confirmation by the Pakistani and US intelligence. According to the FBI, she herself has confessed to this wedding in an interrogation much later (which was almost 10 years later and the validity of such reports are just as shady as her whole story). However it is imperative to mention that her second husband plays a crucial role in the story.


Things start to get interesting from this point. A global alert (not a warrant for arrest) was issued by the FBI in March, 2003 for her and her ex-husband. Aafia staying married to her second husband got on a taxi cab along with her three children – Ahmed (6), Mariam (4) and Suleman (6 months at that time) with the intention of going to the Karachi airport. But she had never made it to her destination. It seemed as if they had all disappeared from the face of the Earth. Amjad Khan, on the other hand, was intercepted, interrogated and released by the FBI in Pakistan. It is important to mention that Aafia only resurfaced in 2008 leaving a void of 5 years in between.


American media covered her disappearance as an interception by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) spy agency who worked under the coercion of CIA. However, this information has little legitimacy as the primary source was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (the 9/11 mastermind and uncle of Aafia’s second husband), who was waterboarded numerous times by the CIA and presumably confirmed the information under duress.


There have been several versions of accounts of the 5 years period that is unaccounted for. US attorney general, John Ashcroft, enlisted her among the seven “most wanted” Al-Qaida fugitives in May 2004 and labelled her as “Armed and dangerous.” He further described Aafia as a terrorist “facilitator” and was using her expertise against America. New York Post branded her name with “Al-Qaida Mom.” However, that is not the only label she bears since there is a flip side.


In contrast to her defamatory label by the New York Post, Yvonne Ridley – the British journalist, called her “Grey Lady of Bagram” – an emblem of American brutality (“Bagram” being the most dreaded prison facility of the East – the Guantanamo Bay of Asia). Her family denied the allegations of terrorism brought against her and reiterated that she had spent the 5 years of her life at the fearsome Bagram detention center. According to Yvonne Ridley, her sobs and screams were so disturbing to the other male detainees that they revolted by going on a hunger strike for 6 days.


Now that the foreword has been laid out I may come to the capture of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. The American version goes as follows as described by Declan Walsh of “The Guardian”:  On July 17, 2008, a team of four Americans – two FBI agents and two army officers – rolled into Ghazni, a dusty town 50 miles south of Kabul. They had come to interview two unusual prisoners: a woman in a burka and her 11-year-old son, arrested the day before. Afghan police accused the mysterious pair of being suicide bombers. What interested the Americans, though, was what they were carrying notes about a mass casualty attack in the US on targets including the Statue of Liberty and a collection of jars and bottles containing chemical and gel substances. At the town police station the Americans were directed into a room where, unknown to them, the woman was waiting behind a long yellow curtain. One soldier sat down, laying his M-4 rifle by his foot, next to the curtain. Moments later it twitched back. The woman was standing there, pointing the officer’s gun at his head. A translator lunged at her, but too late. She fired twice, shouting “Get out of here!” and “Allahu Akbar!” Nobody was hit. As the translator wrestled with the woman, the second soldier drew his pistol and fired, hitting her in the abdomen. She went down, still kicking and shouting that she wanted “to kill Americans”. Then she passed out.


The US justice system had a traumatic experience with this narrative as no Americans were shot but there were marked injuries on Aafia’s body during her trial at Manhattan, New York. Even if we believe or reject the narrative that decided the fate of this splendid scholar (evil or not), the truth has not surfaced up to this day. Her courtroom proceedings make her story more dramatic than a spy novel.


The questions that were of grave essence in her trial were the circumstances of her capture. The evidences of her firing at an US soldier that were presented at the New York courtroom were fragile at best. The dark robe and white headscarf clad Aafia Siddiqui initially pleaded not guilty and insisted that she had never touched the soldier’s gun.


Ironically, if she opened fire or not was not the most dramatic turn of event in that courtroom; rather, the unveiling of greater truths was at brink which was conveniently silenced. During a stormy hearing, Aafia halted the judge, cursed at her own lawyers and boisterously appealed to the public present in the courtroom. “I am boycotting this trial,” she shouted. “I am innocent of all the charges and I can prove it, but I will not do it in this court.” It is notable that she had previously fired several lawyers for being “Jewish.” After the dramatic fiasco at the courtroom, she requested to speak with President Obama with the intention of forming a truce with the Taliban. She also argued that she is willing to point fingers at the 9/11 instigators who were a small groups and were all Americans and who were not Muslims according to her testimony. Unfortunately she was escorted out of the courtroom for obstruction. “Take me out. I’m not coming back,” she rebelliously cried. Nor, did she return. She was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder, armed assault, using and carrying a firearm, and three counts of assault on U.S. officers and employees on February 3, 2010 and sentenced with a life of imprisonment for 86 years.


The mysteries surrounding Dr. Aafia Siddiqui are far from ending just upon her conviction. Only two weeks before Aafia’s trial, the Obama administration declared that the Guantanamo detainees would be tried for their part in mass terrorism. As opposed to their cases, Aafia’s case was a minor one – a case about a single gunfire inside a room.  But the major questions were never posed and consequently never answered. If ISI or CIA intercepted Aafia in 2003 or not and the stories of the unaccounted 5 years of her life (2003 to her capture) remain as mysteries. More alarming a question is the fact that she was captured with only one of her three children and the other two children were never found.


Moreover making this story even more dramatic is the fact that the key to the 86- year sentence of an MIT educated Muslim neuroscientist lied in the testimony of her 6-year-old son – Ahmed as he was the only third person present in that room at Ghazni where the shooting took place. Ironically, Ahmed was given a pardon upon the re-arrival of Aafia in USA from Kabul on the condition that he is forever barred from talking to the press as informed by Aafia’s sister Fowzia (a Harvard educated neurologist) in Karachi.


There have been uproars in the political and intellectual arenas regarding the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. High profile personalities of the likes of Imran Khan spoke fervently for her aid. Amnesty International monitored the trial for fairness. According to four British Parliamentarians, this trial was a  “grave miscarriage of justice which violated the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution” as well as the United States’ obligations as a member of the United Nations and demanded her release until proven without reasonable doubt. In a letter to Barack Obama, they stated that there was a lack of scientific and forensic evidence tying Aafia to the weapon she allegedly fired. The presence of “doubt” tarnishes the whole case axiomatically.


Thus, did Dr. Aafia Siddiqui sacrifice her life for her child, her beliefs or is she just another run-of-the-mill terrorist are still burning questions. The sad fact about it is, even though we can stop to ask these questions today, they did not stop to think about these trivial questions in 2008 before convicting her for 86 years of imprisonment. Her case not only suggests a defamation of human rights but an existence of political espionage and shadow-powers at play in the international political arena.


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