Alleged al-Qa’ida suspect denied medical treatment
By Amara Hashmi and Hajira Talbot
Wheelchair-bound and only able to communicate with her lawyer through a hole at the bottom of her cell door, Dr Aafia Siddiqui is a ghost of the vibrant woman she was six years ago, and looks a far cry from the stark picture painted by US authorities as the vicious al-Qa’ida suspect charged with assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder on FBI officers while in custody.
Siddiqui was last seen getting into a taxi with her three young children in 2003, and rights groups have claimed that she was “prisoner 650” or the “grey lady of Bagram”, held for years in solitary confinement at the notorious US base in Afghanistan where she was consistently raped and tortured.
However, US authorities claim Siddiqui was apprehended in the Afghan provenance of Ghazni on July 17, 2008, by local security forces.
Siddiqui had obtained a degree at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before moving on to complete her PhD in cognitive neuroscience from Brandeis University. She returned to Pakistan in 2002, where her marriage broke down following disagreements over how the couple’s children were to be educated.
She first came under the intelligence spotlight in 2001 due to a series of donations to an Islamic charity now banned by the US Government, Benevolence International. However, after the capture of the alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, in 2003, she was allegedly named by him under interrogation.
US authorities have also claimed Siddiqui had married Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, known as Ammar alBaluchi, a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a charge which her legal counsel says is absolutely untrue.
Initially, she was confirmed by Pakistani and US officials to be in detention in Kabul, Afghanistan, but in 2004 her name was released on a “wanted” list of seven Al-Qa’ida suspects.
Concerns regarding Siddiqui’s whereabouts grew when a group of Arab escapees from Bagram, Afghanistan, reported seeing a woman being taken to the toilet at the base. This was confirmed by former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Moazzam Begg, who was also initially held at Bagram. According to reports, the woman cried and screamed constantly.
According to US authorities’ version of events, however, Siddiqui was arrested outside the governor’s compound in the eastern Afghan city of Ghazni on July 17. Guards allegedly found Siddiqui in possession of documents containing information on how to make biological weapons and a list of major New York landmarks as well as glass jars apparently containing “chemical substances”.
While in custody, Siddiqui is alleged to have taken an M-4 assault rifle from where it lay at the feet of a security officer and opened fire on the officers present, during which she was shot in the torso. According to the report, none of the security personnel sustained any injuries.
Speaking to The Muslim News, Siddiqui’s lawyer, Elaine Whitefield Sharp, dismissed the charges as implausible and said that Siddiqui was an educated woman and furthermore, would have been too weak and small to snatch the rifle from a group of trained security officials.
Siddiqui appeared in court in New York on August 11 but her bail hearing has been postponed until September 3. Thus far she has only been charged with assaulting and attempting to kill US personnel while in detention in Afghanistan.
Siddiqui’s condition has shocked and concerned her legal counsel. The judge demanded that Siddiqui receive medical attention immediately, asking the US authorities to arrange a physician to see her within 24 hours. Her lawyer claims that the previous week, the judge had ordered a similar request, but that she had only been attended to by a physician’s assistant. According to the lawyer, Siddiqui is being denied medical treatment because she has been classed as an “extremely dangerous” prisoner.
Subsequently, there are fears that her wound may have become infected, given the putrid appearance of the dressing at the court hearing.
Whitfield Sharp’s only way of communicating with the accused is by kneeling next to a small hole at the foot of the cell door.
Whitfield Sharp is unable to accurately confirm her client’s condition as she is still awaiting the medical report, but says Siddiqui’s condition bears evidence of prolonged torture.
When asked if Siddiqui had been kept in detention from Bagram, Whitfield Sharp said, “She was abducted in Karachi in 2003 and had not been seen since. Everything we can understand about her detention in the last five and a half years leads us to believe that she was at Bagram, a US detention camp which is notorious for torture.”
Siddiqui has requested a fair trial, a copy of the Qur’an, halal food and her rights to be respected as a prisoner. Pakistani diplomats have asked the US to respond to her requests as soon as possible.
Siddiqui’s mother has told The Muslim News that injustice is being done to her daughter. Highly emotional, Siddiqui’s mother sobbed “have you seen her face?”
Siddiqui’s sister, Dr Fouzia Siddiqui, has stated that a human rights lawyer recently filed a petition in a Pakistani High Court to free Aafia from US custody at the Bagram military base.
“As media pressure mounted here in Pakistan, my family received news of the alleged sudden ‘discovery’ of Aafia in Afghanistan,” said Fouzia in a speech. “After five years of detention, Aafia was suddenly ‘discovered’? I am not that much of a believer in coincidence.”
The whereabouts of Siddiqui’s three children remain a mystery. According to the official complaint, Siddiqui was arrested with a teenage boy, but Whitfield Sharp cannot yet confirm whether this could be Siddiqui’s son. “We are hoping and praying that they are all safe,” she said. “The real shame is that the children are innocent – they haven’t committed any crime.”
Pakistan on August 13 protested against detention of Siddiqui’s three children by the US and demanded their immediate repatriation. Pakistan also urged US authorities to respect Dr Siddiqui’s rights as an under-trial prisoner.