January 25, 2011
My thanks to an eagle-eyed supporter for pointing out that, on January 11, the Voice of the Cape radio station in South Africa interviewed Elaine Whitfield Sharp, the lawyer for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist whose 86-year sentence in a New York courtroom last September — for allegedly trying and failing to shoot at her US captors in Afghanistan, and her imprisonment in Carswell, a notorious psychiatric facility in Texas — have seemed to her supporters to crown, in a typically lawless, brutal and overblown manner, the long story of her presumed detention in a US-run "black site" for five years and four months before her alleged reappearance in Afghanistan, the encounter with US soldiers that prompted her rendition to justice in the US, and her trial last year in which all mention of her missing years was suppressed.
I have written at length about Dr. Siddiqui’s case before, and encourage anyone interested in her story to check out my archive of articles, and also to visit the website of the Justice for Aafia Coalition, and I’m delighted to add Elaine Whitfield Sharp’s interview with Voice of the Cape radio (cross-posted below, with minor corrections), because of her open declaration that Dr. Siddiqui was not a terrorist, and that, after her capture in Karachi in March 2003, by Pakistani forces and the CIA, she was "taken to some off-site country — a third-world nation, possibly Jordan or Afghanistan — where she was detained for five years in a black site or secret prison. Here she was forced to create documents to incriminate herself to support what we see in this war on terror. She was then dumped in Afghanistan with a bag that conveniently had incriminating documents."
The mention of Jordan is not something I had come across before, as an alternative to Bagram, or elsewhere in Afghanistan, although there was certainly a secret prison in Jordan, operated on behalf of the CIA, and I had also not heard before the suggestion that Dr. Siddiqui was forced to forge documents whilst in custody, although I have previously heard of this in connection with a prisoner at Guantánamo, Umar Abdulayev, a Tajik who is still held, despite being cleared for release in 2009, who has stated that he was made to forge documents by his Pakistani captors, prior to being handed over — or sold — to US forces..
Elaine Whitfield Sharp Discusses the Case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui on Voice of the Cape radio
"Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was no more a terrorist than Nelson Mandela. She was not a person who was a serious player in Al-Qaeda. She may have had contact in those associations, but it was innocent contacts. She was not the person that I would believe to be involved in anything remotely designed to cause harm to another human being, but rather quite the opposite."
Those were the words of conviction spoken by Aafia Siddiqui’s lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, on VOC’s "Drivetime" on Monday. Aafia Siddiqui, the American educated Pakistani cognitive neuroscientist, was convicted of assault with intent to murder her US interrogaters in Afghanistan. She was sentenced in a US federal court to 86 years in prison.
Capturing of Siddiqui
According to Whitfield Sharp, this is a case that many will never understand completely. "From the defense’s point of view, I can relate our position on the facts: Aafia Siddiqui was picked up in Karachi, Pakistan in March 2003. We believe that she was rendered, which is taken illegally against Pakistani law, by Pakistani forces and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)."
"We believe she was then taken to some off-site country — a third-world nation, possibly Jordan or Afghanistan — where she was detained for five years in a black site or secret prison. Here she was forced to create documents to incriminate herself to support what we see in this war on terror. She was then dumped in Afghanistan with a bag that conveniently had incriminating documents."
Siddiqui’s story was then picked up in the "world hysteria against Muslims and terrorism." She was brought to the United States and charged with firing at US personal at the Afghan national police headquarters in Ghazni. One of the US personnel, who was a warrant officer, shot her in the abdomen, claiming that she picked up an M4 rifle and fired it at the group.
However, Whitfield Sharp said that, contrary to the accusation, there were no bullet fragments found or any damage to the wall. There were also no fingerprints found on the gun and the witnesses testimony conflicted in several ways, thus there were many discrepancies in the forensic evidence.
Whitfield Sharp again cited the rife Islamophobia in the US for Siddiqui being unanimously convicted by the jury to her 86-year sentence. She believes that the case was a riddle of misunderstandings, false nuances and political posturing that has tragically resulted in the sentencing of an innocent woman to prison. Siddiqui is currently incarcerated at the Carswell Federal Medical Centre in Texas.
"We tried to stop the case from going to trial on the grounds that Siddiqui was so traumatised from the 'missing five years.’ We believe that the five years culminating in the shooting of this woman in the abdomen, the bringing and trying of her in the US and keeping her in solitary confinement rendered her mentally incompetent to stand on trial. Unfortunately, the judge disagreed with us and went ahead with the trial," Whitfield Sharp continued.
Siddiqui is the mother of three children, Ahmed, Mariam and the youngest Suleiman. Since her capture in 2003, Ahmed and Mariam have been recovered, but Suleiman’s whereabouts are unknown and he is feared dead. "According to Siddiqui, on the day she left her mother’s house with her three children, the cab they left in detoured from the usual route to the station," the lawyer related.
"The driver took a back road and this is when two black cars pulled up, held the cab driver at gunpoint while the other men opened the back door and took the children. Siddiqui herself was then dragged from the cab and given something that knocked her out. Ahmed corroborated this, saying he too was made unconscious. Next thing she woke up strapped to a gurney. Reports in the Urdu speaking press in Pakistan stated she was seen and picked up on a CIA transport plane."
Whitfield Sharp said Siddiqui was continually tortured whilst in custody and was shown pictures of what was deemed her dead son, face down in a pool of blood. "Siddiqui said she was drugged, electrocuted, tortured and threatened with her kids being harmed. They threatened to rape her daughter, told her that Ahmed was dead and said that they would shoot her baby son and asked if she would she like to watch."
"Her daughter just appeared last year outside their house in Karachi. A car pulled up, threw Mariam out and sped off. Siddiqui’s sister Fowzia, a Harvard trained neurologist, is taking care of both children. Ironically enough, Siddiqui was sent to Carswell Federal Medical Centre, which is a facility where people are treated for mental illness. Do the math! At the facility she has been declared mentally unstable and I believe she is ill as a result of what has happened to her."
"The grey lady of Bagram"
Siddiqui was dubbed "The grey lady of Bagram," as several detainees at the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility in Afghanistan — renowned for its capture and torture of so-called terrorists — claimed to see a woman matching her description, thus suggesting that this is where she was held for the five missing years.
"There were open bull-pens or wired cages where men were placed and they were able to see out of what was going on. One of the people incarcerated at the Bagram male area was Binyam Mohamed, who said he saw a woman matching Dr. Siddiqui’s description in Bagram. We have also heard accounts of the men being tortured psychologically by hearing a tape recording or, as we believe, live screams of a woman being repeatedly raped (which we assume to be Siddiqui). There are more than enough people who say they saw her," Whitfield Sharp said.
An appeal has been filed, and, in the lawyer’s view, the trial had been fair in many ways, except that a considerable amount of the evidence was kept out. "There are very many excellent issues for appeal and it is going forward. The brief for appeal is due in April. As you know, there have been some WikiLeaks cables leaked suggesting that the CIA were using agents to infiltrate the Taliban, which makes one think what role Dr. Siddiqui was forced into once she was rendered and tortured at the beginning of March 2003."
"What we do know is Aafia Siddiqui says she was tortured and, unlike the witnesses’ contradicting testimonies that went all over the place, Aafia’s has never changed."
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 — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.