Monday, November 29, 2010

Dr. AAFIA: London Event Wednesday; Texas Incarceration; Updates and Related Items

“Aafia Siddiqui: Sentenced to Death” – Andy Worthington Attends Discussion with Moazzam Begg and Yvonne Ridley, London, December 1, 2010

On Wednesday December 1, from 6.30 to 9.30 pm, I’ll be discussing the fate of Aafia Siddiqui at the London Muslim Centre, 46-92 Whitechapel Road, London, E1 1JX, with other speakers including Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner and the director of Cageprisoners, and the journalist Yvonne Ridley, who is a patron of Cageprisoners, and has covered Dr. Siddiqui’s case extensively over the last few years. The event, which is free and open to all, will be chaired by Asim Qureshi, the executive director of Cageprisoners.

This event is taking place to raise awareness about the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who, in September, was given an 86-year sentence in a court in New York for allegedly trying — and failing — to shoot two US soldiers in Ghazni, Afghanistan in the summer of 2008, after which she was rendered to New York to be put on trial. The event’s deliberately provocative title reflects how an 86-year sentence for a disputed crime in which no one was even hurt, let alone killed, is effectively a death sentence for Dr. Siddiqui, who will die in a US prison unless pressure is maintained on the US government — and on the Pakistani government — to examine her case again or arrange for her to be transferred to Pakistani custody with the opportunity for her sentence to be reviewed.

In the last few years, I have publicized and taken part in several events focusing on Aafia Siddiqui’s case — most recently in east London (where I interviewed former Guantánamo prisoners Ruhal Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul) and outside the Pakistani embassy in London — and I never fail to mention how Dr. Siddiqui’s case is one of the most murky and troubling in the whole of the “War on Terror” initiated by the Bush administration, which led to countless horror stories, in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Iraq, in the CIA’s network of secret prisons, and in the program of “extraordinary rendition” that involved — and still involves — prisoners being disposed of by being sent to torture prisons in third countries, or in their home countries.

In fact, Dr. Siddiqui’s case seems to be central to the darkest aspects of the Bush adminstration’s global torture program, as she was almost certainly identified as a supposed al-Qaeda operative by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, after his capture in Pakistan on March 1, 2003, and his subsequent torture — including being waterboarded 183 times — in a secret CIA prison in Poland, presumably on the basis that her second husband, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, whom she had reportedly married shortly before her capture, was KSM’s nephew. Ali was himself seized a month after her, on April 29, 2003, and also held in secret CIA prisons before his transfer to Guantánamo with 13 other men (including his uncle) in September 2006, but there is no evidence that Dr. Siddiqui had any knowledge of the 9/11 plans or of any planned attacks in the future, and it seems more likely, therefore, that she is an example of what I once referred to as the “tangled web” of those who are falsely denounced by prisoners when they are subjected to torture instead of being questioned non-coercively by skilled interrogators.

In an article following the ruling in September, entitled, “Barbaric: 86-Year Sentence for Aafia Siddiqui,” I presented the outline of Dr. Siddiqui’s story, and suggested how the sentence hinted at a cynical cover-up by the US authorities, as follows:

Such a disproportionate sentence would be barbaric, even if Aafia Siddiqui had killed the soldiers she shot at, but as she missed entirely, and was herself shot twice in the abdomen, it simply doesn’t make sense. Moreover, the sentencing overlooks claims by her lawyers that her fingerprints were not even on the gun that she allegedly fired, and, even more significantly, hints at a chilling cover-up, mentioned everywhere except at Aafia’s trial earlier this year. Seen this way, her sudden reappearance in Ghazni in July 2008, the shooting incident, the trial and the conviction were designed to hide the fact that, for five years and four months, from March 2003, when she and her three children were reportedly kidnapped in Karachi, she was held in secret US detention — possibly in the US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan — where she was subjected to horrendous abuse.

More of Aafia Siddiqui’s story can be found in my earlier articles...and on the website of the Justice for Aafia Coalition. Post-sentencing, she is now held in the Federal Medical Facility in Carswell, Texas, a notorious establishment described in an article by Yvonne Ridley for Cageprisoners as the “Hospital of horror.” Please visit this JFAC page for details about how to send letters of support, and if you’re in London, please come along to the event at the London Muslim Centre on December 1.

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)

Find his work at andyworthington dot co dot uk

By Andrew Purcell (find at Official Family Site: Free Aafia dot org)

November 20, 2010

"Our normal rules don't seem to apply to your sister"

After driving from Houston this is what the guard told Muhammad as we sat outside the Carswell prison facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
Muhammad just laughed. The guard had no idea how true his observation was.

Visiting Aafia Siddiqui has proven to be dificult. She and her brother have not been allowed a visit since May 2009 before she was sent to New York City from Fort Worth. Aafia has been repeatedly told that her brother hasn't made the arrangements to visit her. Muhammad has been told that she has to make the arrangements. This has been a continuing issue. Aafia and Muhammad are constantly being given conflicting information about the requirements for visitation rights.

Following her sentencing hearing Aafia has been returned to Carswell and Muhammad is still having trouble getting the information he needs to visit his sister. He filled out and returned all the forms needed for visitation priviliges but has not gotten any confirmation that he had been approved to visit. Phone calls to the prison administration were unreturned. Letters were unanswered.

Muhammad decided to try the direct route. Drive up to the front door and see if they will let him in. He asked me if I wanted to come along. I sat next to him for three weeks in the courtroom in New York City so a weekend in Fort Worth didn't seem to be too terrible (sorry Fort Worth, you are probably a beautiful city but all I have ever seen is the prison).

For those of you unfamiliar with the basic geography, there are nearly three hundred miles of Texas between Houston and Fort Worth. It is nearly all on modern highways, but the trip still takes about five hours.

When we got to the gate of the prison, Muhammad asked the guard to confirm the status of his visitation priviliges. The guard took his information and driver's license into his office and made a phone call.

About half an hour later he returned. I suspect he made more than one phone call, or at least spoke to more than one person, but it was obvious that he was told that all he needed to know was that this is just the way it is. While he maintained his professional politeness he was also visibly confused. Muhammad did have visitation priviliges but he would not be allowed to visit.

Since Aafia is now housed in the maximum security facility extra guards were required and had to be scheduled in advance, but the guard told us that even if the extra guards had been scheduled Muhammad would not be allowed to see Aafia. I thought for a second that he was going to tell us that Aafia would be required to pay for the overtime for these extra guards, but all he said was, "Our normal rules don't seem to apply to your sister."

He did give Muhammad a new phone number to call and a new name to ask for. This new number and new name may be helpful, but I doubt it. Their normal rules don't apply to Aafia.

After all, Aafia's first trip to Carswell was to determine whether she was competent to stand trial. It took the government a second try to get the finding it wanted.

The rules still didn't apply. This now legally competent Aafia Siddiqui immediately wanted to exercise her right to fire the lawyers representing her and replace them with lawyers of her choosing. She viewed the lawyer paid for by the United States as one more person representing the American government, and she viewed the three lawyers paid for by the government of Pakistan as agents of the Pakistani government. After the last seven years she doesn't have much trust in either institution.

All she wanted was a lawyer who was working for her. The rules say that it is her right to choose her own lawyer. The judge repeatedly denied her requests. I watched one such exchange in court when the judge told her she could fire the existing lawyers only if she could give him the names of her new lawyers. Her response, "You won't even give me a telephone book, how can I pick a new lawyer?"

Again, Muhammad, the normal rules do not seem to apply to your sister.

Aafia has been able to retain a new lawyer, a half year after her conviction. She has not been allowed any contact with this lawyer, which is interfering with her ability to file appeals in a timely fashion.

Muhammad has postponed surgery twice because he had hoped to visit Aafia. He is unable to postpone it any longer. This surgery will leave him unable to travel for a month and a half. He fully expects to get permission for a special visit the day after the operation and they will tell Aafia that he refused to see her.

This is the pattern of interference by authorities with Aafia's rights to consult her lawyer and her privileges to receive visitors. Keep her isolated, confused, uncertain, and feeling lost and abandoned. And most of all, keep her quiet.

So, no, the normal rules do not apply to her.
(END Andrew Purcell's article)

From 10 November, 2010: Kidnapping Attempt on Children of Aafia Siddiqui



November 13, 2010, New York, NY - At approximately 4:00 PM local time today, armed gunmen broke into the home of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui's family in Karachi, Pakistan.

The incident was apparently a failed attempt to kidnap Dr. Siddiqui's two minor children - both of whom are US citizens, but now reside with relatives in Pakistan. It is unknown how the gunmen gained entry to the Siddiqui famlily home - which has been under 24-hour armed guard by Pakistani police since her eldest son, Ahmed, was returned to the family and came to live with his grandmother and aunt in Karachi in August, 2008.

The two gunmen, who were hiding in the children's bedroom, were discovered by Dr. Siddiqui's mother - Ismat. Upon opening the door of the room, Mrs. Siddiqui saw the two...Continue reading at Free Aafia dot org

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