Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, February 2010
Guilty verdict of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui enrages Pakistan
Was the politics of fear and paranoia the real victor?
By Ridwan Shaikh
Al-Jazeerah & ccun.org, February 14, 2010
The verdict of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was never in doubt. The Manhattan jury finding her guilty on two counts, of attempted murder and armed assault. You could picture the scene – The U.S President, Barak Obama and key players in the U.S government ‘high fiving’ each other on a job well done. But such a decision only reinforces what many outside the U.S believes – a (Muslim) person facing such charges can expect no justice in U.S courts.
Aafia Siddiqui, the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) graduate, first caught the media’s eye on 18 July 2008, in the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan, where under detention in an Afghan police compound, she became a U.S household name, dubbed as "Lady Al Qaeda".
It was alleged her Afghan captors found a number of items in her possession, including notes detailing a mass attack in the U.S.A. The following day, a U.S interrogation team of army and FBI investigators interviewed, Aafia Siddiqui. But, what followed, condemned her to both notoriety and the affectionate status as the, ‘daughter of the nation’.
In the second-floor meeting room, her U.S interrogators accused, Aafia Siddiqui, of grabbing a U.S. Army officer's rifle from behind a curtain, (where she was left unattended), and fired the weapon at another U.S. Army officer and other members of the interrogation team.
On August 4, 2008, the U.S government decided to indict, Aafia Siddiqui, on counts of attempted murder and armed assault and brought her to the U.S to face charges.
During the trial, the U.S government realised the script wasn’t going according to plan. The problem was, the innocence of Aafia Siddiqui, was just too overwhelming.
The prosecution’s allegations that, Aafia Siddiqui, tried to kill FBI agents and U.S. Army officers, had one glaring omission – there was no evidence to substantiate the claim that shots had been fired by the accused. There were no bullets, shell casing, fingerprints or DNA of any kind.
Even the alleged shooting incident having ever taken place was thrown into doubt. Prosecutors showed a picture of two bullet holes in the wall of the police compound as proof that shots were fired by the accused, but defense attorneys refuted this claim by presenting a video that had been taken before the alleged shooting, clearly showing the same holes.
What is agreed, by both counsels, is that, Aafia Siddiqui, was shot twice in the stomach by U.S officials in Ghazni, and then taken to Bagram, where she barely survived. But, it is what happened during the so called, ‘lost years’, of 2003-2008, that the U.S, Pakistan and Afghan governments are determined to conceal.
Since the trial gained media attention, many observers believed some home truths would return to haunt the U.S Government, by asking thorny questions in its rendition and torture programs.
Shockingly, Judge Richard Berman, blocked five crucial years of Aafia Siddiqui’s life, from being used at the trial, - the time of kidnapping up until 18 July 2008. Inevitably this meant key issues surrounding rendition, torture and kidnapping were excluded from the trial.
This pattern mirrors the previous Bush administration. Although, Barack Obama, has pledged to clean up its inhuman practices in the ‘war on terror’, the ‘black’ sites policy is alive and well. U.S prisons around the world, including Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and Bagram, continue to operate illegally, safe in the knowledge that it’s directed from the top-down. When, Aafia Siddiqui, tried to address this point to the jury, by saying: ‘If you were in a secret prison, or your children were tortured...," she was stopped in mid sentence, as guards immediately removed her from the courtroom.
The U.S media reported this incident by using keywords such as ‘sabotage’, ‘strange outbursts’, ‘disrupts’ and ‘rant’, thereby giving the impression that, Aafia Siddiqui, was a troublemaker, determined to cause havoc in court proceedings.
But, Aafia Siddiqui, knew something, we didn’t want to readily concede, - this trial was a sham from the start and justice wasn’t welcome in Courtroom 21B.
A further twist to the case surfaced, when an FBI official gave sworn testimony that the fingerprints taken from the rifle, did not match hers.
The prosecutions failure to provide credible evidence would have been dismissed by any sensible jury. Frighteningly, the 16-member jury brushed aside such sensibilities by accepting the ‘hear say’ testimonies, of U.S soldiers and officials, that, Aafia Siddiqui, had fired at U.S personnel. This was to become the case ‘clincher’ for the jury.
So, what was this trial about? This federal case had nothing to do with seeking justice, but everything to do with sending out an iron-fist message, the Obama way: ‘If U.S military soldiers and staff point fingers at you...you will pay!’.
Sadly for Aafia Siddiqui, she is paying with her life and those of her children. Naturally, the verdict caused a storm, across Pakistan. The anger spilled out onto the streets, as rallies were held, in at least four major cities, condemning the U.S government’s actions and citing yet another example of Barak Obama’s barbarity towards Pakistani people, and Muslims in general, in its crumbling, ‘war on terror’.
"Had they acquitted Aafia, the world would have appreciated the American judicial system and its whole philosophy. But the conviction has shown us how they have crushed justice," Aafia Siddiqui's sister, Fauzia, said at a rally in Karachi.
Elaine Sharp, one of Aafia Siddiqui’s defense attorneys, was naturally frustrated at the outcome.
“This is not a just and right verdict.
“In my opinion, this verdict is based on fear, not on fact”.
Despite Judge Richard Berman best efforts to shield the U.S government from suffering the indignity of damaging questions re-surfacing, surrounding its active role in secret detention centres, kidnapping, rendition and torture, what is certain, for the Siddiqui family at least, is the struggle to get some answers, has only just begun.
Ridwan Shaikh: www.policyelite.com
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