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Justice For Aafia

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How many of us still remember our Sister Aafia Siddiqui's plight?

 

Inshallah let us remember her in our duas and try our very best to seek out the justice she so rightly deserves.

 

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Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was born on 2 March 1972 in Karachi, Pakistan. She is one of three siblings. Aafia’s father Mohammad Siddiqui was a UK-trained doctor and her mother, Ismet, is a homemaker. Aafia has three children: Ahmed (b. 1996), Maryam (b. 1998), and Suleman (b. 2002), the latter of whom remains missing to this day.

 

Aafia moved to Texas in 1990 to be near her brother, and after spending a year at the University of Houston, transferred to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Siddiqui's fellow students say she was a quiet, studious woman who was devout in her religious beliefs but far from the media characterisation of 'Lady Qaeda'. A fellow student, Hamza, recalled in an interview with the BBC, "I remember Aafia as being sweet, mildly irritating but harmless".

 

During her time at MIT, Aafia joined the campus Muslim Student Association (MSA) and was actively involved in efforts to portray the teachings of Islam to non-Muslims in order to better their understanding of her faith and invite them to Islam. Her emphasis in her life on bettering the conditions of Muslims even pervaded her academic achievements. During her sophomore year at MIT, she won a grant of $5,000 to study the effects of Islam on women living in Pakistan. In addition to her many academic achievements, Aafia earned the honourable status of committing the entire Qur’an to memory.

 

Following her graduation, Aafia married a medical student Mohammed Amjad Khan. She subsequently entered Brandeis University as a graduate student in cognitive neuroscience. Citing the difficulty of living as Muslims in the United States after 9/11 and following FBI harassment of her husband, Aafia and her husband returned to Pakistan. They stayed in Pakistan for a short time, and then returned to the United States. They remained there until 2002, and then moved back to Pakistan. Some problems developed in their marriage, and Aafia was eight months pregnant with their third child when she and Khan were separated. She and the children stayed at her mother’s house, while Khan lived elsewhere in Karachi. After giving birth to her son, Aafia stayed at her mother’s house for the rest of the year, returning to the US without her children around December 2002 to look for a job in the Baltimore area, where her sister had begun working at Sinai Hospital. On 1 March 2003, Pakistani authorities arrested Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Aafia and her children disappeared just 27 days later.

 

DISAPPEARANCE

 

According to Aafia’s mother, Aafia left their home in Gulshan-e-Iqbal in a Metro-cab on 28 March, 2003 to catch a flight to Rawalpindi, but never reached the airport. In February 2010 Aafia’s eldest son returned to the scene and described how, when he, his mother and siblings came out of their home, fifteen to twenty people, including a ‘white lady’ and members of the ISI, were waiting in three to four vehicles on the next street and subsequently kidnapped them. Aafia was placed into one black car and the crying children into another. She described to her lawyer that she was immediately hooded and drugged. When she awoke she was tied to a gurney in a place that could not have been Karachi because the air was very dry.

 

Following her trial, Aafia’s lawyer Elaine Sharpe, described how Aafia’s baby, Suleman, was believed to have been killed during the arrest. Dr Siddiqui was later shown a picture of her baby, lying in a pool of blood. It is not known if Suleman, who would now be 7 years old, is alive.

 

Pakistani papers mentioned reports the following day that a woman had been taken into custody of terrorism charges and confirmation came from a Pakistan Interior Ministry spokesman. The media reported that Aafia Siddiqui had been 'picked up in Karachi by an intelligence agency' and 'shifted to an unknown place for questioning'. A year later, the press quoted a Pakistani government spokesman who said that she had been handed over to US authorities in 2003.

 

Aafia Siddiqui had been missing for more than a year when the FBI put her photographs on its website.

 

Aafia’s mother described in a BBC interview in 2003, how a 'man wearing a motor-bike helmet' which he did not remove, arrived at the family residence and warned her that if she ever wanted to see her daughter and grandchildren again, she should keep quiet. Both the Pakistan government as well as US officials in Washington denied any knowledge of Aafia’s custody. Aafia's sister, Fowzia also says that she was told by the then Interior Minister Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat in 2004 that Aafia had been released and would return home soon

 

At almost precisely the same time that Aafia went missing, two other alleged Al Qaeda suspects disappeared from Karachi - Majid Khan and 'Ali 'Abd al-'Aziz 'Ali. They would be amongst hundreds arrested by the Pakistani intelligence services and handed over to the FBI and CIA as part of the War on Terror. Like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Khan and Ali would not reappear again until September 2006, following their transfer from CIA custody, where they were reportedly tortured including the use of waterboarding, to Guantanamo.

SECRET DETENTION

 

Aafia claims that she was kidnapped by the Pakistani intelligence services with her children and transferred into US custody. She further alleges that she was detained in a series of secret prisons for five years during which time she was repeatedly abused, tortured and raped. Aafia’s claim is substantiated by former Bagram detainees who affirmed the presence of a female detainee of Pakistani origin at Bagram, with the prisoner ID “650”. The International Committee for the Red Cross also confirmed that a woman had been detained at Bagram. Immediately after his release from Guantanamo in 2009, ex-Bagram detainee, Binyam Mohamed declared that the woman he saw in Bagram, with the prison no. 650, was indeed Aafia Siddiqui.

 

The US has previously denied the presence of female detainees in Bagram and that Aafia was ever held there, bar for medical treatment (after they shot her) in July 2008.

 

Little is known about what happened to Aafia and her children in the five years in which they were missing. However, in October 2009, when Aafia was visited by a Pakistani parliamentary delegation she spoke a little about the five years in which she had been disappeared, saying “I have been through living hell”. She described being given an injection and when she came to, she was in a cell. She said she was being brainwashed by men who spoke perfect English, who may have been Afghans. She did not think they were Pakistanis. She described being forced to make false confessions and sign statements. She alleged that she had been tortured although she provided no details. She was also told by her captors that if she did not co-operate, her children would suffer. During her trial, Aafia alluded to being tortured in secret prisons, to being raped, her children being tortured, and being threatened to be “sent back to the bad guys” – men she described as sounding like Americans but could not be “real Americans” but “pretend Americans” due to the treatment they had subjected her to. After her trial it emerged that the government of Pakistan had put a gag order on Aafia’s family in exchange for releasing her eldest son Ahmed.

 

Aafia's lawyers, Elaine Sharpe and Elizabeth Fink, would later corroborate this by stating publicly that she had "been through years of detention, whose interrogators were American, who endured treatment fairly characterised as horrendous" and that she had been "tortured".

 

RE-ARREST IN AFGHANISTAN

 

On 7 July 2008, a press conference led by British journalist Yvonne Ridley, in Pakistan resulted in mass international coverage of Aafia’s case as her disappearance was questioned by the media and political figures in Pakistan. Within weeks, the US administration reported that she was arrested by Afghani forces along with her 13 year old son, outside the governor of Ghazni’s compound, allegedly with manuals on explosives and ‘dangerous substances in sealed jars’ on her person. Her lawyers claim that the evidence was planted on her. Aafia would later testify during her trial that the bag in which the evidence was found was not her own and was given to her, being unaware of its contents. She also claimed that the handwritten notes were forcibly copied from a magazine under threat of torture of her children. She recalledthe presence of a boy at the Ghazni police station whom she believed could have been her son, but could not know with certainty since they had been separate for several years.

 

On 3 August 2008 an agent from the FBI visited the home of her brother in Houston, Texas and confirmed that she was being detained in Afghanistan. On Monday 4 August 2008, federal prosecutors in the US confirmed that Aafia Siddiqui had been extradited to the US from Afghanistan where they alleged she had been detained since mid-July 2008. They further allege that whilst in custody she fired at US officers (none being injured) and was herself shot twice in the process. Aafia confirmed during her trial that she was hiding behind a curtain in the prison, as the US claim, with the intent of escaping as she feared being returned to a secret prison, but categorically denied picking up the gun or attempting to shoot anyone. Aafia was charged in the US with assaulting and attempted murder of US personnel in Afghanistan.

 

 

 

RELEASE OF AHMED SIDDIQUI

 

In late August 2008, Michael G Garcia, the US attorney general of the southern region confirmed in a letter to Dr Fowzia Siddiqui that Aafia’s son, Ahmed had been in the custody of the FBI since 2003 and was he was currently in the custody of the Karzai government. Earlier the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W Patterson had earlier claimed that Washington has no information regarding the children.

 

According to an Afghan Interior Ministry official quoted in the Washington Post, Ahmed Siddiqui was briefly held by the Interior Ministry after his arrest in July 2008 and was thereafter transferred to an Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), notorious for its brutal treatment of detainees, despite the fact he was too young to be treated as a criminal suspect under both Afghan and international law. Under Afghanistan's Juvenile Code, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 13 and according to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child a minimum age of criminal responsibility below the age of 12 is "not internationally acceptable."

 

Ahmed was finally released to the custody of Aafia’s family in Pakistan in September 2009.

 

He later gave a statement to police in Lahore, Pakistan, that he had been held in a juvenile prison in Afghanistan for years. On being reunited with his father for the first time, he ran away screaming in horror, claiming that his father was amongst those who used to beat him in Afghanistan.

 

THE TRIAL

 

The trial of Aafia Siddiqui began Tuesday 19 January 2010, in a Manhattan federal courtroom. Prior to the jury entering the courtroom, Aafia turned to onlookers saying; "This isn't a fair court, (...) Why do I have to be here? (...) There are many different versions of how this happened," referring to the alleged shooting.

 

Three government witnesses testified on the opening day of the trial; Army Capt. Robert Snyder, John Threadcraft, a former army officer and John Jefferson, an FBI agent. Both were stationed in Afghanistan at the time of the alleged assault and murder attempt.

 

During the trial, while Snyder testified that Aafia had been arrested with a handwritten note outlining plans to attack the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and Wall Street, Aafia disrupted the proceedings with a loud outburst aimed at Snyder, after, which she proclaimed her innocence stating; "Since I'll never get a chance to speak, if you were in a secret prison.. where children were tortured... This is no list of targets against New York. I was never planning to bomb it. You're lying."

 

In the morning before the closing remarks, the last government witness, FBI Special Agent, Angela Sercer testified. Sercer monitored Aafia for 12 hours a day over a two week period while she was at a hospital in Bagram. She tried to rebut Aafia Siddiqui’s testimony, by saying that Aafia told her she was in “hiding” for the last five years and further that she “married” someone to change her name.

 

However under cross examination, Sercer admitted that while at the hospital Aafia expressed fear of “being tortured”. Sercer also admitted that Aafia expressed concern about the “welfare of the boy” and asked about him “every day”. Moreover, that Aafia only agreed to talk to her upon promises that the boy would be safe. According to the testimony Aafia said that the Afghans had “beaten her”; that her “husband had beaten her and her children”; and that she was “afraid of coming into physical harm”.

 

When Sercer was further questioned about what Aafia said about her children during that two week period, she admitted that Aafia expressed concern about the “safety and welfare of her children”, but felt that the “kids had been killed or tortured in a secret prison”. “She said that they were dead, didn’t she” asked Defence attorney, Elaine Sharpe; reluctantly Sercer answered, “Yes.”

 

The trial took an unusual turn with an FBI official asserting that the finger prints taken from the rifle, which was purportedly used by Aafia to shoot at the U.S. interrogators, did not match hers. Another event complicated the case further, when the testimony of witness Masood Haider Gul appeared different from the one given by U.S. Captain Schnieder earlier. The defence denied all charges, stating that "the soldiers had given different versions of where she was when the M-4 was allegedly fired and how many shots were fired."

 

The trial lasted for 2 weeks and the jury deliberated for 2 days before reaching a verdict. On February 3, 2010, she was convicted and found guilty on all counts. , despite the following discrepancies:

 

· The court proceedings were flawed, and limited to the incident in Ghazni, which itself lacked concrete evidence.

 

· It is still unexplained how a frail, 110 pound woman, confronted with three US army officers, two interpreters and two FBI agents managed to assault three of them, snatch a rifle from one of them, open fire at close range, hit no one, but she herself was wounded.

 

· There were no fingerprints on the gun.

 

· There was no gunshot residue from the gun.

 

· There were no bullet holes in the walls from that particular gun.

 

· There were no bullets cases or shells in the area from the specified gun.

 

· The testimony of the government’s six eyewitnesses contradicted each other.

 

· The statements Aafia made to FBI agent Angela Sercer were made whilst she was under 24 hour surveillance by FBI agents in the hospital at Bagram, with her arms and legs tied to a bed for weeks, several types of meidcation, sleep-deprived and at the mercy of the agent for food, water and in order to relieve herself. Sercer did not identify herself to Aafia as a FBI agent. The use of these statements in court were objected to by the defence on the basis of ‘Miranda laws’ which mandate that a detainee must be informed of their rights, have access to an attorney, or in the case of international law, consular staff and law enforcement officials must identify themselves. Despite this the judge denied the motion and allowed this to form part of the questioning.

 

· Aafia’s disappearance, torture and missing children were not at all addressed during the court case.

 

 

 

CURRENT STATUS

Aafia is due to be sentenced on 6th May 2010 and faces up to 60 years in prison for attempted murder and armed assault.

 

Following her conviction, she remains at the Metropolitan Detention Centre in New York where she has spent the best part of her detention in the US. Throughout that time, she has been subject to humilitating and degrading strip and cavity searches, prompting her to refuse legal visits on many occasions. Since the beginning of March Aafia has been refused all contact with her family and has not been permitted any letters, phonecalls, visits or reading material under the pretext of “the security of the nation.”

 

In April 2010, a 12 year old girl was left outside the resident of Fowzia Siddiqui in Karachi by unidentified men claiming she was the missing daughter of Aafia Siddiqui. Although initially it was thought that she was not Aafia's daughter, following DNA tests conducted by the Pakistani government, the Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed that the tests proved that the child was indeed Aafia's daughter, Maryam, and that her DNA matched that of Ahmed Siddiqui (Aafia's eldest son) and their father, Amjad Khan. Dr Fowzia intended to carry out their own independent investigation to confirm the girl's identity. In a press conference Senate Committee for Interior Chairman, Senator Talha Mehmood reported that Maryam Siddiqui was recovered from Bagram airbase in the custody of an American - in the Urdu-language press, an American soldier - called "John". He also said that she had been kept for seven years in a 'cold, dark room' in Bagram airbase.

 

The whereabouts and welfare of Aafia’s youngest son, Suleman remains a mystery.

 

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JFAC 7 Days for 7 Years Vigil - 5th May 2010 - Uthman Lateef 1/2

 

 

JFAC 7 Days for 7 Years Vigil - 5th May 2010 - Uthman Lateef 2/2

 

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Salam Alaykum

Edited by Saaabz

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Heart for the fight - round 2

 

Written by Asim Qureshi

 

As I think of the sentence of our sister Aafia Siddiqui and indeed all the other prisoners, so many of them are people who lived their lives for the sake of Allah alone and were amongst the best of us, and thus do the promises of Allah come true.

The first opinion piece I ever wrote was directly after Babar Ahmad’s case in Bow Street Magistrates Court. The original Heart for the Fight piece was to remind myself first and all that the work that we do to help the plight of unlawfully detained prisoners is not one that is easily won – it is wrought with hardships that at times may seem too unbearable to take.

 

However, we should know this already from the promise that Allah SWT has given us in the Qur’an in Surah Al-Taubah, “Do you think that you shall be left alone while Allah has not yet tested those among you who have striven hard and fought and had not taken helpers besides Allah and His Messenger, and the believers. Allah is Well-Acquainted with what you do.â€

 

Allah SWT further states in Surah al-Ankaboot, “And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allah will certainly make (it) known (the truth of) those who are true, and will certainly make (it) known (the falsehood of) those who are liars.â€

 

The above two verses establish that we will all be tested, but particularly those who Allah SWT loves and are working towards righteousness. As I think of the sentence of our sister Aafia Siddiqui and indeed all the other prisoners, so many of them are people who lived their lives for the sake of Allah alone and were amongst the best of us, and thus do the promises of Allah come true.

 

There are some who have said to me directly, that they feel that there is no hope when sentences such as 86 years are dished out without any kind of compassion or justice – but it is precisely in this circumstance that we need to reflect on the words of Allah – do we honestly believe that we will not be tested, when those before us were tested?

 

It is precisely because of the example of those who came before us that we know there is hope, bi’idhni ta’ala, in what we are facing today. There are particularly two incidents in the Qur’an that remind me of how easy this struggle is compared to what Muslims of the past faced. When I think to the verses in Surah al-Burooj, Allah SWT specifically states that the only fault of the believers for which they were burned alive, was that they professed the unity of Allah. The believers at the time willingly threw themselves into the fire, rather than to utter a word that would disbelieve in Allah SWT. Although they were burned alive, it is they who were victorious in the end and inshallah will be given the respite that is eternal.

 

The other incident relates to the magicians of Fir’aon. When Musa AS defeated the magicians in the contest between the two, those very magicians immediately professed their belief in Allah SWT. When Fir’aon threatened to have their opposite hands and feet cut off and crucified in that state, they remained true to Allah and were martyred. Their mass execution was solely due to their belief, this was their test and they chose to face the ultimate difficulty of this world, rather than to face damnation in the hereafter.

 

When I consider the stories above, then I know that Allah SWT sent them to us in order to give us glad tidings that the pain that we face in this life is not the end, this world is only transient, as we work towards something which is far greater.

 

Thus, we should consider the War on Terror and all of the abuse and suffering that we face in the course of it as a test that has been sent to us. How will we stand before what we see and what we face? For those of us living in the western world, our test is not that of a farmer whose sole responsibility is to cultivate crops to feed his family - with access to educational institutions, media, the internet, resources and members of Parliament, we have been given plentiful opportunities by Allah to try and make a difference to the lives of those who are impacted in the worst of ways. Our obligation is to try and free these prisoners in whatever way we can, not thinking that our own actions will result in the release but, rather with the knowledge that if we do our best and Allah SWT places barakah in those actions, that maybe Allah SWT will choose to release the individual. Our obligation is to fulfil the burden of freeing the prisoners on the entire community of Muslims, and it is a burden that we will be accounted for on the Day of Resurrection, particularly when our role will be balanced against the resources we were given.

 

As Muslims we believe in la hawlawala quwwata illa billah – that there is no power greater than that of Allah’s – we know that no matter how many weapons, tanks, rockets, jets, etc that our enemies invent, they will never be able to defeat Allah and the promises that He has made. We can take assurance in that and proceed with the hope that whatever we do, even if we do not succeed in our lifetime, will not be wasted as the ultimate justice is with our Lord.

 

It is the power and decree of Allah that has sometimes struck me so much in my work. I remember working on the cases of some British brothers who were detained unlawfully in Kenya without charge and were being interrogated by MI5. As my colleague from Reprieve and I worked on the cases she said to me by the end, “Asim, I have to say that the way all of this has happened, can only be through the Providence of God.†Subhanallah, it was so true to literally see the plans of Allah unfold before us and how we were guided by Him to help those brothers.

 

To recount just one incident from this set of cases: One of the detained brothers in Kenya managed to get a hold of a phone after having bribed a Kenyan guard. I was able to speak with the brother and he gave me the contact details of all the others with the exception of one who had been separated from them – all they had was a surname and address. My colleague and I travelled to north London in order to find the family. Except the address we had been given was a series of housing estates and so the no. 8 house we were looking for could have been anywhere. We proceeded to make our way through every single estate knocking on the doors of each house until it got too late to continue this exercise. We left dejected that we would not be able to contact the family.

 

The next day we needed to return to same area for a meeting with someone else, and so we gave the door knocking a further try. Again we walked through a number of estates, failing at every turn to find any information about where this family could be. All of a sudden a car pulled up next to us with a family inside who were overtly Muslim. I thought I would ask if they knew the family in the hope I would be able to illicit some information. Unfortunately they were not from the area and just as we turned to walk away a sister in hijab came out to meet these guests. On questioning who we were, we explained that we were looking for a certain family. Subhanallah, it turned out that they were neighbours in the same building. She took my card to give to the sister of our client who ran out of the home to check my identity with our client’s friend. He explained to her that she should not trust us as he did not know who we were...except that his friend, who had been studying abroad, was with him that day and is someone I had travelled on Umrah with! Alhamdulillah!

 

Allah tests us all in many ways, some with more difficult tests than others. However we already know that the greater the test that is passed, then the greater the reward will be in the jannah. Our sister Aafia Siddiqui has faced some of the most difficult tests so far in the last 10 years yet she continues to confront them with complete dignity and honour as a Muslimah. When we think of her we should think of the tests that were given to Aasiya RA, the wife of Fir’aon and the adopted mother of Musa AS. Indeed Allah SWT presents her story as an example to the Muslims in Surah at-Tahreem to remind us that despite the punishment and torture she endured by one of the most oppressive human beings in our history, she was given the reward of seeing her home in Paradise before she died. It is these stories that have been given to us in the Qur’an to remind us all of the tests that have been given before, and the way we should respond to them now.

 

We need to have heart for this fight – in reality it is not round 2, but rather round 200,000. Regardless of how far we have come or lost, we will not be judged according to what we actually achieved, but rather the efforts that we expended through the course of our efforts. Allah SWT will surely judge us on our efforts, the result is alone with Him bi’idhni ta’ala.

 

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