Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who will free Prisoner 650?

In March 2009 two female US Journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling were seized by North Korean border guards while reporting for California-based Current TV. They were subsequently tried and sentenced to 12 years in prison for "hostile acts" and illegal entry into North Korea. After their imprisonment America worked tirelessly to get the women released and in August 2009 dispatched former US President Bill Clinton to speak with North Korea's Kim Jong Il. The meeting was productive and the two women were later released.

In March 2003 a women was also seized and imprisoned. Her name was Aafia Siddiqui. Like the US Journalists she was a women, she studied and worked in America and her three children were American citizens. But unlike the US Journalists captured six years later she was a Muslim and she had no leader to take care of her affairs.

This is her story.

Dr Aafia Siddiqui was born in Karachi, Pakistan, on March 2, 1972. She was one of three children of Mohammad Siddiqui, a doctor trained in England, and Ismet. She is a mother of three and also a Hafiz-e-Quraan. Aafia and her three children were seized by Pakistani intelligence agents in March 2003 and handed over to the Americans in Afghanistan where she was imprisoned in Bagram and repeatedly raped, tortured and abused for years. A report in the Pakistani Urdu press at the time said that Aafia and her three children were seen being picked up by Pakistani authorities and taken into custody.

Moazzam Begg, and several other former captives of the Americans reported that a female prisoner, "prisoner 650", was held at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. Yvonne Ridley of Cageprisoners.com wrote about "Prisoner 650" (Aafia) her ordeal of torture and repeatedly being raped for over four years.

"The cries of (this) helpless woman echoed (with such torment) in the jail that (it) prompted prisoners to go on hunger strike." Yvonne called her a "gray lady (because) she (was) almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her. This would never happen to a Western woman."

Both the Pakistan government as well as US officials in Washington denied any knowledge of Aafia's imprisonment until her plight was brought out in to the open and started to receive media attention. Trumped up allegations were then brought against her that she was involved in terrorism and a ludicrous claim that she managed to wrestle a gun off a US soldier and shoot at US officers.

On 4th August 2008, federal prosecutors in the US confirmed that Aafia Siddiqui was extradited to the US from Afghanistan where they allege she had been detained since mid-July 2008. The US administration claimed that she was arrested by Afghani forces outside Ghazni governor's compound with manuals on explosives and ‘dangerous substances in sealed jars' on her person. They further allege that whilst in custody she shot at US officers (none being injured) and was herself injured in the process.

On 7th August 2008 an article in the The News exposed some of the treatment Aafia had been subjected to whilst in American custody.

one of her kidneys had been removed
her teeth had been removed
her nose had been broken, and improperly reset
her recent gunshot wound had been incompetently dressed, was oozing blood, leaving her clothes soaked with blood.

An August 11, 2008, a Reuters report stated that she had appeared at her court hearing in a wheelchair, and that her lawyers pleaded with the judge to make sure she received medical care. Elizabeth Fink, one of her lawyers, told the Judge:

"She has been here, judge, for one week and she has not seen a doctor, even though they (U.S. authorities) know she has been shot."

Aafia's Lawyer Elizabeth Fink told a federal judge in New York that Aafia shows signs of having been imprisoned and treated inhumanely for a long period of time. According to documents described in court by Fink, Aafia told prison staff that she feared her son was being starved and tortured, and asked them to take food off her tray and send it to her son in Afghanistan.

Another of her lawyers, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, "We do know she was at Bagram for a long time. It was a long time. According to my client she was there for years and she was held in American custody; her treatment was horrendous."

Aafia remains in a US detention facility in New York, in poor health, subjected to degrading and humiliating strip searches and cavity searches whenever she receives a legal visit or appears in court. She has subsequently refused to meet with counsel. It has been reported that she may suffer from brain damage and that a part of her intestine may have been removed. Her lawyers say her symptoms are consistent with a sufferer of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The trial of Aafia Siddiqui will start this week.