War On Terror Political Prisoner
While I was in Pakistan in early October, I spent a day in Karachi with the family and supporters of a Pakistani political prisoner in the United States named Aafia Siddiqui. In Karachi it was clear that there is a lot of public support for Aafia. Her name is painted on walls and messages of support are on banners that adorn bridges and overpasses. We found ourselves joining a parade through the city as we drove from the airport to the home where Aafia’s sister Fowzia lives with her mother Ismet, and both hers and Aafia’s children. Later we attended a press conference, presented on a panel in an International Relations class at the University of Karachi and attended a night time march for Aafia with vigilers carrying torches through a darkened bazaar.
Fowzia Siddiqui is a neurologist trained in the US. Her sister, Aafia was an educator with a PhD from Brandeis who worked with developmentally disabled children. They were raised in a traditional conservative Muslim family, but their mother Ismet, a creative and independent woman raised them to be confident well educated individuals with a strong sense of public responsibility. Their home is a pleasant space with children and pets, and a comfortable patio where the press conference was held. There we met with Fowzia and her mother Ismet, and were briefly introduced to Aafia’s children Ahmed and Maryam.
Altaf Shakoor, who owns a textile mill and runs a youth organization called Pasban was our chauffeur and managed our very busy day. Mr. Shakoor is an extremely creative organizer. I’m not surprised he is drawn to young people as he has a gift for theater and creative presentation, combined with a congenial sense of humor. I showed him pictures of the demonstration where we were arrested for having a die in with ‘bloody shrouds’ over us, and he duplicated our event a couple of days later with some young people from Pasban. When he sent me the pictures, I thought for a minute that it was a real massacre as his ‘actors’ look like the real victims. Very effective theater.
At this moment in early December Sara Flounders of Ramsey Clark’s International Action Center and ex Congress Woman Cynthia McKinney are in Karachi discussing ways to support Aafia’s Siddiqui’s return home. Aafia is a currently being held in the Carswell Prison Federal Medical Center in Texas. She is serving an 86 year sentence for shooting at US military personnel during an interview and missing. The people of Pakistan, the people of Karachi and Aafia’s family want to have her repatriated to Pakistan as soon as possible. The 86 year sentence is absurd for the crime she was convicted of and the conviction itself is questionable at best. Furthermore, since Aafia is a citizen of Pakistan, she should never have been sent to the US from Afghanistan.
You can read a summary of her story below.
The story is that Aafia Siddiqui was arrested in Afghanistan by the Afghan police in 2008. Americans were called in to interview her as a terrorism suspect because of some stuff she was carrying in a bag. They say that when one of the US soldiers set his gun down beside her, she picked it up and shot 2 rounds at the Afghan and US interrogators in a small room. One of the soldiers then fired 2 rounds into Aafia, which struck her in the abdomen and very nearly took her life.
Meanwhile, there is no evidence that Aafia touched the gun that day or that the gun was fired that day, nor was there any evidence that the bullets fired struck anything in the small interrogation room where this incident is supposed to have occurred. The incident occurred in Afghanistan and Aafia is a Pakistani citizen. She is not a US citizen though she lived in the US for at least 15 years, attended school here and bore her children here, worked here and paid taxes here. So, it is difficult to know why the trial even went forward.
According to Aafia’s family, she was abducted from Karachi with her children in April of 2003, while on her way to the airport to fly to Rawalpindi to visit her uncle. Nearly 5 years later, after constant searching for her, they were informed that she was imprisoned in the US prison at Bagram. Shortly thereafter, she was picked up on the streets in Afghanistan. The US denies having held her in custody. But recently, a highly placed member of the Pakistani Military stated that they did pick her up in April 2003 and turn her over to the Americans.
Aafia’s youngest child, Suleman was 6 months old at the time of their disappearance and may well have died. Her 6 year old son, Ahmed was returned to her family when she was sent to the US. He is now a teenager and you can see him in the slideshow below. He isn’t sure where he was but he remembers a dark place with little food or freedom, where abusive treatment was common. Her daughter Maryam, 4 years old at the time of their disappearance, was found outside the door of their home a year later. Maryam spoke good English and no Urdu (the native language of her family).
Aafia was given a contrived and unreasonable sentence for the crime she was convicted of despite the fact that there was no material evidence she even committed it. The government has leaked a back story connecting her to the 9/11 conspiracy stated as an assumption, but never attempted to prove it. Inexplicably, they have fronted one unproven crime for another, denying Aafia the right to defend herself and slandering her with unsubstantiated rumors tied to unidentified US officials.
If you want to know more about this story, Aafia’s family has a website for her, FreeAafia.org And there is others called Justice for Aafia and Aafia Movement. You can see the images at: slideshow of photos I took while I was with Fowzia Siddiqui (Aafia’s sister) and other supporters of the campaign to have Aafia repatriated to her homeland in Karachi.