An interactive session on the dynamics and practices of the US justice system turned into criticism on US foreign policy, the trial of Aaafia Siddiqui and the American prison-industrial complex.
Cynthia McKinney and Sara Flounders spoke at the Institute of Policy Studies here on Tuesday. They expressed concern over the treatment meted out to Aafia by US authorities and labelled the US criminal justice system as the “injustice system.”
Aafia was sentenced to 86 years on February 3, 2010. She was found guilty on seven counts, including attempted murder. She is currently being held at an American maximum security prison in Fort Worth, Texas.
Flounders, a political and human rights activist, said there were no victims or evidence in the Aaafia Siddiqui case. “The five years Aafia was believed to be held captive were not even considered during the trial,” she added.
“This is an important issue in so many ways because it is a case that has come to personalise in the deepest sense the US-Pakistani relations,” she noted, adding “the [86-year] sentence is beyond the capability to imagine in a case where there are no victims.”
Both Flounders and McKinney said the prison system in the US has turned into a growth industry and has become profitable, much like the weapons industry. Flounders said the US has the largest prison population with over 2.3 million people caught up in the prison system at some level.
McKinney, a former six-term US congresswoman and a peace activist, believes that the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F Kennedy might have been engineered by American intelligence agencies. She said the assassinations caused setbacks to a number of people’s movements which were active in the US at that time. “If that was the case in 1960s, what do you think such a government is capable of doing in the 21st century?” McKinney said.
Flounders said the levels of domestic repression and militarism abroad have become enmeshed. “Wars are causing destruction in planetary terms,” she said. Responding to a question, she said there were three possibilities for Aafia’s release: adoption of a multilateral prisoner transfer treaty, bilateral prisoner exchange programme and direct diplomatic negotiations. But she said the Pakistani government has never formally asked for the release or return of Aafia.
Participants at the discussion, most of them lawyers, were interested in why the justice system in the US appears to have failed. The speakers suggested it might be because the US has failed to effectively deal with race-relations and that some of the slavery-era laws have continued to this day.
But they pointed towards the Occupy movement, saying there were people’s movements emerging in the US again despite government crackdowns. “As long as there is spirit of resistance, there is hope,” McKinney said.
Akram Zaki, former envoy, chaired the discussion. In his closing remarks, Zaki said the US has “a declaratory policy for high principles” and “an operational policy for low objectives.” He claimed that the distinction between the two policies was abolished during George Bush Sr.’s time in office, when underground operations became supreme policies for the US.
“The human spirit has never accepted tyranny,” Zaki said, adding the public need to keep building the spirit to such strength that it overwhelms injustice.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2012.