The case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui

Published: September 24, 2010

The 86-year sentence handed down by a US court to Dr Aafia Siddiqui means the neuroscientist will likely spend the rest of her life in a US jail. In the courtroom, Aafia said she would not appeal the decision, questioning the utility of doing so. The sentence, however, will not bring the Aafia Siddiqui saga to a close. There are far too many lingering questions which are unlikely to ever be answered and which have caused divisions, not only in Pakistan, but even among Aafia’s relatives. We still do not know with any certainty where Aafia was for the five years before she was apprehended by US soldiers in Afghanistan. Her supporters believe she is the “Grey Lady of Bagram”, held without charge at a Nato facility after being handed over to the US by Pakistani agencies. Others, including her ex-husband, believe she was a fully-fledged member of al Qaeda, married a relative of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and plotted against the US. Yet others have suggested even more, saying that she was in Pakistan with the full knowledge of the government.

We also don’t know what became of her children. Their fate remains a mystery with the identity of the eldest boy, returned from Afghanistan, the subject of some doubt. Two of them, according to her family in Karachi, were dropped at her parent’s house in Karachi but we have never been told by whom and under what circumstances. Whatever else may be true or untrue in the strange saga of a young woman who excelled academically at a US institute but is accused of developing al Qaeda links during this time, there can be no doubt her children are innocent and do not deserve any kind of punishment.

As the many supporters of Aafia launch a campaign for her return to the country, we need to also look at the case more rationally. Her involvement with al Qaeda has not been legally proven as it was never up for trial, but the presence circumstantial evidence indicates that, at the very least, she may have materially supported the terrorist group. However, that the US chose not to charge her for terrorism offences shows the lack of legally-permissible proof on this count. That she was never charged for terrorism also adds some fuel to the accusations that she was tortured in custody. Any evidence that the US garnered through torture would not be permitted in court. The ill-treatment Dr Aafia suffered should, of course, never have been inflicted on her. It is obvious she has indeed been subjected at various times to both mental and physical hardship.

The charges against her were limited to the attempted murder of US soldiers. Dr Aafia did herself no favours at the trial and so no one should be surprised that such a stiff penalty was handed down. In open court, she denounced the trial as a farce and even had to be escorted out of the courtroom on two occasions. In addition, cyanide was found in her handbag at the time of the shooting. A psychiatrist declared her legally sane, and despite having the right to stay silent and against the advice of her own lawyers, she took to the stand. She also insisted Jews should not be allowed to serve on the jury.

As a result of public outcry against the sentence, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has requested that the US repatriate Dr Aafia Siddiqui to Pakistan. There are both legal and political problems with this request. The crime for which she was convicted took place in Afghanistan on a US base and involved US soldiers. Other than Aafia’s citizenship, Pakistan has no connection to the case. Furthermore, there is the very real possibility that Aafia will be freed due to public pressure if she is returned to Pakistan. Given the enormity of the charges against her, this could lead to complications. We have already spent two million dollars on Aafia’s trial and possible appeal. It is time to admit she has been found guilty, with plenty of evidence. Taking this any further will show that the government is ruled by emotion rather than political reality.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • Chirtarun
    Sep 24, 2010 - 11:48PM

    My deep sympathies for the family of the condemned woman. The sorrow of the accursed woman’s family can only be compared to the family of Daniel Pearl who was mercilessly slaughtered in Pakistan while visiting the country as an unsuspecting journalist. By the way, I do not believe that the killers of Daniel Pearl have been hanged yet.Recommend

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Sep 25, 2010 - 12:22AM

    Most of the Pakistanis believe that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is an innocent lady and was abducted by the security personnel from Karachi on the orders of General (R) Pervez Musharraf to please US Government.

    After hearing the US court judgment, many people came out on the streets and chanted slogans against General (R) Musharraf.

    Dr. Aafia’s case has gone against the political future of General (R) Musharraf when he is about to announce his political party APML. In case if General (R) Musharraf will contest next general elections, as he has shown his will to do so, Dr. Aafia’s case will go against him.

    The present PML(Q) was in the government when Dr. Aafia was abducted from Karachi. Therefore, I foresee that voters will also turn against the PML(Q) in whatever form its candidate come forward from any platform. Recommend

  • Muhammad Arshad
    Sep 25, 2010 - 12:24AM

    Dear Sir,

    Everybody is still behind Al-Qaeda! afetr 9/11 billions of dollars spent and thousands of people killed,prisoned,kidnapped under investigation but of no result,everyday we listen a story that al-qaeda is planning! (but what nobody knows) in somwhere in the world and pre-emptive strikes continues on this pretext country robbed of their wealth, looted, plundered and the era of Chengaze Khan revive in the name of hunt for Al-Qeda. Even womens are not spparred and Afia is one of the victim of this whole story.So,I have no words to defend her case, just kill her and everybody because al-qaeda is there!

  • Zeenat Bukhari
    Sep 25, 2010 - 9:31AM

    Dr Aafia Siddiqui is guilty has hell, the protest in certain cities of Pakistan. The demeaning gall these idiots have to protest even without knowing the facts. If these same clowns and cowards would consider using the same energy to get rid of Al Qaeda & Taliban goondas that kill men women and children in the name religion then maybe Pakistan can start behaving like a normal country instead of the sinking rotten hole that has its name plastered “PAKISTAN”Recommend

  • Why am I not suprised?
    Sep 25, 2010 - 9:39AM

    The nation’s conscience goes into deep sleep when women buried alive are condoned by the parliamentarians, paraded naked in the public charged withe the crime of morality, or locked up to rot in a jail not even knowing the charge against them. These women are not daughters of the nation because they do not offer any political mileage.

    The goal is not to seek justice for a presumably innocent woman. She has been declared guilty through a legal process. Pakistan has spent 2 Million dollars on her defense. The goal is to draw political mileage for self preservation ou of this golden opportunity. Spend any additional money on the women languishing in the Pakistani jails under draconian crimes.

    These disingenuous shenanigans are nothings but the same old evil tactics to divert attention from the floods and the incompetence and corruption of the government. The issue is simply create a smoke screen to mask the issues of violence, and hopelessness. Exposed politicians and government officials are trying to salvage their reputations and redeem their ill conducts. This is a provocation of the the emotional fools in the name the daughter of the nation who is happens to be a US national. What a sly way to re-direct the fingers pointing towards the real criminals else where. The easiest direction is that of the good , old America, who is also expected to take the wrath of the baa-ghairat quam while refilling the begging bowls of the best dressed beggars in the world.

    A nation of fools in perpetual denial and self glorification.Recommend

  • K A Sultan
    Sep 25, 2010 - 10:52AM

    Justice has been done. Marrying a known Qaeda operative is an indication of some guilt?Recommend

  • Farrukh siddiqui
    Sep 25, 2010 - 11:22AM

    Your editorial is nonsense. How can we accept a cock and bull story that is the basis of charges – the only charges brought against her. She snatched a gun and tried to shoot US soldiers. That was a fiction with no proof of finger prints. What has been proven is that she was shot in the abdomen. The circumstances of the case precluded a fair trial in the U.S. She should have been tried in an international court.Recommend

  • ArifQ
    Sep 25, 2010 - 12:37PM

    American citizen Dr. Aafia, has she revoked her citizenship?Recommend

  • Patriot
    Sep 25, 2010 - 1:29PM

    Thank you Mr. Editor for writing the most unbiased editorial on this issue. Looks like common sense and rationality still exists in pakistani media atleast in print…Bravo!Recommend

  • shahida kazi
    Sep 25, 2010 - 3:16PM

    What the conspiracy theorists are forgetting is that there are thousands of pakistani scientists,doctors,and other professionals living and working in the US.So why has no action ever been taken against them and why have they not been pulled up for being Al Qaeda members?Obviously the lady must have done something to justify her trial and punishment ,and it is not just because she is a muslim. as we are claiming all the time.What about her children?Why isnt somebody asking them where they were all this time instead of merely speculating.They are old enough to know where they were.I see a lot of murkiness and deliberate confusion in the whole story.Recommend

  • M. Rizwan Khan
    Sep 25, 2010 - 3:50PM

    Its totally nonsense written in this editorial… Nothing has been proved against her… All the things are fake made by american agencies.. Even a finger prints was not found… As usual its a part of war planned by jews against muslims…
    I just want to say” Its a shamefull decission made by US court”Recommend

  • sharifL
    Sep 25, 2010 - 3:57PM

    Strange we have a cheek to protest against a verdict by a law abiding court. Have we lost all senses? We love to emigrate to USA, the large lines waiting in front of US Embassy is a proof, why do we not try to accept the laws of the country we want to live?
    Makes no sense to me, but then i am believer of science and rule of law and do not support my fellow Muslims, just because they are Muslims. Am I an infidel now?Recommend

  • zulfiqar baig
    Sep 25, 2010 - 4:23PM

    i am very sad abut it Recommend

  • Maxime Maximilien
    Sep 25, 2010 - 4:52PM

    Unfortunately, this is such a nonsensical piece with no backup whatsoever for the ‘derived’ conclusion: “It is time to admit she has been found guilty, with plenty of evidence. Taking this any further will show that the government is ruled by emotion rather than political reality.”

    Isn’t that enough to create suspicion regarding the court’s integrity when you see a sentence similar to that of the infamous Carlos “the Jackal” terrorist, for an “attempted murder charge”? Worse yet, we are writing editorials on it as if “justice was done,” and terming it the “political reality”. But is it?

    The woman might have some shadowy past as claimed but strangely she was never charged with anything related to 9/11 although greatly portrayed as “Lady Al-Qaeda” probably because “it was claimed” that she is married to a relative of a former Al-Qaeda member, but does this make her “an Al-Qaeda Lady?” If your sister gets married with a gang member, does that make you “a gang-banger?” There’s nothing substantial in this case other than a lot of face saving and political reasons back store just like Guantanamo Bay.Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Sep 25, 2010 - 5:21PM

    Excellent Editorial.Recommend

  • Maxime Maximilien
    Sep 25, 2010 - 5:57PM

    Would you mind approving my comment?Recommend

  • Yasmeen Farrukh
    Sep 25, 2010 - 8:11PM

    i totally agree with the editorial. a question often raised in my mind that why America wanted Dr. Afia why not me or someone there any stronge reason to take such a strong action against her. she deserved so. but the judicial decision must’ve had been taken by our courts.And here in Pakistan, all religious parties are united in the favour of her, where as every one knows that they are doing this just for the political mileage. Recommend

  • Khalid Munir
    Sep 25, 2010 - 9:45PM

    A very balanced editorial. Truth is shrouded in propaganda. As editor of this daily you must dig out the facts. If she is innocent she must return. If she is not she should complete her sentense. However in presence of conflicting statements about her disapperance, her husband’s statement, truth must come out. Interior minister had given a statement in National Assembly that there are 6500 Pakistani prisoners in jails of different countries around the world. One is justified to ask that why millions of dollars were spent in this case and what has been done for the rest of the prisoners.Recommend

  • adnannisar
    Sep 26, 2010 - 12:11AM

    I totally disagree with those who speak or write against Dr. Aafia. Before blaming Dr. Aafia why not u people think what America and israel are doing to the Muslim countries. Dr, Aafia is a graduate of the world renowned university MIT she has a intellectual brain much better than or leaders, she must be knowing what she is doing. Gen Musharraf the real culprit who sold the brave daughter of the nation to the Americans in order to save his seat. what about her innocent children, tell me—–r they also involved. The fact is that we are dead nation with no brain that what the westerns are doing against us.

    Israels killed innocent people in Palestine why not they too bring to justice. If Dr. Aafia is guilty then she should be punished for the crime she committed rather then making fabricated cases against her. she has been kidnapped from her residence and was taken to Afghanistan. how could someone levy charges of attacking on America soldier(missionary soldiers) when she was physically to weak to hold pistol and then fire on soldiers(disgusting). would u think that Dr. AAfia went to Afghanistan and attacked American soldiers.

    the nation will not forgive Musharraf Recommend

  • Farrukh siddiqui
    Sep 26, 2010 - 5:46PM

    Dr Aafia was charged with committing a crime in Afghanistan. She is a Pakistani citizen. There is no legal justification for trying her in a U.S. court. She was not extradited under any law. The ISI kidnapped her in 2003 according to BBC. We cannot just ignore all this. Justice must be seen to be done. There is no other charge against her. Assault in Afghanistan is the only one. Recommend

  • Syed Obaid
    Sep 26, 2010 - 7:53PM

    As per editorial, she was arrested and detained at Bagram on the basis of having connection with Al-Qaeeda or other terrorist group. This couldn’t be proved so her detention is treated as “illegal from Pakistani perspective”.
    It must be noted that Pakistani people considers Dr. Aafia Siddique an innocent women. That’s why they are supporting her. If things are crystal clear and charges are proved and communicated well to masses then PK peoples would not have any or have very little objection on Dr. Aafia’s sentence. However as circumstances or developed perception (whatever) is contrary to this hence masses are against it. People of PK do not support culprit but does not step behind for innocent people too.
    As per editorial, “She may have materially supported terrorist group” does not seems logical. The benefit of doubt should be given to accused one.
    She is further charged of murdering US Soldiers during detention. take note her detention was itself illegal. What sort of torture she went through remained unknown to everyone – but it is obvious she was tortured both mentally and physically. People of Pakistan are bit amazed that a person was detained in US custody, that’s too a women, and she managed to kill US soldiers! She might be being used as ‘bait’ to cover US soldeirs internal conflicts / killing each other. Those soldiers might have died but ‘who killed them is the concern’.
    Even if she killed soldiers, there is need to understand the situation of a person, specially a women, who and, whose children were also missing at that time, is being detained without prove and going through mental and physical torture. How come one can expect to act like a normal person!
    Its true that law must prevail and should be treated as final word, however this is not just a common case. There is nothing clear and everything ,including evidence, seems complex! It would have far reaching effects on people’s mind, including increasing hate with US among masses. Further, the rule of the law ‘sentence or punish to curtuail crime’ will not prevail as it would just increase more hate in people.
    US foreign should, for some time, use media to explain the case in full to masses (not just a report by court), its standing etc.
    Pakistan, on the other ground, should tried to tie some prisoner exchange agreement with US to bring her back in Pakistan. Its however nearest to true that she might be freed in PK due to public pressure.
    Both countries should use (positively) media to clarify their standing, case and other possibilities.
    In future, PK may not be able to hand over terrorist (Al-Qaeda etc) to US, captured in Pakistan due to this case.
    Political & religious parties are using this as fuel for ‘anti-America’ activity and this might worsen the perception of US in PK.

    Syed ObaidRecommend

  • Syed Obaid
    Sep 26, 2010 - 7:59PM

    Further to above, She has been detained in custody by US military/government without any charge and even same couldn’t be proved during trial. So is US justice system going to give her some relief for this illegal detention which has no grounds?

    What if she had not been detained? The fire incident may not have occured!

    Life of US soldier is as precious as other people and same is the case of ‘Aafia Siddiqui’s life.

    Syed ObaidRecommend

  • Farrukh siddiqui
    Sep 26, 2010 - 10:16PM

    That the Tribune is a joint venture with IHT and the NY Times group, I wonder if your editorial policy is biased in favour of American views and postions. The US media has lost all its objectivity when it come to al Qaeda etc. Any one can be labelled al Qaeda. More importantly, Americans are illegally occupying Afghanistan. They have no business to be there let alone arrest and try peopleRecommend

  • Khadim Husain
    Sep 27, 2010 - 6:48AM

    Now when detailed judgement has been issued by courts than the peoples who are talking about Alqaeda or terrorism charges must shut up.
    Blind eyed judge did not watch that none of american was hurt but she was shot. Islamophobic court did not listen and discussed about her detention in Afghanistan disclosed by an British journalist, kidnapping a Pakistani national from Pakistan and transfering a Pakistani national to US after kidnapping, there is no charge against US officials for kidnapping childrens.
    US justice system is run by pentagon.Recommend

  • Ali Farooqui
    Sep 27, 2010 - 3:24PM

    yet another piece depicting the ‘worth the salt’ attitude of this news agency. Shoddy evidence, shoddy charges and heavily biased decision yet still we are adamant ‘the justice is delivered’ no one is stopping a moment to think if she was arrested with names of US target points and list of chemicals why was she tried for attempted murder of some rather than attempted terror act?

    the questions lurking behind this shoddy decision of a kangaroo court might never be answered Recommend

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