US newspapers carried the story of the capture of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who was trained in neuroscience here in the United States. Typical of the stories was this one in the NY Times. The report was fairly neutral, but there were some gaps in the coverage which seemed a little puzzling. Dr. Siddiqui was brought back to the US and charged in a New York federal district court for the crime of shooting at FBI agents. There was no other terrorism related charge, yet she was identified as someone who worked closely with Al Qaeda.
It seems odd, a footnote to a sidelight, as it were. The writer of the piece at Cab Drollery link to this article in the UAE's Khaleej Times Online, written by Aijaz Zaka Syed, that appeared on Thursday. The article asks many questions, and includes some wild speculation that, were it not for Abu Ghraib, the many revelations of torture, Guantanamo Bay, and the general lawlessness of the last few years, would have sounded like the rantings of some paranoid schizophrenic. The simple truth is, there are so many unanswered questions, so many holes - including the fact that Dr. Siddiqui was MIA for five years - that the questions are not only important, but the speculations may not be too far off base. In any case, maybe some real journalists out there might be interested in finding out where, exactly Dr. Siddiqui has been since she went missing in 2003, and what, exactly, were the circumstances surrounding here "capture" and transportation to the US for arraignment and trial.
There are some basic questions that an ordinary mind like mine just can't seem to figure out.
First, where was Aafia Siddiqui hiding or hidden all these years - since she went missing in Karachi in March 2003? How did she turn up in the remote Ghazni province in Afghanistan, of all the God-forsaken places? And what happened to her three children?
Second, if the MIT-educated neuroscientist was indeed an Al Qaeda mastermind, why wasn't she presented in a court of law all this while? Even today when she is facing the US law, she is not being tried on terrorism charges but for allegedly assaulting the US officials. So what's her original crime, if she has indeed committed a crime?
Third, why wasn't the Pakistani government informed about her detention in Afghanistan and her subsequent deportation to the US? Or are Pakistan's Enlightened and Moderate leaders also involved in this international enterprise against a 31-year old mom of three?
There are so many gaping holes in this "case" that the US constitution, Magna Carta and the UN human rights charter can all go through them at the same time.
You abduct a completely innocent, married woman with a family and put her away for five years to conveniently discover her now as a terrorist in the lawless Afghanistan.
Elaine Whitfield Sharp, Siddiqui's lawyer, believes she has been put on trial now because she has "become a terrible embarrassment" to the US and Afghan authorities.
The question is why has she been reinvented now? It is quite possible that Siddiqui has been FOUND now because of a relentless campaign by British journalist Yvonne Ridley. Ridley herself had been a prisoner of the Taleban regime for 11 days just before the US invasion in 2001 and converted to Islam after her strange experience in Afghanistan.
Ridley has been running a campaign called Cage Prisoner for the release of a mysterious female prisoner who has been held at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in total isolation and regularly tortured for five years.
The unknown female prisoner, known as the Prisoner No. 650 or the Grey Lady of Bagram, was brought to the world attention after Ridley read about the woman in a book by fellow Briton Moazzam Begg, a former Gitmo and Bagram prisoner. In his book, Enemy Combatant, Beg talks of a woman's endless screams for help as she was tortured. Beg first thought he was imagining his wife's screams.
"We now know the screams came from a woman who has been held in Bagram for some years. And she is Prisoner No. 650," Ridley disclosed at a recent Press conference in Pakistan.
And I strongly suspect that Prisoner No. 650 is none other than Dr Aafia Siddiqui. It is quite possible that her captors decided to end her isolation after the Pakistani Press and activists like Yvonne Ridley began increasingly talking about the Prisoner No. 650 and how she was tortured and abused physically, mentally and sexually for the past four years.
I find it hard to believe all this can happen in this age and time. When one read Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel laureate who died last week, years ago and his first person account of the Soviet gulag and how they turned living human beings into humanity's refuse, one thought it could never happen in our age and time. But one is not so sure now.
If they could do this to a gifted, US-educated and trained scientist, I shudder to think of the fate of illiterate and impoverished men and women summarily picked up in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The Aafia Siddiqui case may have come to the world's attention because of some conscientious activists. But what about all those innocent individuals, who have just vanished down the black hole called the Guantanamo Bay, without a trial and without anyone looking for them? And who knows how many such gulags are out there and how many innocents they have sucked into their belly?
I do not believe the case will come to the world's attention. Perhaps I should say it might come to the world's attention, but we here in the US are far more concerned with whether Barack Obama is the world's biggest celebrity who vacations at foreign beaches in American states, taking his shirt off unlike manly American men who hide their beer guts.
Seriously, though, I think this case will not make many waves here, although it should. With its network of secret detention centers, its policy of "rendition" (sending people to other countries so they can be tortured), and the insistence that these human beings, somehow, have had their basic human rights and Constitutionally protected civil liberties revoked (the Constitution is quite clear that the protections inherent in it apply to "persons", not just citizens of the United States) because of the merest hint of some accusation, even one of association - with all this the United States under George W. Bush has left all that was best about us in the garbage heap, with the promise of more and worse under a McCain Presidency.
A couple decades ago, author Richard Rubenstein penned The Age of Triage, in which he sketched the history of the creation of what has become known as "surplus populations", the manipulation of domestic and international law to create an entire class of human beings outside the care and concern of any legal authority whatsoever. He speculated that, while the Nazi's certainly used the creation of these non-persons to a fare-thee-well, there was no reason in the world to think that they would be the last. Now, the Bush Administration, with its invention of "illegal enemy combatants" outside the jurisprudence of the Geneva Accords, has created another class of stateless, rightless non-persons.
Dr. Siddiqui may have finally surfaced in a court of law after five years of invisibility, but her appearance raises another question not asked in the article in question - how many other Dr. Siddiqui's are there out there, wasting away in our own Gulag Archipelagos?