Thursday, August 7, 2008
Is Aafia Siddiqui an Innocent Victim, or Dangerous Terrorist?
Who is Aafia Siddiqui? An innocent mother of three children or a cold-blooded al Qaida operative? Is she a victim or a perpetrator of violence? Is she guilty by association? The answers to these questions depend on who you ask and what you believe.
Common Pakistani Narrative:
According to most accounts heard in Pakistan, Aafia is an innocent victim of the US war on terror, swept up by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and held in secret detention and tortured by the CIA since 2003. These accounts seem credible based on multiple sources and similar cases of people such as Moazzam Begg, a British citizen held and tortured for years in Afghanistan and Guantanamo. Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist and recent convert to Islam, claimed she was told that a female prisoner had been held at Bagram Air Base in Kabul for years and, after sexual abuse and confinement, deteriorated physically and mentally. Ridley’s speculation that it could be Siddiqui stirred up the issue in the Pakistani media. She, and her three children, had been considered missing persons, like hundreds of other Pakistanis since 2001, by human rights advocates, until her appearance in a NY court yesterday on charges of terrorism and assault on US personnel. The whereabouts of her three children are unknown.
US and Pakistani Officials Narrative:
The US and Pakistani officials believe Aafia Siddiqui, 36 years old mother of three, has close connections with Al-Qaeda terrorists. According to the Wall Street Journal, a Pakistani security official said she is the wife of Ammar al-Baluchi. He is a nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who U.S. officials say was the matermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. Ammar Baluchi is a cousin of Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Mr. Baluchi helped facilitate travel and financing of senior al Qaeda leaders, the official said.
Ammar Baluchi and Aafia Siddiqui married after she obtained a divorce from her first husband, Amjad Khan, the father of her three children, in 2003, according to the official. Mr. Baluchi was arrested soon after with a high-ranking al Qaeda lieutenant, Walid Bin Attash, who is believed to have organized the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.
Aafia Siddiqui's Defense
Elaine Whitfield Sharp, a lawyer for Ms. Siddiqui's family, said there was "no evidence" of Ms. Siddiqui remarrying and that she thought it was extremely unlikely. Ms. Sharp said she was still trying to establish key details, but that the allegations in the complaint "don't pass the sniff test."
As you can see, the two narratives are completely at odds. Regardless of guilt or innocence of Aafia Siddiqui on terrorism charges, it is now commonly believed in Pakistan that she has been subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment and held without due process for a long time. Unfortunately, incidents such as these fuel resentment against the US and Pakistani military and strengthen the extreme elements in Pakistan to go out and commit more acts of terror claiming more innocent lives of mostly Muslims. The high-profile Aafia Siddiqui case is comparable to Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib in its potential impact on Pakistanis support for the war on terror. She has become the symbol of the extraordinary excesses of this war. She represents the recognizable face of the hundreds of missing Pakistanis since 911. Unless the US and Pakistani authorities come clean on this case, it will represent yet another blow to the US and moderate Muslims in the battle for the hearts and minds of the average Muslims, Afghani and Pakistani.
Here's a videoclip of TV coverage of Aafia Siddiqui's case:
Here's another video of Aafia Siddiqui and her son in Ghazni: