A year ago, I signed a petition on ‘We the People‘, a White House website, requesting President Obama to intercede on behalf of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani national currently detained at Carswell prison in Texas, with an 86 year sentence. The petition asks that she be repatriated to Pakistan.
Siddiqui was abducted in March 2003 from the streets of Karachi with her 3 children. She had returned home after living in the United States for more than 10 years, during which time she graduated from MIT and obtained a Phd from Brandies; married and had 2 children, taught underpriveleged children at an inner city Mosque, sent Qurans to prisoners, and invested in varrious other charities. It’s possible that she drew attention to herself through her involvement in the `Muslim Student Assoication, or perhaps by her emials which were often critical of `US foreign policy. `Of course she was not alone in her outrage at the ‘war on terror’, nor the only person to vent her feelings in emails to friends.
At her trial in 2008, she said that she had spent the intervening years in an American run prison in Afghanistan. The US government denied holding her. Her behavior during the trial was erratic at times, and the initial analysis by the court psychologist was that she suffered from severe PTSD. He changed his diagnosis to malingering after the government told him that her complaints were untrue. How likely were they to admit to beating, raping and torturing a woman in their charge? Her mental state should have been the proof of the accuracy of her statements. But, the second diagnosis was based on a presumption of guilt, which then was used to frame her statements about her experiences as lies..
Siddiqui was convicted on the basis of conflicted witness testimony though there was no hard evidence to back up their story. She was accused of firing a high power automatic rifle in a small room, but the shell casings and bullet holes weren;t there, . Moreover, the government insinuated that she was a ‘terrorist’ who had something to do with 9/ll though they, again, had no evidence and did not try to make the case formally. Instead, they alleged that she shot at US soldiers while in custody at a later time.
She was released for 24 hours on the streets in Pakistan with her son, whom she did not appear to recognize. She is fluent in Urdu in English, but not Pashto, the language spoken in Grozni where she was picked up by Afghan police who saw her acting strange. She was a woman alone in post-taliban Afghanistan who didn’t speak the local language. They supposedly ‘recognized her’ immediately from the FBI ‘Most Wanted List and called the Americans. Her crime? Opening a mailbox for young Pakistani man who had allowed his visa to lapse while on vacation in Karachi, so he couldn’t go home to his family in Maryland. The young man, Majid Khan, was arrested a month before Siddiqui was abducted and is now in Guantanamo where he has made a career out of telling tales about his fellow prisoners.
Aafia Siddiqui has been in ill health and clearly suffering from PTSD since she came to the US for trial. Her family, meaning her sister, a hightly esteemed neurologist, and her mother, a respected matriarch from a upper middle class family, who are, has made every effort to convince the Pakistani and US governments to send her home where she could be near them. They have her 2 older childen, who were retunred to them after her very public arrest in 2008.
Last year, Aafia’s sister Fowzia put te following petition on the White House Webiste “We the People”.
repatriate Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, imprisoned for more than 11 years, as a matter of urgency.
In the name of ALLAH, The Most Compassionate, The Most Merciful. We appeal to you as brothers and sisters in humanity to relieve the suffering of an innocent woman. In March 2003, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was abducted with her three young children in Pakistan on the basis of faulty intelligence, a rendition operation that a former Pakistani official has since admitted. Five years later she mysteriously reappeared in a weakened state in Afghanistan; she was shot and later charged in a federal court with attempted murder. Dr. Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years for a “crime” in which she alone was injured, she has now suffered needlessly for more than 11 years. We ask the government to affirm the American ideals of “liberty and justice for all.” End Aafia’s suffering; reunite her with her family.
Published Date: Jul 04, 2014
It has, to date, received 110,407 signatures, including my own. Yesterday, I received an email response to the petition, which says, in part:
Thank you for signing this petition concerning Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who in September 2010 was sentenced to 86 years in prison for attempted murder and other crimes
As the We the People Terms of Participation explain, to “avoid the appearance of improper influence, the White House may decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government.”
That’s why we’re declining to comment on the specific request raised in this petition.
So, the President, who has the power to pardon hardened criminals and people who have stolen millions of dollars, cannot address this issue because to do so would be ‘improper influence’. It doesn’t say that he wholeheartedly believes in Siddiqui’s guilt, or in the appropriateness of her sentence. It doesn’t say that he believes the sentence is inappropriate or that Siddiqui is unlikely to be guilty as charged. But it’s a hot potato and the White House doesn’t want to touch it. How nice for them.
Aafia Siddiqui has not been in contact with her family for a year and a half. Civil rights lawyers recently hired by the family on her behalf are concerned that she might be very ill, or even dead. No information has been forthcoming from the prison until an appeal came before Judge Berman of the Manhattan District Federal Court who had sentenced Dr. Siddiqui in 2009. The last time anyone was able to speak to her, Dr, Siddiqui had approved the appeal which responded directly to her own stated concerns about the trial procedures. After the Appeal was submitted and before the legal team had an opportunity to argue it, Judge Berman claimed to have received a letter from Dr. Siddiqui saying that she did not want the appeal to be addressed. The letter was a convenient time saver as the judge said he would have rejected the appeal in any case. However, the letter blocked an iterative process that engages the court at multiple levels.
We have a shocking situation where the prisoners family and even her legal team are not even able to confirm whether she is alive or not. Some officials from the Pakistani Embassy were allowed to view a woman dressed in a ‘burka’ seated with her back to them. Maybe the term ‘burka’ was just an error on the part of the reporter, but it is worth pointing out that Pakistani women do not wear burkas, not even very conservative Pakistani women. It is a specifically Afghan dress.
And the President thinks it is not his place to intercede here. Let the system do it’s job says the ‘We the People’ response team. .
At best, this is a cowardly response. At worst, it is criminal conspiracy. But wait! Of course President Obama can’t intercede on behalf of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. If he did, he might have to revisit some other political hot potatoes. He might have to have his people look into the cases of Mumia Abu Jamal, Assata Shakur and Leonard Peltier. He might have to close Guantanamo. And, he just might have to look closely at the fruits of power and reconsider the essential foundations of peace as justice in this time where U.S. Imperialism seems to be a predestined conclusion for those in power.
I suppose that is too much to ask of a 21st century President of the imperial United States global hegemon. Its a shame; literally shameful.