Torture Should Be Accounted For

Torture is among the most heinous crimes known to humankind. It should never be excused, it should never go unpunished. It is not about who the tortured are, or what the tortured know. It is not about what they have done, what they believe, or whether they would do the same. It is about who we are, and how human beings should be treated. It is about our humanity, that is all.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Refoulement of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui

One of the psychological coercions that many of the former Guantanamo inmates, and other inmates have alleged that U.S. interrogators subjected them to has been the sounds of a woman screaming, which they are usually told is their wife. They are often told she is being subject to abuse, including rape. Moazzam Begg, a former prisoner of both Guantanamo and of Bagram, in Afghanistan, related (Begg, Enemy Combatant) that he at some point decided it was not his wife he heard at Bagram, at a later point he decided it wasn't a tape, either, but a woman prisoner. The United States has repeatedly denied that there are female prisoners at Bagram, nevertheless, in early July of this year, Yvonne Ridley, a British correspondent, and an activist for Cage Prisoners, made a plea to free the prisoner known only as "Prisoner 650", whom she cast as "The Grey Lady of Bagram", in reference to her ghost detainee status.

As usually happens with any story like this, it continues to get stranger, and the U.S. government's behavior continues to become completely inappropriate. A short while later, also in July, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a respected human rights group in Asia which tracks abuses in Central, South, and Southeast Asia, and elsewhere, put out an urgent appeal, in which they linked the Grey Lady and Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani Ph.D. who went missing in early 2003, along with her three children, and has long been believed by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others, to be in secret detention in United States custody.

Then suddenly, the United States, which had maintained that it didn't know her whereabouts, even though there were assurances to her family by Pakistani authorities that she was in custody, did an about face, and claimed that she had been arrested in Ghazni, Afghanistan, southwest of Kabul, carrying bottles of liquids supposedly for making explosives, with a copy of, or xeroxes from the Anarchist's Arsenal in her purse, and her eldest son (currently 12). We note in passing, just for completeness, that the Anarchist's Arsenal is available from Amazon books. Allegedly, American officials, consisting of U.S. military and FBI agents, arrived to question her, and she allegedly grabbed a gun that had been put on the floor near her (she was allegedly behind a cloth screen), and began yelling and shot twice, allegedly at the Afghani officer, and yelled "Allah Akbar" and "Get the fuck out of here." The U.S. military shot back and supposedly wounded her in the chest (although she now has a wound in the lower abdomen), after which they wrestled her to the ground, which supposedly required several American males to do, she was finally subdued when she passed out from her injury. For completeness, and also because it came up in court, she weighs less than 50 kilos.

Yes, court. She was then supposedly treated in Afghanistan, extradition was approved by the Afghan government, and she arrived in New York City to be arraigned in court on charges of attempting to kill a U.S. federal officer, on August 3rd. She was apparently too weak to do this, she answered affirmatively when asked if she understood the charges, but then shook her head "in disbelief". The judge made a remark at the speed with which she was extradited, saying that he couldn't get a person extradited from the Bronx to Manhattan in that time. A bail hearing was set for August 11th. Her lawyers asked for medical treatment, claiming that she was "oozing", and that she was exceedingly weak (the new photo of her does not look at all healthy, she looks emaciated and her skin color is not good, her nose has been broken at some point). The judge ordered medical care for her as well.

Support for her case has been building all week in Pakistan and elsewhere, articles openly disbelieving the FBI story and calling for her fair treatment in court have been published in Britain, across the Middle East, in India and Pakistan. Rallies have been called in Pakistan in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. The widely distributed story is that she is indeed the Grey Lady, that she has been tortured, and raped repeatedly, and held for 5 years in Bagram. AHRC published an assessment of her photograph, calling her dehydrated, and alleging a broken and badly set nose, and offered information that she is believed to have had a kidney removed for some reason while in captivity. Human rights organizations have not backed down from their contention that she has been held in Bagram or at a black site. The FBI for its part is contending that she has not been in custody. Her family has contended for years that her mother was told of her detention by a Pakistani official on a motorcycle who came to her house, informed her of the arrest, and warned her not to talk publicly about it. They believe the person was from the ISI.

The protests in Pakistan charge General Pervez Musharraf with selling her to the Americans. It has taken the dislike of Musharraf, whose position is more than precarious right now (the U.S. government went from maintaining a stance of backing following Pakistani law, and leaking doubts that the coalition government could really impeach him to pleading with the Pakistani government for him to be retired with dignity) to new heights, with banners that read, "How many dollars is one Pakistani?" , and while the flags being burned are American, the slogans are in anger at the Pakistani government's collaboration with a nation which they believe disappears and tortures their countrymen, and now their women, and their distinguished scientists (Dr. Siddiqui has a bachelors degree from MIT in biology and a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from Brandeis University, Separating the components of imitation, 223 pages, 2001., on visual memory and imitation of visual cues). The case is also being picked up by the Pakistani lawyers' movement, since the judiciary was sacked by Musharraf last November largely to avoid having to produce some of the 500+ "disappeared" persons into court, as ordered. Many feel that the United States was behind the sacking, and that the U.S. currently opposes restoration of the Judiciary, especially Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudry, who had ordered the "disappeared" prisoners charged or released, and above all brought into court to face their charges.

All of which brings us to today's hearing. Aafia Siddiqui was due in court in New York this afternoon for a bail hearing. When the hearing convened, she was wheeled into court in a wheelchair, and her lawyers asked that she be given immediate access to a female doctor. I don't have more complete information than that, yet, but my guess is they also asked for appropriate food, a copy of the Koran, facilitation for prayers, and filed a complaint about a requirement for a strip search every time she meets with anyone from outside the prison. The reason I believe these are the other requests is that she was granted a visit from the Pakistani consulate, and he asked for these things in a letter to her lawyers on behalf of the government of Pakistan.

Torture and harsh treatment have now reached our shores, even before any of the Guantanamo detainees have been able to appear in U.S. courts (that is if Congress doesn't pass yet another circumscription of habeas corpus again). Siddiqui had not seen a lawyer until just prior to her arraignment because of the search requirement, which violates her sense of privacy as a Muslim woman (she asserts), and seems an odd requirement for someone who is already in custody, except that it parallels treatment of al-Qahtani at Guantanamo (Philippe Sands, The Torture Team), and of numerous prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Denial of medical treatment started for this American government with the "high-value detainee" Abu Zubaydah in 2002, Jane Mayer quotes the President of the United States as having asked "Who authorized putting him on pain medication?" (Mayer, The Black Sites, p. 143). Abu Zubaydah had been shot 3 times and fallen off a roof as a result).

The prosecutor in court today claimed the reason that Aafia Siddiqui had not seen a doctor yet in 6 days since the judge had ordered medical care was that it was a "complicated situation", because Ms. Siddiqui was a "high-security risk" (Withholding medical care is a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, whether or not the prisoner is considered combatant or civilian). For a point of reference, after Abu Zubaydah was captured, the government felt he needed to be kept alive at all costs because he had such important information, that they immediately flew a Johns Hopkins surgeon from Washington, D.C. to either Pakistan or Thailand, to do the operations needed to keep him alive so he could be "interrogated" (Mayer, The Black Sites, pp. 142,ff.). Another reference point, just to put things in the starkest terms, Ms. Siddiqui has supposedly had some of her intestines removed as a result of the wound, she is already missing a kidney (relevant where septic shock is concerned), and it is unclear whether it is just sepsis or whether she may be bleeding internally. Should we inquire of John Yoo as to whether or not that constitutes pain consistent with organ failure or death? It would under the protocols from which those tests were lifted. There is now a new allegation that Aafia Siddiqui may have suffered brain damage at some point. She has, herself, said she was imprisoned, and tortured, but is now not talking about it on advice from her lawyers, but one comment that got out first was that she had trouble describing where she was held except that it was very small.

There are many things about this case that are very hard. The reputation of the United States when it comes to detention is such that it matters very little to other countries at this point whether or not American authorities are at all capable of telling the truth, it is assumed they are not. Allegations of rape of a woman, when added to any other charge leveled at a foreign government are about as incendiary as any, and have been for thousands of years. Her children have not been accounted for by U.S. authorities no matter what story of custody is believed, and that is unacceptable under international law. Pervez Musharraf now stands accused of illegal refoulement, of human trafficking, and of sending his countrymen and women into the hands of the U.S., whose agencies, the military, the FBI, and the CIA, are all assumed to be, unless proven otherwise beyond all doubt, and that seems unlikely, agents of torture, abuse, and defilement.

There is a limited time left for the Americans to quit their current arc of medical mistreatment and do what the need to in order that Aafia Siddiqui regains her health. It has now become a full diplomatic matter, since the Pakistani government has made public pleas for a fair trial at the very least, and is requesting that she be returned to Pakistan and her children restored to her. U.S.-Pakistani relations are having their bumps already right now, and with 584 U.S. soldiers dead since the conflict began in Afghanistan, the United States cannot afford to lose more diplomatic face in that region. So at this point, it matters very little what Dr. Aafia Siddiqui may or may not have done. For the record, her colleagues (those who remember her at MIT and Brandeis) no more believe she is al Qaeda than those of Bruce Ivins believe the FBI right now.

What thousands of people around the world do believe, in her case, is that she is the Grey Lady of Bagram, prisoner 650, whose screams were heard by multiple independent sources, who was said to have lost her mind from repeated rape, for some time, whose children are missing, that the U.S. does not want her to have a fair day in court, and that she is the victim of many American war crimes, including torture, rape, and disappearance. If she also dies from want of medical care, it will be seen as murder, no matter what the U.S. government decides to call it.

One of the consequences of a reign of terror is that nobody believes the country of the perpetrators anymore. For a test of this, how much of what I have written here, did anyone see on American TV?


lalucas said...

Thank you for your research and for writing this. This administration in collusion with the press are an abomination. I wish there was something we could do for her. Can you think of anything that might work?
Best Regards,
Lisa Lucas

bamage said...

I got here via RMP's link @ UT. This is powerful and important work you're doing. I'll be disseminating this piece as widely as I can.

ondelette said...


Right now, you could try getting sunshine on it, write to your congress people, or to the press, or try to publicize the issue. More than that, you would need to contact her lawyer, whose information was posted in Pakistan last night:

Elaine Whitfield Sharp
Phone: (781)639-1862
Please contact by phone Eastern Standard Time (six hours behind GMT) only.

In the very immediate future, a lot depends on the medical treatment, apparently.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

She's on the front page of YAHOO News today

Anonymous said...

...on the FBI's ten most wanted list no less.

bamage said...

ABC's "all over it" today. You've got to read it to comprehend just how bad it (ABC's version) is.

Anonymous said...

It's in the Christian Science Monitor tonight, with a Friday byline: "Terror suspect's court appearance raises questions about U.S. military conduct --
The US military has rejected claims that Pakistani doctor Aafia Siddiqui, who has been missing for the past five years, was being illegally detained and tortured."
By Liam Stack

from the August 15, 2008 edition

Holly McLachlan

Anonymous said...

Don't think "write to your congress people" will help. There will probably parrot Anne Dubya Patterson's lies.

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