Amal Hanif Majeed
When a girl was born to Muhammad Salay Siddiqui and Ismet in Karachi, Pakistan, they named her Aafia Siddiqui in the hope that her name would ensure she would remain free from illness and grief.
Aafia hails from the Urdu-speaking Deobandi community of Karachi. In the year 1990, 18 year old Aafia left for USA on a student visa to attend the University of Houston. In 1992, she transferred to the distinguished Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on a full scholarship. Subsequently in 1995, she graduated with a degree in biology. During her time at MIT she lived in the all-female McCormick Hall. Aafia was active in charity work and community service and she worked for student and humanitarian organizations.
In October 1995, she married Mohammad Amjad Khan who was a Pakistani doctor. Thereafter, they began living together in Boston and soon had two kids: Muhammad Ahmed in 1996 and Mariam Bint-e Muhammad in 1998. In 1999, she founded the Institute of Islamic Research and Teaching as a nonprofit organization. She was also the co-founder of the Dawa Resource Center. Throughout, her period in the USA she was a zealous Muslim activist.
She then headed to Brandeis University, a private research university, where Aafia studied cognitive neuroscience. Since her passion lay in helping dyslexic and differently-abled kids, she arranged a playgroup where she assisted children with the methods she formulated in her laboratory.
Aafia ultimately received her PhD in 2001 after specializing in the process of learning in children- her dissertation was titled ‘Separating the Components of Imitation.’ Aafia dreamt of revolutionizing the education system of Pakistan, one day.
Unfortunately, her marriage began to come apart at the seams. She became a victim of domestic abuse and by the fall of 2001, Aafia returned to her parents in Karachi with her children. Her youngest son, Suleiman was born in 2002, and she was granted the sole custody of her children.
Astonishingly, in March 2003, The Federal Bureau of Investigation released a global alert on both Dr. Khan and Dr Aafia Siddiqui. According to the announcement they had not yet been accused of any crime or relations to any terrorism activities. Instead they were merely wanted for questioning. This became the turning point of the innocent woman’s life and the situation became a baffling mystery. Her name became an irony in itself.
The Gray Lady of Bagram
In March 2003, Aafia made her way to the Karachi Airport in a taxi with all three of her children. Ahmed aged 5, Mariam aged 3, and Suleiman who was only six months old. They were travelling to Islamabad to visit her maternal uncle. Unfortunately, however, none of them ever reached their destination and no one heard from them for the next five years. It is said that the same day, unidentified men appeared at her parents’ house threatening her mother to stay quiet about the situation if she wished to see her daughter and grandchildren alive.
Aafia and her children’s whereabouts and happenings from March 2003 to July 2008 are truly unknown and consist of different narrations from the Pakistani and the US governments based on the findings of the FBI. In short, the complicated reports are a disputed affair and a tiny piece of a large unsolved puzzle.
In September 2008, apparently Afghan authorities handed her eldest son over to his aunt and prohibited him from speaking to the press. DNA identified a girl as Aafia’s daughter, Mariam who appeared in the house’s street all alone. However till this date, the youngest son is missing and presumed dead.
While the US accused Aafia to be a terrorist “facilitator” and “top Al-Qaeda terrorist” who was willing to use her education against the United States, her family tells a different story. They denied any connection to Al Qaeda. According to them, she spent the missing five years as a mysterious prisoner regularly suffering from the horrors of the Bagram airbase in Kabul. Furthermore, a British journalist, Yvonne Ridley, insists she is the “Grey Lady of Bagram” – a ghostly female detainee who kept prisoners awake “with her haunting sobs and piercing screams.”
On about July 18, 2008, the Afghan police held a press conference where they declared Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s capture. In the same room, Dr. Aafia was placed behind a curtain that divided the room. After the press conference ended, she heard Afghan voices enter the room, who were conversing about taking her away. Out of fear, she peered through the curtain to discover if there was any way to elude them and as soon as she did so, she was shot twice in the stomach by a U.S. Warrant Officer. She was in a critical condition and had to be evacuated by helicopter to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital at Bagram Air Base. At the hospital, she underwent a major abdominal surgery.
On September 23, 2010 in a New York City courtroom, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in prison by Judge Richard M. Berman for the attempted murder and assault of U.S. Army and FBI personnel in Afghanistan. They claim in July 2008 while Dr. Aafia was detained, she picked up a rifle which had been left unattended by a U.S. soldier, and fired it. She allegedly missed her intended targets and injured none. The U.S. soldiers, who claim that they were acting in self-defense, then shot Dr. Aafia twice through the abdomen.
However, prosecution witnesses each told different accounts of the shooting incident. Moreover, according to an Afghan officer’s account, Aafia had not been holding any gun, nor he did hear any gunfire before she herself was shot by the U.S. soldiers.
At the trial, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui testified under oath that she never reached for or picked up the gun and her version of events is supported by all forensic evidence presented in the case. Despite the physical evidence that proved Aafia never fired or touched the arm coupled with the contradicting statements presented by the prosecutors, she was convicted of all of the charges brought against her and sentenced for 86 years. Till this date the innocent Pakistani neuroscientist is held at The Federal Medical Center, Carswell.
Huge question marks remain regarding the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. How did she reach all the way to Afghanistan from Karachi? If she was abducted in the first place on the charges of being one of the masterminds behind the Al Qaeda, why is she languishing behind bars since the past 12 years over assaulting US soldiers? How can someone be convicted while the physical and forensic evidences don’t support the charges? The cavernous loopholes in the US claims are noticeable to all, yet a woman continues to anguish.
This case is nothing but a conspicuous example of how uncountable people suffer from rendition operations, unlawful detentions and erroneous accusations in the hands of states no one can question. Contrary to her name, Aafia continues to suffer grief and physical brutalities- she was kidnapped, possibly raped, tortured, and shot and is to remain imprisoned until 2082!
The war on terror claimed 80,000 lives of Pakistanis. It is high time the Pakistani government actually paid attention to this case and reunited Aafia with her family. The ‘Aafia movement’ has been led by her sister Dr. Fawzia Siddique tirelessly. Those sympathetic to the cause may read more here:
“You can’t build a case on hate. You should build it on facts. ”
-Dr. Aafia Siddiqui (Trial Testimony, January 28, 2010)