Don’t Blame the Victim
On March 30, 2003, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui disappeared from Karachi along with her three minor children. Media reported that she had been taken by the US authorities with compliance of Pakistani authorities since the FBI had wanted to seek some information from her. In the face of general outcry, the US and Pakistani authorities quickly backtracked but then a year later Pakistani Foreign Office admitted publicly that Aafia had been handed over to the US.1
She became a concern for human rights organizations including Amnesty International who kept the case alive for five years. On July 6, 2008, political party Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf presented a British journalist in Islamabad who said there was reason to believe that Aafia was the “Prisoner 650” at Bagram (Afghanistan) and had undergone brutal rape and torture for five years. Outcry reaches a high water mark and urgent appeals were sent by Asian Human Rights Commission on July 22, to President George Bush and other persons of authority.
On August 4, the US authorities officially admitted of having Aafia in their custody but the US Department of Justice brought forth a charge sheet against her, claiming that she was arrested on July 17 (and not before) while loitering around near the residence of Ghazni’s Governor. They alleged that papers found in her handbag included instructions on making bombs and notes about installations in US.
They explained her wounds by saying that a day after her arrest she took an M4 rife which belonged to US military personnel and fired two rounds at close range, which missed, and she had to be shot in the torso.
On August 16, the US envoy to Pakistan made a public statement saying that the US had no “definitive knowledge” of the whereabouts of Aafia’s children but only a few days later the Afghan authorities revealed that an 11-year-old boy had also been “arrested” with Aafia and this boy was then repatriated to be received by Aafia’s family as her eldest son.
The story narrated about this alleged episode is not plausible, and contradictions self-evident. Yet Aafia has been suffering pain and humiliation in US prison for more than two months now. There are fears that she is now being brainwashed in order to render her incapable of giving evidence against any atrocities that might have been committed against her.
Three anomalies in the trial
Basically: (a) victim has become the accused; (b) allegations are not being addressed in proper order; and (c) allegations against US authorities by human rights groups and concerned citizens are going un-addressed.
Victim has become the accused
Those who say that they hope to get justice from US legal system in this case are overlooking the fact that the trial is not being held to provide justice to Aafia. It is being held against her.2
Allegations not addressed in proper order
The case involves three allegations, not one. These need to be addressed in the order in which they appeared:
1. The FBI’s declaration that it needed Dr. Aafia Siddiqui for interrogation (2003)
2. Allegations allegation raised by human rights organizations and Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf that Aafia Siddiqui was being illegally detained, raped and tortured by US authorities (with possible compliance of Pakistani authorities) for five years, and that her three minor children were in illegal detention. July 6, 2008 is the high water mark for this allegation.
3. Allegation raised by US authorities against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui that she tried to assassinate US army personnel on July 18, 2008. This allegation was brought forth on August 4, 2008.
The first of these has not been legally pursued by authorities even after they admitted having custody of Aafia. Hence it may be considered as dropped.
The second allegation, which is against US authorities, has never been answered seriously except for a flat rebuttal in inappropriate and condescending tone (consider the US envoy’s open letter of August 16).
Now the third allegation is being addressed in a court of law without addressing the second.3 This leads to great confusion. The victim has been given into the custody of the party accused of committing offenses against her, and mandate is given to them to further curtail her liberties as a “high security risk”.
Let’s understand: it’s not as if US Government said that it would rather like to keep Aafia in a rehabilitation center in America for treatment of torments suffered by her during five-year-long illegal detention. The victim is now in custody of the party accused of committing the following atrocities against her:
1. Abduction and illegal detention of the victim
2. Abduction and illegal detention of the victim’s minor children
3. Attempt of coercing the victim to sign false evidence
4. Threatening the victim with murder of her children
5. Sexual abuse, rape and torture
6. Attempted brainwashing
7. Possibly, murder of two of the victim’s minor children
The first step should have been to ensure that the party accused of committing these offenses didn’t have any further access to her with malevolent intent. The opposite has happened.
Aafia’s transfer from military to civil authorities doesn’t ensure that her abusers have lost influence: responding to journalists’ question about why they didn’t seek bail for Aafia, her lawyer answered, “There’s more in this case than meets the eye.”
What’s going wrong now
Following incidents which can be seen as injustice or malpractice have occurred after August 6, when Aafia was first presented in New York:
1. Victim was remanded on implausible charges4
2. Bail was not even sought by her lawyers5
3. US envoy gave a questionable statement about victim’s children6
4. It’s possible that the victim’s eldest son was brainwashed before being handed over by Afghan authorities7
5. Motion to establish the victim as mentally unfit to stand trial, if accepted, will disqualify her from giving evidence later against her abusers
6. At Carswell, the victim can be at risk of being brainwashed or rendered incapable of providing evidence
Two children of the victim are still missing. If they are still alive then it is possible that they are being used as hostages to pressurize her. Allegations of her illegal detention, rape, etc, and the abduction of her children, is going unaddressed.
Can she get justice from US legal system?
That question will arise only after a case is brought up to seek justice for her. The current trial has been registered against the victim and not against her abusers.
Unfounded speculation is bad but some speculation is required for arriving anywhere in legal matters. Here we are forced to choose between two options: either the story about Aafia’s alleged arrest and shooting as told by the DOJ is true, or it is false.
The story is not likely to be true. Consider this passage from rejoinder to US envoy’s letter by Kamran Shafi, journalist and former trainer in small arms:
By the way Excellency, if you care to notice, Aafia Siddiqui is about your build and dimensions. May I suggest you get one of your Marines at the embassy to bring you a US army-issue M4 rifle. Now ask him to clear the chamber, affix the magazine, put the rifle on ‘safe’, and place it on the ground which would be the exact position in which Aafia Siddiqui found hers and with which she is alleged to have fired upon the US officer. You may very well fail to even cock it in 10 seconds, let alone find the safety catch, lift the rifle to your shoulder and fire it.8
It seems as if the US authorities knew that this story won’t stand a test in the court and their real strategy was to buy time for declaring Aafia mentally unfit or perhaps even to induce mental disorder while in custody.
Such speculation sounds harsh but once the DOJ story is rejected there is no way we can pass over it as an “honest mistake”. If the story is false then obviously we are dealing with an unusually ugly and disturbing cover-up of enormous dimensions.
We must not forget the three other victims in this case: Aafia’s minor children. The first is Ahmad Siddiqui, 11-year-old, and the anomalies in his case raise suspicions of a three-step approach to cover up brainwashing in captivity.9 First, deny having any “definitive knowledge” of the captive’s whereabouts. Second, admit that he was in detention even at the time of those denials. Third, send him home in mentally unstable state where he cannot recall details about captivity. There is a stark analogy between his fate and the contradictory reports now coming out about her mother: is she at step 2 now, undergoing brainwashing?
By the authorities’ own admission Ahmad’s detention at least from July 17 to August 22 was irregular: it was covered up despite urgent appeals from around the world.
The second victim is Aafia’s daughter Mariam, 10 years old (5 at the time of her disappearance), and the third is the youngest son Salman, 5 years old (six months at the time of his disappearance). Authorities deny having “definitive knowledge” of his whereabouts too.
It may be remembered that capture of minor children and infants for pressurizing their parents was described by Pakistan’s former president Pervez Muharraf as fair tactic while participating in American War Against Terror.10
What needs to be done
We need to be absolutely clear that the real issue here is the second set of allegations in which Aafia is victim, not accused.
By remaining silent on that issue now, the whole world is allowing a victim to become accused. Since this has already become one of the most famous trials of the new century, a bad precedent in this matter is likely to affect the future of human rights for very long time and almost everywhere in the world. Time is of essence here, because it seems as if evidence is being destroyed very fast.
The following steps may need to be taken without losing any further time:
1. Human rights groups in US should file petition in a US court to the effect that Aafia’s trial is unfair and should be dismissed. It needs to be dismissed immediately, and in any case latest by November 7, i.e. forty days before the date which has been set for hearing whether or not Aafia is mentally fit to stand trial: there is reason to suspect that some foul play is going on which is likely to accomplish its ends by that date and evidence related to actual culprits will have been destroyed, possibly including memory of the victim herself.
2. Separately, a complaint should be lodged against culprits who victimized Aafia earlier, and a plea should be made for the recovery of her two missing children.
3. All peaceful and healthy means should be used for educating people in as many countries as possible about the AAFIA issue – especially the message that a victim should not be victimized and the meaning of justice should not be distorted.11
4. Concerned citizens of the world need to explore whether there is a proper channel for taking up this issue beyond slogans, protests and demonstrations. If no such channel exists then it needs to be created.
5. If any rights group decides to make a separate committee for pursuing this case, then that committee should also look into the wider implications and related issues, and hence “AAFIA” might be a good acronym for “Affirmative Action for the Freedom and Independence of All” (Aafia literally means comprehensive safety). Fresh grounds need to be broken for safeguarding human rights in these new times.
United Nations was a giant step towards peace, but what about “united humanity”? We need to alter certain perceptions now and we need to set new precedents.
Consequences for everyone
Terrorism is a serious threat which should not be trivialized the way it has been through the victimization of Aafia Siddiqui and her minor children. Genuine efforts being made against terrorism will also earn a bad name, if not fall flat on their face, if moral superiority is lost – and it will be lost if injustice in the case of Aafia Siddiqui completes its course.
The case is so complex, and its details so gruesome, that many still may not have realized what the possible outcome of her mistreatment might turn out to be. The analysis offered here may not be how everyone is seeing things now but it is likely to be how these things will be seen in times to come, as the truth gradually seeps into people’s conscience.
Then a great setback for human rights may be suffered because in our times such rights rest on the premise that people are entities who should be respected, their humanity cannot be usurped by any government and a person cannot be objectified before the mystique of state. Losing this one case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui can mean losing the very premise of human rights, and losing it in bright limelight.12
It is not just about Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, but rather ironically, it is also about what her first name means literally in her native language: comprehensive safety. She is a highly educated woman who made it to the upper strata of middle class in two societies – Pakistan and US. What happened to her can happen to anyone, and it may happen more easily in future if bad precedent is set now.
For America, it is a moment of truth. The international community has been hearing so much about the “deposed” Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who used to take suo moto action on such cases, forcing his government and its much-dread intelligence agencies to become answerable to the court. For that he risked his job, personal freedom and the future of his children. Global observers are likely to notice that no judge in US seems to be as willing to take suo moto action in this case as Justice Chaudhry of Pakistan would have been even if such thing had been found in his jurisdiction. Tables are turning: at the going rate it might not be very long before US finds itself lagging behind developing countries in matters of awareness about human rights among the masses. For its own good, US ought to revise its take on this case.
1 Her children were not mentioned by FO, but President Musharraf later dropped hint in his autobiography that “arresting” minors and even infant children of accused was part of tactics being used in the US War Against Terror.
2 In the case of rape, the term “victim” is applied to the aggrieved party even before her case is proven true in a court.
3 I am presuming that the first allegation has already been dropped by the party which raised it, so we need not address it anymore. In all fairness, we should be open to give it due importance, with proper attention to the whole context, in case the first party (i.e. the FBI) chooses to bring it back in the future.
4 Charge sheet against Aafia was implausible and inaccuracies could have been exposed through a simple simulation/demonstration. Yet the American judge gave remand of her person instead of sending her to a hospital as she deserved in view of her condition (she was still bleeding from bullet wounds)
5 Why should seeking bail be so difficult in a case where the accusation doesn’t pass the test of common sense, let alone legal proceeding? More importantly, why was bail not even sought?
6 On August 16, the US envoy to Pakistan stated publicly that the US authorities have no definitive knowledge of the whereabouts of Aafia’s children. About ten days later the Afghan authorities stated that they had also “arrested” a boy along with Aafia. One could smell a rat here: a person of such prominence as US envoy is unlikely to risk a misleading statement unless the stakes are really high.
7 Aafia’s son, finally repatriated by Afghan authorities, cannot recall much and is having nightmares. Did the authorities deny knowledge of his whereabouts initially because at that time they were brainwashing him and were still unsure that it would work?
8 Published in Dawn (Karachi) on October 14. Earlier on September 10, Joane Mariner, an attorney with Human Rights Watch in New York wrote in Counterpunch, “If you trust the US story, you have to imagine that… more than the al Qaeda mom, as the New York Post dubs her, she would have to be al Qaeda’s Angelina Jolie.”
9 The word “definitive knowledge” in US envoy’s statement leaves an uncomfortable impression of preparing for a future moment when it may turn out to be otherwise and then it could be said that the knowledge which the US authorities had in this matter was not “definitive” but of some other sort (The statement said, “The United States has no definitive knowledge as to the whereabouts of Ms Siddiqui’s children”). Was Ahmad being subjected to brainwashing so that his detention could not be revealed till making sure that the process had been successful?
10 In the Line of Fire: A Memoir by Pervez Musharraf published in 2006 by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, p.224.
11 In Pakistan and Islamic countries this case study can be specially useful: given the peculiar nature of this case, the masses are likely to accept the message and apply it to other injustices against the weak.
12 In Pakistan, even now the HRCP might be facing a crisis about its credibility with the masses, who generally feel that the HRCP has done less than what was expected of it in this regards.