The Algerian Kidnappers and the Case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui

By Yvonne Ridley
January 20, 2013


The only thing that surprised me when I heard that the Algerian kidnappers had called for the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui was that it hadn’t happened sooner.
Don’t get me wrong, as a former hostage myself, there is no way I condone the actions of what has unfolded in a remote corner of the Algerian desert.
And my heart goes out to the families of those who have lost loved ones in the unfolding drama at a gas plant siege said to have been masterminded by Mohktar Belmokhtar. The infamous one-eyed Algerian militant apparently with ties to al Qaida, has claimed responsibility for launching Wednesday’s attack.

It also goes without saying there is no way the kidnappers, whether politically or criminally motivated, can be justified in their actions.
But an injustice is an injustice and as the only western journalist to have specifically gone to Afghanistan to investigate the case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, I have to say her plight has become a cause célèbre around the Muslim world.
And I have an uncomfortable feeling that more and more westerners will be kidnapped as their captors demand the release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a woman I once called the most wronged in the world.

So just who is Dr Aafia Siddiqui and why is a group of North Africans calling for her release?
Well it’s very easy to get emotional about a wronged Muslim woman caught up in the War on Terror but I am not basing my case on emotion just some simple cold, hard facts and forensic evidence … or lack of it, but more of that and her bizarre story later.
Her family will certainly not be pleased that a group of Algerian terrorists have called for her release because it will give a perception in some quarters that Dr Aafia must be an Islamic extremist. It’s a narrative pushed by US intelligence although it has to be said in her trial the opening statement of the prosecutor stated quite clearly that she was not al-Qaida nor a terrorist sympathiser.

The case of the mother-of-three is well known in every household in Pakistan from the most religious to the most secular … the majority of which have been demanding her repatriation for years. Now she is known as the Daughter of the Nation although her story has travelled well beyond Pakistan’s borders.
Thousands of Muslim children have been named after her because of all that she has come to symbolise. Everything that she represents stems from the injustices created by America’s War on Terror … the kidnaps, renditions, torture, rape and waterboarding.

The brilliant academic, educated in top US universities, is tonight languishing in a Texan jail serving an 86 year sentence after being found guilty of trying to kill American soldiers.
The fact they shot her at close range and nearly killed her is often overlooked.
To their eternal shame, the US soldiers serving in Afghanistan claimed in court under oath that the diminutive, fragile academic leapt at them from behind a prison cell curtain, snatching one of their guns to shoot and kill them. It was a fabricated story that any defence lawyer worth his or her salt would have ripped apart at the seams.

The scenario painted in court was incredulous and more importantly, the evidence non-existent – no gunshot residue on her hands or clothes, no bullets from the discharged gun, no fingerprints belonging to Dr Aafia on the gun … other vital evidence removed by US military from the scene went missing before the trial. Come on, we’ve all seen episodes of CSI – the science doesn’t lie.
After being patched up in a medical wing in Bagram, she was then renditioned to America to stand trial for an alleged crime committed in Afghanistan. Flouting the vienna and Geneva Conventions, she wasn’t given consular access until the day she made her first court appearance.
The trial was held in New York, a stone’s throw from where the Twin Towers once stood making it impossible not to invoke the memories of that horrific day on september 11 which for some forever turned Muslims into Public Enemy Number One.

A lack-lustre legal team forced on Dr Aafia by the US authorities failed to sway the jury of her innocence, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that she could not have snatched a soldier’s gun, let alone pulled the trigger.
I went into the cell a few weeks after the shooting in July 2008 and discovered that the soldiers had panicked and sprayed the room with bullets as they struggled to flee. The evidence is there on film shot during my visit and handed over to the defence team.
Seeing Dr Aafia emerge unshackled and unhooded from behind a curtain caused blind panic among the young soldiers who had been briefed by the FBI they were going to arrest one of the most dangerous women in the world.

I interviewed eyewitnesses, senior Afghan police officers who one after another told me what happened. Yet the only Afghan brought to court to give testimony against her was the FBI’s translator who now has a green card and lives in New York with his family.
What the jury was not told is that Dr Aafia, and her three children, all aged under five at the time, had been kidnapped from a street near their home in Karachi and disappeared from 2003.
The FBI put out a story at the time that she had in fact gone on a jihad to Afghanistan – it was a ludicrous tale without foundation and, as every mother of young children knows, a journey to the local corner shop with toddlers is a monumental challenge so heading off to fight in Afghanistan with a pram, pushchair and toddler in hand is simply inconceivable. The FBI narrative was destroyed by Boston-based Elaine Whitfield Sharp, a lawyer hired by the Siddiqui family when Dr Aafia first disappeared.

The missing years of the academic’s life reveal a story which is now known to virtually everyone in the Muslim world where she is widely regarded as a victim of George W Bush’s War on Terror.
As she tried to tell the jury how she was held in secret prisons, with no legal representation, cut off from the outside world since 2003 where brutal interrogation techniques were used to break her down, she was silenced by the judge who said he was only interested in the cell shooting incident.
Judge Richard Berman, a modest little man with much to be modest about, insisted he was not interested in the missing years; it had no relevance to the case he insisted.

She testified that after completing her doctorate studies she taught in a school, and that her interest was in cultivating the capabilities of dyslexic and other special needs children. She emerged as a humanity-loving nurturer and educator, the gentle yet resolute seeker for truth and justice.
As the evidence continued we learned that she didn’t know where her three children were – it was sensational content for those who knew the real story. She talked of her dread and fear of being handed back to the Americans when she was arrested in Ghazni and was held by police.

Terrified that yet another secret prison was waiting for her she revealed how she peaked through the curtain divider into the part of the room where Afghans and Americans were talking, and how when a startled American soldier noticed her, he jumped up and yelled that the prisoner was loose, and shot her in the stomach. She described how she was also shot in the side by a second person. She also described how after falling back onto the bed in the room, she was violently thrown to the floor and lost consciousness. This ties in exactly with what I was told by the counter terrorism police chief I interviewed in Afghanistan back in the autumn of 2008 – I remember him laughing as he told me how the US soldiers panicked, shot randomly in the air as they stampeded out of the room in a blind panic.

Of course there’s no way a bunch of soldiers are going to admit they lost it, but according to those I interviewed for my film “In search of Prisoner 650 in Afghanistan” that’s exactly what happened.
Two of her missing children have since been found and reunited with their extended family in Karachi. It is still not clear where the children were held when they were snatched from a street in Karachi but there’s no disguising their American accents … possibly picked up from their jailers.
So why did the FBI want to speak to Dr Aafia in the first place and why did they portray her as a dangerous terrorist on the run? if she was the person they painted why wasn’t she charged with terrorism offences and why was the prosecutor at pains to point out that she was not al Qaida?
The bottom line is Dr Aafia Siddiqui should not be in prison and as long as this injustice continues she will become a rallying call for anyone who wants to pick a fight with America.

Acknowledging the injustice and returning Dr Aafia to her home in Pakistan will not stop extremists from causing terror, but it might make the lives of US citizens a lot safer if this wrong is put to right.

British journalist Yvonne Ridley is a patron of CagePrisoners as well as being the European President of the International Muslim Women’s Union and the Vice President of the European Muslim League.

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Haneen Zoabi: Another Persecuted Truth-Teller

 

Posted by Lawrence Davidson on Jan 4, 2013 in Israel 

An Analysis

by Lawrence Davidson

Part I – Haneen Zoabi and Her Mission

Haneen Zoabi is an Arab Israeli member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.  She was elected in 2009 as a member from the Balad Party.  Balad is an Arab party that was formed in 1995 with the aim of “struggling to transform the state of Israel into a democracy for all its citizens.”  In the West, this is a perfectly normal goal.  But Israel’s Zionist ideology disqualifies it as a “Western” nation.  Thus Balad’s aim is in direct opposition to the Zionist idea of Israel as a “Jewish state,” a concept that Ms Zoabi labels “inherently racist.”

Apparently, Haneen Zoabi is fearless.  She actually lives her principles.  She has been campaigning loudly and very publicly for full citizenship rights for Israel’s Palestinians.  She has also actively opposed Israel’s settlement movement, occupation policies, and its siege of Gaza.  That last effort led her to participate in the international flotilla that sought to break the Gaza siege in May of 2010.  That was the time Israeli commandos attacked the Mavi Marmara in international waters, killing 9 Turkish activists who tried to resist the assault on their ship.

In an outright dictatorship, Ms Zoabi would be in jail or worse.  And, given the direction of Israel’s political evolution, that still might be her fate.

However, as of now she is just the worst nightmare of an ethnocentric state, and a government pushing racist policies while trying to pretend it is a democracy.  It is a nightmare for the Israel’s Zionist leadership because Zoabi, as a member of the Knesset, insists that if the Israeli Jews won’t allow full citizenship for non-Jews, as a real democracy must, then she is not going to let them pretend anymore.  Yet pretense is all that is left of Israel’s international persona. If the “Jewish state” loses the ability to posture as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” the country’s reputation in the world is, as the saying goes, fit for the dust hole.

Think of it this way.  Israel is the nation-state equivalent of Oscar Wilde’s fictional character Dorian Gray.  Gray is a man who never seems to be anything but young, good-looking, and successful.  However, hidden away in some closet there is an extraordinarily ugly and frightening portrait of him, and it is this portrait that ages and reflects the meanness and brutality of Gray’s true character.  Haneen Zoabi has uncovered such a portrait of Israel and insists on going about showing everyone the state’s real characteristics.  She wants the world to see the true picture. That is why the Israeli government is trying to destroy Haneen Zoabi.

Part II -  The Persecution

The catalyst for the campaign against Zoabi was her presence on the Mavi Marmara in 2010. Not only was she on a ship attempting to bring humanitarian assistance to over 1.6 million Gazans living under an illegal Israeli embargo, but she was also an eyewitness to nine official Israeli acts of murder.

To the acts of collective punishment, the shelling and bombing of civilian neighborhoods, and the seemingly random murder of civilians by Israeli border snipers, can now be added a deadly attack on a civilian vessel in international waters.  All of these actions are criminal under international law and they all easily fall into the category of state terrorism.  However, in the Kafkaesque world of Zionism, it is Ms Zoabi who became the “terrorist.”

When, on 2 June 2010, she returned to the Knesset following the the Mavi Marmara incident and insisted on bearing witness to Israeli offenses, she was shouted down by her “outraged” fellow members of the Knesset, most of whom saw Zoabi as a traitor.  Her efforts to describe what she had seen reduced the Knesset session to “pandemonium.”  From that point Ms Zoabi received “hundreds of threats, by letters, by email, by phone call.”  In July of 2011, while contesting statements being made by Prime Minister Netanyahu, she was ejected from the Knesset by the chamber’s Speaker who then suspended her from further participation based on a grossly exaggerated charge that she had assaulted one of the chamber’s ushers.

Meanwhile, members of the Prime Minister’s party, Likud, conspired to ban Ms Zoabi from running in the upcoming Israeli elections (scheduled for 22 January 2013).  The Knesset’s Ethics Committee voted that Zoabi hadviolated Article 7A of Israel’s “Basic Law” which states that a candidate for or member of the Knesset, “cannot reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state…or support armed combat by an enemy state or terror organization against the State of Israel.”  Some Israelis claim that the group organizing the flotilla efforts to break the Gaza siege is a terrorist organization, but that is clearly nonsense.  On the other hand, there can be little doubt that Ms Zoabi is shouting from the rooftops the blatant fact that “Israel as Jewish and democratic state” reflects a deep and tragic contradiction.

According to such luminaries of the Israeli right as MK Danny Danon, Ms Zoabi has “spit on the state.”  She does not belong in the Knesset, according to Danon, “she belongs in Jail.” (Danon is also the politician who had the clever idea of inviting Glenn Beck, an incendiary right-wing American TV talk show personality, to address the Israeli parliament.)

Subsequently, Israel’s supreme court declared the banning of Haneen Zoabi was unconstitutional, but Danon has replied that he and his allies are ready with “plan B.” They will simply have the Knesset change the law so as to prevent future electoral campaigns by anyone like Zoabi.

Part III – Conclusion

Politicians with dictatorial leanings instinctively avoid their own reflection.  They cannot admit the consequences of their own actions and policies and they cannot tolerate others who publicly expose those consequences.  Like Dorian Gray, they restrict the ugly truth to some hidden closet.  Yet, eventually, someone like Ms Zoabi comes along and takes up the role of truth-teller.

There is another issue that her efforts bring to light.  It is that the interests of the state (understood here as a government) and the interests of the nation (the collective occupants of a country) may not always be the same.  Governments most often represent cliques or classes or elites or ideologues, etc.  Those in power, ruling in the interest of these smaller constituencies, simply assume that their own parochial interests stand for the “national interest.”

Ms Zoabi is insisting that the Israeli State cease identifying itself with the interest of a single constituency and start representing the interests of the nation as a whole.  What this is all about, she says, are “the values, the humanistic, universalistic values of freedom, of equality, of justice.”  But there is nothing “universalistic” about Zionism and so, for her efforts, she is castigated and threatened.  Such is the state that Zionism has built.