- The story behind the woman
Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s name is as much associated with controversy and conspiracy as mystery and intrigue. The book, Aafia Unheard, published last month, is explosive in its nature, lifting the veil on many facets of Aafia’s life and on facts hitherto mired in obscurity. The author, Dawood Ghazanavi, a lawyer, has chosen a complicated and sensitive subject to dwell upon.
They say the devil is in the detail. The details are at times disturbing, at others eye-opening and sometimes even shocking. The book offers a compelling narrative and brings out a fresh perspective. It leaves the readers with a better understanding of the complex issues involving the case and helps them draw their own conclusions. Comprehensive and meticulously researched, it offers an objective legal analysis of the curious case, clearing confusions and dispelling many myths. The author does not pass judgments lest it should prejudice the readers. He provides the missing links in the chain of her story by drawing on a lot of sources ranging from newspapers to the trial court proceedings, the hearing transcripts and the government and defence witness testimonies to the Court orders. He is at pains to weave together the threads of the whole matter to paint a thorough picture. Written in simple language, he takes us through events and put them in a proper context. This book needs to be gone through from cover to cover to arrive at an informed conclusion.
He maintains that if the USA repatriates her, this will go a long way towards achieving a two-fold objective: cementing of the relationship between Pakistan and the USA and defeating the narrative constructed by the terrorist organizations
There are a string of core, fundamental and thorny questions at the heart of this fascinating book: What did happen to her? Why? How? Why was she shot? What was the case against her in the trial court, the Southern District of New York? Was she kept in a US secret prison in Afghanistan during her disappearance from the year 2003 to 2008? Why did she depose in the Court despite strong reservations from her attorneys? Why did the trial Judge not relieve her attorneys from presenting her case notwithstanding her repeated clear requests? Was it due to the humiliating strip search she had to go through? Or did she believe that her attorneys were not furthering her interests? Was she mentally competent to stand trial in the USA? Had her alleged affiliation with Al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations been established? Why was she allegedly associated with Al-Qaeda? What was her alleged role? Why was she handed over to the USA by the then Afghan government? Why was she not repatriated to Pakistan? Why was she sentenced to 86 years in prison? Had the documents been declassified, would the outcome of the trial have been different? Was her punishment arbitrary, oppressive and excessive and flying in the face of evidence, law and the Sixth Amendment? Was she denied her fundamental right to due process? Did she forgive the trial judge, who conducted the trial and sentenced her to 86 years of imprisonment, and the two soldiers who shot her? Did she suffer PTSD and excruciating mental and physical torture? Did the prosecution fail to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that she shot an M4 rifle? Did she lose confidence in the US justice system? Did the trial dourt’s judge, Richard M. Berman, take a lopsided and jaundiced view of her case, or a detached and impartial view? And so much more.
Coming from a highly educated family, she earned her PhD from Brandeis University. Her doctoral thesis was entitled “How children learn by imitation”. Before applying for PhD, she did her graduation from MIT with a major in biology. Interestingly enough, she worked with the famous Professor Noam Chomsky for one semester. While studying at MIT, she volunteered for children’s education. She won an MIT award for rendering services to education. She gave birth to three children during the course of her studies.
Dr Aafia Siddiqui suddenly found herself in the eye of the storm unleashed in the wake of 9/11. Her name found mention in the “most wanted” list of the fugitives. From 2003 to 2008, she went missing along with her three children. For five long years, rumours were doing the rounds as to her disappearance, as nobody saw or heard from her. Three prisoners who served their sentences in Bagram confirmed to Yvonne Ridley, the famous British journalist, that Aafia was tagged prisoner No 650. They all asserted she was put to extreme torture during incarceration.
It was the case of the prosecution that she allegedly emerged with her son in Afghanistan outside the compound of Governor of Ghazni in 2008. (Judge Berman disbelieved it on account of insufficient evidence.) Subsequently, she was shot in Afghan police headquarter in Ghazni, when she allegedly attempted to shoot with an M4 rifle. She was then extradited to the USA by Afghanistan to be tried on as many as nine counts relating to the alleged attempted murder. She was not charged with terrorism-related charges. The jurors returned a unanimous verdict, holding her guilty on seven counts, but not on two. She was sentenced to 86 years in prison.
When the trial was concluded, and the verdict announced, Dr Aafia was allowed to speak freely. What she said is of immense significance. She made her position as well as her religious views crystal clear. Significantly, she forgave the two soldiers, who shot her and Judge Berman. She said she did not lose her mind while being tortured.
In conclusion, the author attempts to address the questions of the readers. He also shares his own views. He is of the view that the whole narrative surrounding her story needs a sea change. He feels if the leaders of Pakistan, the USA, and Afghanistan put their heads together, they can find a way out. Also, he maintains that if the USA repatriates her, this will go a long way towards achieving a two-fold objective: cementing of the relationship between Pakistan and the USA and defeating the narrative constructed by the terrorist organizations. Lastly, he asks rhetorically, can the healing of the Pakistani nation ever be complete without the repatriation of Dr Aafia? He leaves that to the imagination of the readers.