Who is Aafia Siddiqui?

December 10, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Mauri’ Saalakhan

As someone who has been a human rights advocate for most of his adult life, I have seen many cases come and go; few have been as heart rending and consequential as the mysterious case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.

More than six years into this saga there still remain many unknowns. What brought the US government’s attention to this soft-spoken, unassuming woman? Why was she abducted and secretly held for five years? Why did Pakistan hand over one of its citizens to the US? And given the nature of the allegations that were being made by US authorities around the time of Aafia’s disappearance, why have none of those terrorism-related innuendos found their way into the criminal indictment that was finally brought against Aafia in a US federal court?

Dr. Siddiqui and her three children (two of whom are American born) disappeared in March 2003 following their abduction from a taxicab in Karachi Pakistan. No one would know of their whereabouts for the next five years. As time passed, however, and tales began to spread about a mysterious woman being held at Bagram (Afghanistan), identified only as Prisoner 650, pressure began to build toward indentifying who that mysterious woman was.

Investigative journalist and human rights activist Yvonne Ridley – who produced an excellent documentary on the subject (“In Search of Prisoner 650”) – dubbed her “The Grey Lady of Bagram.” Shortly after Ridley traveled to Pakistan to build mass support for an investigation into who the grey lady really was, a disheveled and degraded Aafia Siddiqui reappeared on the streets of Ghazni, Afghanistan in July 2008, only to be drawn back into a deadly web of intrigue.

One of the most riveting parts of “In Search of Prisoner 650,” for this writer, was Ridley’s interview of Ghazni Counter-Terrorism Police Chief Abdul Qadeer. The chief recounted that on the day of Aafia’s re-arrest 12 to 13 Americans were given permission to interview her. After one went behind the curtain where she was being held, all of a sudden there was gunfire. Aafia was shot and seriously wounded.

The official story was that Aafia had tried to pick up a rifle to fire upon the investigators, but ended up being shot in the stomach herself. According to the report, she received emergency treatment only because Afghan authorities insisted on it. In the documentary, Abdul Qadeer expressed suspicion about why she was removed from their (Afghan) custody. When the Governor of Ghazni Province, Dr. Usman Usmani, was confronted with this question by Yvonne Ridley, he gave a rather confused and clearly uncomfortable response.

Who is Dr. Aafia Siddiqui?

Aafia Siddiqui is a 37 year old Pakistani national who did her graduate and post-graduate work in the United States, graduating from MIT and Brandeis University, where she received her PhD. Those who knew her in Boston (who this writer has spoken to) have had nothing but glowing things to say about her. Quiet, soft-spoken, focused; a devoted mother, excellent student, and committed muslimah who was known for her charitable work in the Boston community, is how she is invariably described.

She was married to a Pakistani doctor, but they were divorced (under acrimonious circumstances) by the time of her abduction. The two youngest children from this marriage are still missing to this day. The oldest, a now 12 year old son, was returned to his family just this past summer and now resides with Aafia’s sister, Fauzia.

What brought this young mother to the attention of U.S. authorities remains a mystery. Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, in a press conference years ago, described her as an “al-Qaeda facilitator.” And yet, now in custody awaiting trial, Aafia Siddiqui does not face even one terrorism related charge! 

What we can do

This case involving Dr. Aafia Siddiqui is one of the most important precedent-setting cases confronting the Muslim-American community post 9/11. (Laws are established on the basis of precedent.)

In 2002, Deputy Attorney General Viet Dinh – a prominent member of the Justice Department’s “cartel of conservative lawyers” – was the first high level official in the Bush-Cheney administration to openly admit the government’s use of “profiling” (both racial and religious) in the so-called “war on terrorism.” When questioned on the criteria employed, his response was, “The criteria Al-Qaeda itself uses; eighteen to 35 year old males who entered the country after the start of 2000 using passports from countries where Al-Qaeda has a strong presence.”

In his address to the American Bar Association conference in Naples, Florida earlier that year (Jan. 2002) he stated quite emphatically: “We are reticent to provide a road map to Al-Qaeda as to the progress and direction of our investigative activity. We don’t want to taint people as being of interest to the investigation simply because of our attention. We will let them go if there is not enough of a predicate to hold them. But we will follow them closely, and if they so much as spit on the sidewalk we’ll arrest them. The message is that if you are a suspected terrorist, you better be squeaky clean. If we can we will keep you in jail.”

Clearly this has been the policy of the U.S. government for Muslim males post 9/11. With the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, that policy was expanded to include Muslim females as well. If they can get away with what they’re doing to Aafia today, it will be others tomorrow.

A demonstration is being planned for the courthouse on the day of opening arguments in January 2010. The two most important things we can do for Aafia at this point are to keep her in our prayers, and show up on the date of this mobilization. As our beloved Prophet (pbuh) said: “Tie your camel, and have trust in ALLAH.”

Mauri’ Saalakhan serves as Director of Operations for The Peace And Justice Foundation. For more information on the upcoming mobilization call (301) 762-9162 or E-mail peacethrujustice@aol.com.

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Emails Show bin Laden Was Bush Talking Point, not Target

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Millions of Messages Sent, but Only Handful Mention Al Qaeda Leader

By Margie Burns

“Missing” White House emails retrieved from Bush administration records indicate that top Bush Justice Department officials had little interest in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden or Mullah Mohammed Omar, head of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), prolonged correspondence has pursued “missing” emails between the Bush White House and Bush’s attorney general, deputy attorney general, associate attorney general, Office of Public Affairs, Office of Legal Counsel and Office of the Inspector General, in the Justice Department.

After a lengthy search, President Obama’s Office of Information Policy, which handles FOIA requests, found emails pertaining to Osama bin Laden or to Mullah Omar only in Attorney General and Office of Public Affairs records from the Bush administration. Alberto Gonzales, previously Bush’s White House counsel and then Attorney General, did not use email.

White House emails from the Bush years, often reported as missing, numbered in the millions. Thousands of emails were sent between the Bush White House and top Justice Department officials, through both government email accounts and private accounts including the Republican National Committee.

FOIA inquiries have produced two emails, totaling four pages, between the White House and Justice under the former administration relating to Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The FOIA requests produced 26 emails, totaling 119 pages, relating to Osama bin Laden.

The first internal reference to Mullah Omar, according to email records, occurred Dec. 7, 2001. White House staffer Edward Ingle forwarded a series of talking points titled “Meet Mullah Omar” from Deputy National Security Adviser James R. Wilkinson to a distribution list of several dozen government personnel in Cabinet offices and the Pentagon including Paul Wolfowitz. Omar has continued to evade capture and is believed to be living in neighboring Pakistan. There is no reference in the emails to Omar dating from the period when he was evading US forces. The next, and only other, mention of Omar’s name was an incidental reference in a Sept. 23, 2004, New York Times article on Afghanistan forwarded the same day by White House staffers.

The 26 emails that mention Osama bin Laden in correspondence between the Bush White House and Justice Department break down as follows:

There were seven email references to Osama bin Laden in 2001. Five occurred in press releases from White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer forwarded by Ingle — one Executive Order, two transcripts of press briefings and two sets of talking points — dating from Sept. 24 to Dec. 17, 2001. Kenneth B. Mehlman, then in the Executive Office Building and later chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent around a copy of Bush’s address to the Joint Session of Congress Sept. 21, 2001, in which Bush briefly mentioned “a person named Osama bin Laden.” The other mention of bin Laden in 2001 comes in an Oct. 15 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article about John Ashcroft and terrorism, forwarded by David Israelite.

One email reference to bin Laden occurred in 2002, also forwarded by David Israelite. Under the heading “Do you remember?,” Israelite distributed to colleagues, including Barbara Comstock, a description of a purported 1987 video clip saying that Oliver North warned Congress about Osama bin Laden in the Iran-Contra hearings but was shut off by then-Sen. Al Gore. This claim had already been debunked by North himself (see www.snopes.com). Comstock went on to chair Scooter Libby’s defense fund in 2007 and in 2008 ran for Congress from Virginia.

There were three email references to bin Laden in 2003 — a press briefing, a forwarded newspaper article, and a December statement from Director of Public Affairs Mark Corallo criticizing a Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse study.

Fifteen emails mentioned bin Laden in 2004. Some were in response to criticism of the White House after disclosure of the famous Aug. 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” All email references are forwarded press briefings and other press releases, forwarded newspaper articles, or talking points related to bin Laden.

The Department of Justice represents the US government in enforcing the law in the public interest. According to the official definition of responsibilities printed under a photograph of then Attorney General Ashcroft, “Through its thousands of lawyers, investigators, and agents, the Department plays the key role in protection against criminals and subversion … It represents the government in legal matters generally, rendering legal advice and opinions, upon request, to the President and to the heads of the executive departments. The Attorney General supervises and directs these activities, as well as those of the U.S. attorneys and U.S. marshals in the various judicial districts around the country.”

Either top Justice Department personnel under the previous administration were not a set of bloodhounds, or documents have been suppressed. The email archives contain no indication that inside circles in the Bush White House and DOJ were paying attention to capturing Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar. Mentions of bin Laden and Omar come strictly in the context of public relations.

There are no records of emails to or from Alberto Gonzales, presumably because he did not have an email account.

Email records searched under FOIA include those of previous Attorney General Ashcroft; Michael Chertoff, previously assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division and later secretary of Homeland Security; former Deputy Attorney General James Comey; former Deputy Attorney Paul McNulty; Philip J. Perry, acting associate attorney general and son-in-law of Vice President Dick Cheney; former Associate Attorney General Jay B. Stephens; and David Ayres, Ashcroft’s chief of staff.

After leaving Justice, Ayres co-founded The Ashcroft Group. His corporate biography describes Ayres thus:

“After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Mr. Ayres managed the Department’s crisis operations and restructuring of the FBI to focus on preventing terrorist attacks. As the Attorney General’s principal counter-terrorism advisor, Mr. Ayres oversaw numerous counter-terrorism operations, program reorganizations and policy reforms to prevent additional terrorist attacks.”

Many persons in the Department of Justice and the executive offices of the White House had responsibilities in the “war on terror,” at least according to public pronouncements. Given all the public emphasis on “information sharing” and cooperation among law enforcement and security entities, and the speechifying against a purported “wall” between domestic and foreign information gathering, one would think there would have been extensive correspondence about bin Laden and Omar among others.

Again, either there was such extensive correspondence, and it is being suppressed; or there was no such interest in bin Laden at the highest levels of government, meaning that indeed the previous administration viewed bin Laden chiefly as a public relations tool.

What did they know about bin Laden that they did not share with the public? Were they confident, for undisclosed reasons, that he posed no threat? Why are there no expressions of concern about his whereabouts?

With this plate handed to him, it is a wonder that Obama’s hair has not turned white already.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email margie.burns@verizon.net. See her blog at www.margieburns.com.

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