To be honest, I can hardly express sufficiently my shock at the news that Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who was rendered to the U.S. to face a trial after she reportedly tried -- and failed -- to shoot two U.S. soldiers in Ghazni, Afghanistan in July 2008, has been sentenced to 86 years in prison.
Such a disproportionate sentence would be barbaric, even if Aafia Siddiqui had killed the soldiers she shot at, but as she missed entirely, and was herself shot twice in the abdomen, it simply doesn't make sense. Moreover, the sentencing overlooks claims by her lawyers that her fingerprints were not even on the gun that she allegedly fired, and, even more significantly, hints at a chilling cover-up, mentioned everywhere except at Dr. Siddiqui's trial earlier this year. Seen this way, her sudden reappearance in Ghazni in July 2008, the shooting incident, the trial and the conviction were designed to hide the fact that, for five years and four months, from March 2003, when she and her three children were reportedly kidnapped in Karachi, she was held in secret U.S. detention -- possibly in the US prison at Bagram, Afghanistan -- where she was subjected to horrendous abuse.
The truth about Aafia Siddiqui's story, as I have mentioned in previous articles here, here and here, is difficult to discern, but too many unanswered questions had already been brushed off before this vile sentence was delivered, which involve not only Dr. Siddiqui, but also two of her three children, Ahmed and Mariam, who only resurfaced last September, and in April this year. The whereabouts of her third child, Suleiman, who was just a baby when she first disappeared, has never been disclosed, and there are fears that he was killed when she was initially kidnapped.
As for Mariam, an article at the time of her reappearance stated that she "claim[ed] she was kept in a 'cold, dark room' for seven years," allegedly in Bagram, and in late August 2008, Michael G. Garcia, the attorney general of the southern region of New York, "confirmed in a letter to Siddiqui's sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui, that her son, Ahmed, had been in the custody of the FBI since 2003 and that he was currently in the custody of the Karzai government in Afghanistan," even though the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, had previously claimed that Washington "had no information regarding the children." The article added that Ahmed was finally released to the custody of Siddiqui's family in Pakistan in September 2009, and later "gave a statement to police in Lahore that he had been held in a juvenile prison in Afghanistan for years."
Like everything in the story of Aafia Siddiqui, which remains, in many ways, the most opaque story in the whole of the "War on Terror," it is difficult to say what is true and what is not, but these accounts, as well as eyewitness accounts from other prisoners, including the British resident and former Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed, who has stated that he saw Aafia Siddiqui in Bagram, serve only to demonstrate that, not only is an 86-year sentence the most abominable miscarriage of justice, but also that it meshes perfectly with the notion that this whole sad story is an enormous cover-up. As I asked six months ago:
If Aafia Siddiqui was indeed held in secret US custody for over five years, was the story of the attempted shooting of the U.S. soldiers in July 2008 a cynical set-up, designed to ensure that she could be transferred to the U.S. and tried, convicted and imprisoned without the true story coming to light?
For someone once touted as a significant al-Qaeda operative, it is, to say the least, convenient that she has been sentenced to 86 years in prison on charges that -- beyond the prosecutors' claim that she was an al-Qaeda supporter and a danger to the U.S. -- completely ignored her alleged role in al-Qaeda. The entire court case also avoided the valid presumption that, if she was indeed regarded as an al-Qaeda operative, it would not be surprising if, like many dozens of other "high-value detainees," she suffered years of torture in U.S. custody, and then, somehow, had to be disposed of.
While some of these prisoners ended up in Guantánamo, and others were stealthily delivered on one-way trips to prisons in their home countries, Aafia Siddiqui ended up in New York, rendered -- there is no other word -- from Afghanistan. And although she urged her supporters in court to remain calm yesterday, telling them, "Don't get angry. Forgive Judge Berman," it may be that, in delivering what he referred to as an "appropriate" sentence of "significant incarceration," Judge Richard Berman may have done just what the CIA wanted.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison (Pluto Press), and the co-director, with Polly Nash, of the documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo." He maintains a blog here, where a version of this article was first published.