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The plight of prisoner No. 650 (Dr. Afia Siddiqui)

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Ridley called her the Grey Lady of Bagram because she was almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her.

The woman is registered as Prisoner number 650 and the US officials can’t deny the fact, Ridley said. “I demand that the US military free the Grey Lady immediately. We don’t know her identity, we don’t know her state of mind and we don’t know the extent of the abuse or torture she has been subjected to.”

On 24th July the Asian Human Rights Commission issued an Urgent Appeal in the case of the disappearance of a lady doctor. Amid public protests in Pakistan, on August 1, an FBI official visited the house of Dr. Afia’s brother in Houston to deliver the news that she is alive and in custody. One week later she was produced in a New York court where even the Judge judge expressed surprise at the quick extradition of Dr. Afia from Afghanistan to New York noting that in such a short period one could not extradite a person from Bronx (a New York Borough) to Manhattan.

Thousands of missing persons in Pakistan

Dr. Afia is one of Pakistan's thousands of missing people who disappeared in custody, allegedly after being rounded up by the security agencies as part of “anti-terror campaigns” at the behest of the U.S.

Her case should re-focus attention on those missing people. Thousands of Pakistanis are missing and their families say that they were picked up by security agencies on the hunt for terror suspects. Last year, several officials, including President Musharraf acknowledged some of the detentions, arguing that they were a necessary part of the crackdown on “regional terrorism.”

In June this year, the Asian Human Rights Commission identified 52 illegal detention centers in Pakistan, though there was no indication whether these were being overseen by the CIA or had international connections.

The Asian Human Rights Commission reported that after filing a habeas corpus writ petition in the Islamabad High Court, Dr. Afia’s friends and relatives were threatened by several state agencies of Pakistan to withdraw the case or face the same situation.

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Dr. Aafia's story has yet to clarify the extent to which the Musharraf regime has been involved in illegal detentions and transfers of suspects to US authorities.

Not surprisingly, the United States is against the restoration of an independent judiciary in Pakistan that may again take up the cases of hundreds of missing persons apparently kidnapped by intelligence agencies and handed over to the US. Musharraf sacked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar Mohammad and other independent judges last year after they began questioning security agencies about missing persons’ cases and demanded that those held in illegal detention be produced in courts.

Misuse of US judicial system

Dr. Afia’s bail application has been rejected and if recent court cases against the Muslims have any resonation, it appears that the FBI will try to keep her behind the bars indefinitely even if she is acquitted by a jury.

More than two and half years, after failing to convict Palestinian activist and a former professor of South Florida University, Dr. Sami al-Arian, before a Florida jury, the government has continued to use all means to prolong his confinement. Dr. al-Arian has completed his nearly five-year prison term but remains in custody. Only three weeks before his scheduled release date of April 7, 2008 he was informed on March 19 that he would be called to testify before a third grand jury in Virginia. On June 25, 2008, he was indicted on two counts of criminal contempt for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury. On July 10, at a bail hearing at Alexandria, Virginia, Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered Dr. Sami Al-Arian, released but he remained in prison since the judge refused to block immigration authorities from detaining him as a prelude to his deportation.

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Similarly, in November 2007, Dr. Abdelhaleem Ashqar, a Palestinian-American and former professor at Washington's Howard University, was sentenced to more than 11 years imprisonment for refusing to testify before a grand jury looking into possible terror financing in the Middle East. Tellingly, in February 2007 Dr. Ashqar was acquitted of all terror-related charges.

The twisted story of Dr. Afia’s arrest is one of the strangest since the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Pakistan’s leading newspaper The Nation may be right when it says: “If a PhD from Brandeis (Harvard) in behavioral neuroscience needs to keep documents in front of her to make explosives, it must be a very poor standard of education. And if GIs can pass on guns to ‘dangerous criminals’ in custody, the superpower needs to have better trained, tougher soldiers to keep its global overlordship. It seems secret agents everywhere are adept at fabricating charges that cannot bear scrutiny.”

It will not be too much to say that the insinuation, that she had been hiding herself since 2003, is a travesty of the truth and an affront to people’s common sense. Dr Aafia’s case is a reminder of the grave injustice done to many people in the US detention facilities in Bagram in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and elsewhere.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
 

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