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January 13, 2010

A Muslim woman faces justice, US style

Yvonne Ridley

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"Why is there even a trial?" It was, of course, a rhetorical question and probably the most poignant and telling observation made during the opening proceedings against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui in New York this week.

Yvonne Ridley"Why is there even a trial?" It was, of course, a rhetorical question and probably the most poignant and telling observation made during the opening proceedings against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui in New York this week.

It is a question I hope every US journalist and media group across the world keeps on asking every day as American tax dollars are squandered persecuting an innocent woman for no other reason than someone is incapable of saying: “I made a mistake”.

I don’t know who this individual is, other than he is very senior in US intelligence and is directly responsible for ordering the kidnap, rendition, torture and abuse of Dr Aafia and the disappearance of her three children.

In his drive to cover his own tracks and frame Dr Aafia she ended up being shot several times by US guards in an Afghan police cell in the province of Ghazni.

Initially, he may have done nothing more than sign a piece of paper which brought about her kidnap from Karachi way back in March 2003 – but by now he will know that the entire Muslim world is watching and waiting to see what happens when the trial gets underway for real on Tuesday, January 19.

Despite the judge’s futile attempts to keep switching and changing pre-trial hearings, supporters of Dr Aafia still manage to fill the spectator gallery and overspill room.

Judge Richard Berman will by now be acutely aware he is handling one of the most sensitive cases ever brought before a court in the entire history of George W Bush’s ill-fated War on Terror.

I know he has received hundreds of postcards from those who have attended Cageprisoner meetings demanding he uses his influence to stop the primitive and brutal strip searches Dr Aafia has been forced to endure every time she meets with her legal team and attends court.

Should she resist these searches, I can tell you having witnessed CCTV footage of a woman prisoner doing the same, Dr Aafia will be held down by around four to five male prison warders while two female officers tear away at her clothes and then carry out full cavity searches.

What I witnessed on CCTV footage is tantamount to rape and had I not seen it with my own eyes, I would have thought it was filmed in a third world country.

Sadly this primitive practice and the pleas of hundreds, if not thousands of westerners to Judge Berman to have the practice stop, has yet to take effect.

The trial is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, January 19 at 9am in the Federal Court in Manhattan, New York where the frail Pakistani mother-of-three faces charges for an alleged crime which happened in Afghanistan in July 2008.

The pre-trial hearing on Monday was quite illuminating in itself after the prosecution ..

ADMITTED Dr Aafia is not a member of al-Qaida

REVEALED she has no links to any terrorist organization

STATED there were no fingerprints on the gun she was supposed to

have wrested from one of the soldiers.

CONCEDED no bullets were recovered from the cell

The defence complained that the prosecution had still not turned over the list of witnesses they intend to call so defence lawyers have no idea who those witnesses are.

It had previously been agreed that the legal team representing Dr Aafia would get those names at least 1 week before the start of trial.

Dr Aafia’s lawyers requested once again that she be spared the strip searches and have a video link.  The judge said he wanted now for her to have the right to confront her accuser so she must be forced to court.

It should be noted that the defense made the argument that if Aafia's ability to face her accusers is so paramount, why is this not applied to the "evidence" when those who accuse her of having this evidence are not being brought to court and so she has no right to confront them? However she still must be strip searched and brought to trial against her will for the sake of this same right.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Aafia made one appeal to the public saying that she was for peace and wanted to help.  She said that she was not against America and many injustices are being done to her. Many people in the audience cried as the US marshalls again forcibly removed her, physically pushing her at times.

The defence lawyers pleaded with the US marshalls and the MDC prison legal representative, Christa Colvin, to allow even a 5 minute meeting between Aafia and her brother but the US marshals refused. When her brother attempted to say a few words to her, the marshals turned Aafia's head away so she could not respond.

So, this is justice US style.

The case, outlined by the prosecution appears to be so thin it is anorexic. It all rests on whether this tiny framed, frail woman wrestled an assault rifle from the hands of a burly US soldier and fired off two rounds while she was in a dazed and confused state.

The fact that she was kidnapped from her home city in Pakistan at the behest of US intelligence, beaten, tortured and abused in Bagram for several years before being dumped outside the governor of Ghazni’s home five years later is not up for discussion.

The fact her three children, two of the US citizens, were also kidnapped and two of them are still missing is, apparently not relevant either.

All Judge Berman wants to establish is: “Did Aafia wrestle the gun for a US soldier with the intent to shoot him?”

And since there’s no forensic evidence tying Dr Aafia to the gun, there seems to be no case. No fingerprints, no bullets, no residue – NOTHING.

The prosecution have even conceded there are no terror links which blows the New York tabloids’ headlines calling her the ‘Al-Qaida Mom’.

As I said at the start of this article the rhetorical question asked by one observer was probably the most poignant one of the day: “Why is there even a trial.”

But here’s an even better question I challenge the US media to ask: “Who is responsible for putting this innocent women through six years of hell and where are her missing children?”

Yvonne Ridley is a patron of Cageprisoners, the first human rights organization which highlighted the mystery disappearance of Dr Aafia Siddiqui in 2003 and has campaigned for her release ever since.

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