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Protests Gather Steam For The Release Of MIT-educated Neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui

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By Nadia B. Ahmad

On October 8, protesters in Karachi brought traffic to a standstill in parts of District South in marching from the Karachi Press Club to the U.S. Consulate.  Political leaders and social activists addressed a growing crowd, including Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s sister Fauzia Siddiqui, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MPA Saeed Afridi, Pasban leader Altaf Shakoor, retired Justice Wajihuddin Ahmad, Jamaat-e-Islami former MPA Younas Barai, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Organisation Restoration Committee chief Dr. Farooq Sattar, the Pak Sarzameen Party’s Shamshad Siddiqui and the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Faz’s Aslam Ghouri.

The Karachi mobilization follows successful protests in Texas at Pakistan’s Houston Consulate and the Forth Worth prison. In October 2021, mobilizations in support of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui hit the road again with New York City on October 20, Boston on October 23, and Washington, D.C. on October 27. 

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The Dallas mobilization resulted in her release from solitary confinement. Since August 2021, such mobilizations have picked up steam demanding the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who maintains she is innocent of charges that she tried to kill U.S. military officers while in custody in Afghanistan. In 2010, Siddiqui was convicted in federal court in New York and is now serving her 86 year sentence at FMC Carswell in Texas.

Over 200 protestors gathered at the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, in September 2021 following another lively rally at the Pakistan Consulate in Houston. 

Imam Omar Suleiman addresses the crowd of protestors in FMC Carswell.

The controversy, which has dragged on for almost two decades, casts the long shadow of the global war on terror over Muslims at home and abroad. Caught in the underworld of military intelligence between the United States and Pakistan, Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians have been subjected to torture and imprisonment without dues process based on secret evidence. 

The Dallas protest was part of a five-city mobilization to raise awareness of the plight of Dr. Sidddiqui and others wrongfully incarcerated stemming from the War on Terror. 

Writer and activist Mauri’ Saalakhan, who serves as the President of Aafia Foundation, became involved in Dr. Aafia’s case in 2009, which was one year after she was brought back to the United States, clinging to life. 

“If an injustice of this nature could be committed against someone like Aafia without challenge, none of us are safe,” Saalakhan said. 

The series of events that led to the disappearance, capture, and sentencing of MIT-trained Dr. Siddiqui, draw attention to the fumbling efforts of American and Pakistani counterintelligence to target Muslims who oppose U.S. imperial ambitions and support jihadist causes. Dr. Siddiqui was swept up in the wide terrorist dragnet in the aftermath of 9/11’s U.S. War on Terror. Rumors have swirled that Dr. Siddiqui was turned over to the United States for a hefty bounty. Government agencies, including the CIA, have refused to properly respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to those familiar with the case.

Bounties have been offered in the past. Other military detainees testified in military tribunals that they were sold to the U.S. military for bounties ranging from $5,000 to $35,000. The Associated Press obtained the military tribunal transcripts through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.  

Aafia was not sentenced in connection to any terrorist-related offenses. Instead, she was convicted of an incident that allegedly occurred during her capture in Afghanistan. Eyewitness testimony and ballistic evidence were inconclusive in her case. Because of her disturbed mental state, she was not able to assist properly in her original trial.

Now Aafia’s supporters demand either compassionate release by the U.S. government or repatriation back to Pakistan, but the government in Islamabad, which is mired in economic strife, has failed to prioritize the case to take action through diplomatic channels. Yet as more Americans are recognizing the horrors of CIA secret sites and U.S. military prisons overseas, especially around the twenty-year anniversary of America’s War on Terror, momentum for the release and repatriation of Dr. Siddiqui are picking up steam. A new generation of American activists is organizing and demanding or her release despite the bureaucratic wrangling of diplomatic officials in the U.S. and the lack of concern by American officials. 

Dr. Ashraf Abbasi, who attended the Dallas mobilization said, “I felt overwhelmed and grateful to see that it was not just me, but hundreds of other conscientious, peace and justice lovers at the protest gave more strength to my stance and conviction.”

“Dr. Aafia’s case is well documented and internationally known as the worse miscarriage of justice in the U.S. judicial system,” he added.

Former U.S, Attorney General Ramsey Clark’ once described Dr. Siddiqui’s case as “the worst case of individual injustice” he had ever seen.

In 2003, reports indicate that Dr. Siddiqui was kidnapped by Pakistani police as she was on her way to the airport in Karachi to visit her uncle in Islamabad. Evidence suggests she was handed over to the U.S. military. Rumors have swirled that she was offered to the Americans in exchange for a bounty. Yet all of these claims remain officially unsubstantiated without admissions from the U.S. military and intelligence services. 

Researcher Caron Gentry wrote about this mysterious case, providing background facts, but noting gaps remain as to her actual whereabouts for five years whether she was in U.S. military custody or on the run with three children for five years.  Dr. Siddiqui came to the United States in 1990 and earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Ph.D. from Brandeis. In 2003, she left with her family for Pakistan under suspicious circumstances. Eventually, John Ashcroft named her as a wanted woman for her suspected involvement with al Qaeda. Much of the narratives that surround Dr. Siddiqui’s involvement in al Qaeda, created by the US government, media, her family, and her supporters, are based on the intersection of gender and neoOrientalism. These narratives situated her as an innocent Soccer Mom, the nefarious Lady al Qaeda, or the mentally confused Grey Lady of Bagram. 

Investigative reporting and eyewitness testimony of other prisoners in secret U.S. military prisons suggests she was held in a secret military prison during the time of her disappearance. 

Activist Faiz Ahmed has been following the case for a number of years and watching the broadcasts that Mauri Saalakhan posts about the case on Facebook. He said he noticed a shift in the public paradigm, not only around the case but the way that the American public responds to Muslim concerns. 

“There is a new generation of Muslims who suffered under the War on Terror and are less servile. There is also a new generation of Americans who have seen law enforcement agencies doing horrific things to powerless people, just because they can get away with it.” Ahmed added. 

Protests are planned in New York, Boston, and Washington D.C.

A new surge of activism takes root at FMC Carswell calling for the release of Aafia Siddiqui.

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