Death sentence to Prisoner No. 650

September 30, 2017

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By Ayesha Zahid

Is there no hope left in her case? Dr Afia Siddique – A Muslim activist who spoke for the victims of Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia, herself became a victim after suspected terrorist activities. One of which points out at her funding activities including the Mercy International Relief Agency which was linked to 1998 US embassy bombings in east Africa.

After 9/11, on May 2002 she and her husband were noticed by the FBI on some unusual internet purchases including body armour and 45 military-style books like The Anarchist’s Arsenal. After few months she returned to Pakistan and separated from her husband. In 2003, she disappeared for five years. Initially it was presumed that Siddiqui had been picked up by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) spy agency at the behest of the CIA. The theory seemed to be confirmed by American media reports that Siddiqui’s name had been given up by Mohammed, the 9/11 instigator. Speculations were that she is in America’s custody or is dead along with her three children. During this time she was variously dubbed the “Mata Hari of al-Qaida” or the “Grey Lady of Bagram”, an iconic victim of American brutality.  But then there was another story and it told that in all this time she shifted between Quetta in Baluchistan province, Iran and the Karachi and was on run.

In July 2008, she appeared in Ghazni, Afghanistan. At the same time, British human-rights journalist Yvonne Ridley, and former Bagram detainee and British citizen Moazem Begg spoke explicitly about the ill treatment of Dr Afia in the Bagram detention center in Afghanistan as Prisoner 650. The allegations were that on July 18, this prisoner no. 650 shot at two FBI special agents, a U.S. Army warrant officer, an Army captain and military interpreters who unknowingly entered a room where she was being held unsecured at an Afghan facility. This entire incident that serves as the contradictory point for the pro and anti stance on Dr Afia has only two points of agreements that there was an incident and that as a consequence of it Dr Afia was shot. Afterwards it was the same lady who was in New York facing the seven counts of assault and attempted murder. The trial lasted for 2 weeks and the jury deliberated for 2 days before reaching a verdict. On February 3, 2010, she was convicted and found guilty on all counts. But this case has number of contradictions.

Supporters of Dr Afia believe that the proceedings were limited to the Ghazni incident which lacked concrete evidence. A woman merely 110 pounds was able to manipulate five men and shot at three with no injuries instead received bullets in her body. Fingerprints on the gun and gunshot residue are also doubtful. Interestingly the testimony of the government’s six eyewitnesses contradicted each other. The anti-Afia group says that if it would have been fabricated it would be the same testimony. But it’s a weird fact, if all of them went through the same scene then why their accounts differed? The statements Aafia made to FBI agent Angela Sercer were made whilst she was under 24 hour surveillance by FBI agents in the hospital at Bagram and these statements couldn’t be used in the court room as per the rule of law. Her disappearance and torture was ignored by not only the court but the international community. After several postponements, Aafia was finally sentenced to 86 years in prison, on 5 counts, on September 23rd 2010, making her eligible for release in 2094. She would be 122 years old by then, if she remains alive at that time.  Those against her portray her rebuttals during her trial as abnormal where she was found screaming against the unfair trial and was calling it all a mere conspiracy. She wanted to boycott it but was silenced later on.

Not only the Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948 and but also numerous other treaties and United Nations (UN) resolutions such as UN Convention against Torture (CAT) 1975, United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 37/194 of 1982 for Principles of Medical Ethics, UNGA Resolution 43/173 of 1988 and UNGA Resolution 3452 (XXX) are there to rid prisoners of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. All of the offences in her case were in violation of the law as laid down in Title 18 United States Code (USC) sections 111 and 1114.

Reports of her rape and torture disregard the Convention against Torture (CAT). Article 3 of CAT places a prohibition on states to extradite or transfer a person to another state where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to torture. The mental and physical condition of Dr Aafia was evidence of the fact that she was tortured to an utmost extreme by the US officials, which is, again, in violation of CAT. In addition, she was not provided with proper medical treatment that is certainly a derogation of the UNGA Resolution 37/194.

Dr Aafia was not given the right to be heard by any judicial or other relevant authority before being dragged to the US and neither was she assisted by any counsel at the time of arrest. Furthermore, no information was given to the counsel about the time, place of custody, and law enforcement officials. More so, communication with the outside world, her family and counsel was denied. Her family and counsel were not informed about her transfer and whereabouts

There were number of options but surprisingly none of them was exploited. The system of the separation of powers under the US constitution made it tough to resolve the issue by bilateral relations but it was not an excuse to leave a Pakistani victim at the mercy of US torture. US president could grant her pardon. During Obama’s government people were hopeful and expected Pakistani government to make a move before the government changes and someone like Trump steps into the office.

She can still be transferred to Pakistan to complete hers sentence. Transfer of Offenders Ordinance 2002 can allow exchange of the prisoners and it can be done with the bilateral relations between the two countries. US ambassador to Pakistan said on 2013 that “The United States and Pakistan do not have and are not negotiating a bilateral prisoner exchange agreement.” Later in August 2013, Pakistan  approved signing of the exchange of prisoners’ treaty with the United States and Europe that will enable Islamabad to seek repatriation of Pakistani citizens imprisoned in the United States. The power to transfer an offender exists in US law under Title 18, Part III, Chapter 306, and Section 4100 of the US Code, which states “an offender may be transferred from the United States pursuant to this chapter only to a country of which the offender is a citizen or national”. Pakistan government needs to pay little more heed to this case to provide justice to all the parties involved.