Dr. Siddiqui Testifies

[This guest blog by Mauri Saalakhan is an abridged version of his copyrighted essay “THE POWERFUL TESTIMONY  OF Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.”]

For years, Aafia Siddiqui – a daughter, a sister, a  mother of three, committed Muslim, social scientist, hafiz of Qur’an had suffered in virtual silence … aching to be heard, to  be understood, to have certain malicious untruths corrected and exposed for the  lies they were. The high courtroom drama of Thursday, January 28, 2010 revolved around the question of whether or not U.S. District Judge Richard  Berman would grant Aafia’s repeated demand to take the stand in her own defense. Aafia’s lawyers appeared to be animate in  their opposition to her taking the   stand, while the prosecution appeared (on the surface) to be in favor of Aafia being entitled to her  Fifth Amendment right.

Her brother (Muhammad) was apprehensive about her taking  the stand. Even Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, during a short visit  he was allowed with the defendant, reportedly advised Aafia to follow the  advice of her lawyers.

Aafia’s response to this collective concern  was that she would make istiqara (a  supplication to ALLAH Almighty for guidance on the matter); and in the end Aafia  Siddiqui would be  heard. While I understood the reservations of those  who were concerned about Aafia taking the stand (given all that she had already  been through), I knew that Aafia needed to be  heard, to have her day in  court.

The government’s support of Aafia taking the  stand was full of irony, given the fact that the government had repeatedly  argued (during pre-trial and trial proceedings) that Aafia should not even be  allowed to remain in the courtroom, because of her periodic outbursts and  “uncontrollable” nature (in their view).

Over a  12 day period while Aafia was at the Craig Field Hospital at Bagram for  critical care medical treatment, following her near fatal re-arrest in July  2008, two FBI agents had continuous access to the injured prisoner (a male and  female who did not identify themselves to Aafia as FBI personnel).

FBI Special Agent Angela Sercer was the first to testify. She spoke about how she  interrogated Aafia on a daily basis for the purpose of gathering “intelligence.”  She described how she sat with Aafia for an average of eight hours each day, and  of how they discussed the shooting incident and other related matters  (discussions she said Aafia would always initiate). Agent Sercer prepared  written reports, and disclosed during testimony that Aafia was never Mirandized  (i.e. informed of her rights to remain silent and  consult with an attorney  before questioning), nor did she have access to a Pakistani consular official.

The second agent to testify was FBI Special Agent Bruce Kamerman, who  had reportedly been assigned on 7/21/08. He claimed that Aafia made  numerous statements, that she seemed lucid and to not be in much pain. He  also insisted that there was never any coercion.  He testified that Aafia had no visitors, and that no Afghan staff attended to her. He also  claimed that  there were occasions when Aafia would declare that her children  were  dead, and other times when she stated they might be living with her  sister.

Following the testimony of the second agent, Aafia took the witness stand in the absence of the jury and after judge determined that she was capable enough to enjoy her  constitutional “right” to take the stand in her own defense, the jury was  brought back into the courtroom, and the spectacular courtroom drama was on.

Aafia testified that when she first realized  she was in a hospital she had tubes everywhere. She was in a narcotic state  resulting from the administration of powerful drugs (one or two she could  remember by  name, others she couldn’t).  She recalled how her hands and feet were  secured uncomfortably apart. She  said the agents never identified  themselves as FBI, except for a “Mr.  Hurley.”

Aafia accused Agent Bruce Kamerman of  subjecting her to “psychological torture.” She accused him of being immodest  whenever he was present and medical personnel needed to examine her, and  complained of how he  would stand right outside the bathroom door whenever she  needed to use  it. She testified that Kamerman would sometimes come in the middle  of the  night (when he wasn’ t supposed to  be there), and encourage the person  assigned to take a break.

Aafia said she  remained in a sleep deprived state as a result of his frequent presence. During this period she never had any contact  with family, nor  with any Pakistani authorities. She thought that [FBI Agent] “Angela was  just a nice person.”

During the cross examination Aafia spoke  about being “tortured in the secret prison,” and of how she kept asking about  her children. She insisted that she never opined that they might be with her  sister. (A former Bagram  and  Guantanamo prisoner Moazam Beg reported that a female  Pakistani national, known only as Prisoner 650 at Bagram who appeared to be in her 30s, had been torn away from her children and didn’t know where they were.)  Aafia also testified that she had multiple gunshot wounds in addition to a debilitating back condition (resulting from being thrown on the floor after she was shot), persistent  headaches, and an  intubation tube. She also emphasized that she was in and out of consciousness;  and, at times, mentally incoherent.

As Afia testified that after  completing her doctorate studies at Brandeis, she taught in a school, and that her interest  was in cultivating the capabilities of  dyslexic and other special needs  children, the  monstrous image that the government had carefully crafted (with considerable  support from  mainstream media) of this petite young woman began to be  effaced by one of a committed Muslimah, humanity-loving  nurturer and educator, gentle yet resolute mujahid for truth and justice began to  emerge with full force.

Testimony then proceeded to the events of  July 17-18, 2008. Aafia recalled being concerned about the  whereabouts of her  missing children. She also remembered a press conference in  an Afghan  compound, being tied down to a bed  until she  vigorously protested, and later untied and left behind a  curtain.  She  later heard American  and Afghan voices on the other side of the curtain,  and concluded that they  [Americans] wanted to return her to a “secret  prison” again. She pleaded with the Afghans not to let the Americans take her  away.

She testified about peaking through the  curtain into the part of the room where Afghans and Americans were talking, and  how when a startled  American soldier noticed her. He jumped up and yelled that  the prisoner  had gotten loose, and shot her in the stomach. She described how  she was  also shot in the side by a second person. She also described how after  falling back onto the bed in the room, she was violently thrown to the floor and   lost consciousness.

She testified that she was in and out of  consciousness, and vaguely recalled being placed on a stretcher, a helicopter,  and receiving a blood transfusion -– which she protested, drawing laughter in the  courtroom when she recounted how she had “threatened to sue” her medical  attendants if they  gave her a blood transfusion. During this testimony, Aafia  animatedly  rejected the allegation that she picked up a [M-4] rifle and fired it  (or that she even attempted to do  so).

The cross examination began with Aafia  revisiting the degrees that she received at MIT and Brandeis universities. She  acknowledged that she took  a required course in molecular biology; but emphasized that her work was  in cognitive  neuroscience. When questioned on whether she had ever done  any work with chemicals, her response was, “only when  required.”

This line of questioning was  significant for its prejudice producing potential in the minds of jurors. While Aafia is not being  charged with any terrorism conspiracy  counts, the threat of terrorism has been the pink elephant in the room  throughout this troubling case. The prosecutor attempted to draw a sinister  correlation between Aafia and her [then]  husband being questioned by the FBI in  2002, and leaving the U.S. a week later. Aafia noted that there wasn’t anything  sinister about the timing; they had already planned to make that trip home  before the FBI visit and she later returned  to the U.S. to attempt to find work in her  field.

One of the most heart-wrenching moments in  the cross-examination was  when Aafia described how she was briefly re-united  with a young boy in  Ghazni (July 2008) who could have been her oldest son. In a mental daze at that time, having seen none of  her children in five years, she could not definitively (then or now)  determine if that was indeed her son, Ahmed.

Aafia distanced herself from any incriminating documents that may have been in her bag on the day that she was re-detained saying the bag was given to her. She didn’t know what was in the bag, nor could she definitively determine if the handwriting on some of  the documents was hers or not. She also mentioned on a number of occasions (to  the chagrin of the prosecutor) how she was repeatedly tortured by her captors at  Bagram.

Aafia also elicited an approving reaction in  the courtroom when she opined, in reaction to the government’s narration of  events, she could not believe a soldier would be so irresponsible as to leave  his M4 rifle on the  floor unsecured. While rejecting  most of Kamerman’s testimony revisited by the  prosecutor, Aafia spoke highly of a number of nurses  (and a doctor) who took care of her at Bagram.  There was one nurse in particular that  Aafia promised to mention favorably if she ever wrote a book. She then produced  laughter in  the courtroom again when she stated, “Since I don’t think I’m going to write a book, I’m mentioning her now.”

One of the most powerful and revealing  moments in the testimony was  when she spoke about the people who systematically  abused her in the  “secret prison” – denouncing them as “fake Americans, not real  Americans.” (Because of the way  their actions both violated and damaged  America’s  image!) As her testimony repeatedly drew the ire of an  increasingly frustrated prosecutor, Aafia noted how she can now understand how  people can be framed (for crimes they are not guilty  of).

After a beak in the testimony which, IMHO, was to allow the prosecutor to regain her composure and consult with fellow  prosecutors for a more effective line of  attack, Aafia spoke of how she  was often forced-fed
information from one group of persons at the secret prison,  and then made to regurgitate the same information before a different group of  inquisitors. While it was presented to her as a type of “game,” she spoke of how  she would be “punished” if she got something  wrong.

I sincerely believe that Aafia  Siddiqui’s time spent on the witness stand on January 28th was a cathartic  experience for her –- but one that the prosecution, in retrospect, now deeply  regrets. For any truly objective and fair-minded person who witnessed that day’s  proceedings, the U.S Government’s case against Aafia Siddiqui was exposed for  what it always  was: a horrific and  profoundly tragic miscarriage of justice!

El-Hajj Mauri’  Saalakhan
The Peace & Justice Foundation

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