[This guest blog by Mauri Saalakhan is an abridged version of his copyrighted essay “THE POWERFUL TESTIMONYÂ OF Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.”]
For years, Aafia Siddiqui â€“ a daughter, a sister, aÂ mother of three, committed Muslim, social scientist, hafiz of Qurâ€™an had suffered in virtual silence â€¦ aching to be heard, toÂ be understood, to have certain malicious untruths corrected and exposed for theÂ lies they were. The high courtroom drama of Thursday, January 28, 2010 revolved around the question of whether or not U.S. District Judge RichardÂ Berman would grant Aafiaâ€™s repeated demand to take the stand in her own defense. Aafiaâ€™s lawyers appeared to be animate inÂ their opposition to her taking theÂ Â stand, while the prosecution appeared (on the surface) to be in favor of Aafia being entitled to herÂ Fifth Amendment right.
Her brother (Muhammad) was apprehensive about her takingÂ the stand. Even Pakistani Ambassador Hussain Haqqani, during a short visitÂ he was allowed with the defendant, reportedly advised Aafia to follow theÂ advice of her lawyers.
Aafiaâ€™s response to this collective concernÂ was that she would make istiqara (aÂ supplication to ALLAH Almighty for guidance on the matter); and in the end AafiaÂ Siddiqui would beÂ heard. While I understood the reservations of thoseÂ who were concerned about Aafia taking the stand (given all that she had alreadyÂ been through), I knew that Aafia needed to beÂ heard, to have her day inÂ court.
The governmentâ€™s support of Aafia taking theÂ stand was full of irony, given the fact that the government had repeatedlyÂ argued (during pre-trial and trial proceedings) that Aafia should not even beÂ allowed to remain in the courtroom, because of her periodic outbursts andÂ â€œuncontrollableâ€ nature (in their view).
Over aÂ 12 day period while Aafia was at the Craig Field Hospital at Bagram forÂ critical care medical treatment, following her near fatal re-arrest in JulyÂ 2008, two FBI agents had continuous access to the injured prisoner (a male andÂ 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 sheÂ interrogated Aafia on a daily basis for the purpose of gathering â€œintelligence.â€Â She described how she sat with Aafia for an average of eight hours each day, andÂ of how they discussed the shooting incident and other related mattersÂ (discussions she said Aafia would always initiate). Agent Sercer preparedÂ written reports, and disclosed during testimony that Aafia was never MirandizedÂ (i.e. informed of her rights to remain silent andÂ consult with an attorneyÂ before questioning), nor did she have access to a Pakistani consular official.
The second agent to testify was FBI Special Agent Bruce Kamerman, whoÂ had reportedly been assigned on 7/21/08. He claimed that Aafia madeÂ numerous statements, that she seemed lucid and to not be in much pain. HeÂ also insisted that there was never any coercion.Â He testified that Aafia had no visitors, and that no Afghan staff attended to her. He alsoÂ claimed thatÂ there were occasions when Aafia would declare that her childrenÂ wereÂ dead, and other times when she stated they might be living with herÂ 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 herÂ constitutional â€œrightâ€ to take the stand in her own defense, the jury wasÂ brought back into the courtroom, and the spectacular courtroom drama was on.
Aafia testified that when she first realizedÂ she was in a hospital she had tubes everywhere. She was in a narcotic stateÂ resulting from the administration of powerful drugs (one or two she couldÂ remember byÂ name, others she couldnâ€™t).Â She recalled how her hands and feet wereÂ secured uncomfortably apart. SheÂ said the agents never identifiedÂ themselves as FBI, except for a “Mr.Â Hurley.â€
Aafia accused Agent Bruce Kamerman ofÂ subjecting her to â€œpsychological torture.â€ She accused him of being immodestÂ whenever he was present and medical personnel needed to examine her, andÂ complained of how heÂ would stand right outside the bathroom door whenever sheÂ needed to useÂ it. She testified that Kamerman would sometimes come in the middleÂ of theÂ night (when he wasnâ€™ t supposed toÂ be there), and encourage the personÂ assigned to take a break.
Aafia said sheÂ remained in a sleep deprived state as a result of his frequent presence. During this period she never had any contactÂ with family, norÂ with any Pakistani authorities. She thought that [FBI Agent] â€œAngela wasÂ just a nice person.â€
During the cross examination Aafia spokeÂ about being â€œtortured in the secret prison,â€ and of how she kept asking aboutÂ her children. She insisted that she never opined that they might be with herÂ sister. (A former BagramÂ andÂ Guantanamo prisoner Moazam Beg reported that a femaleÂ Pakistani national, known only as Prisoner 650 at Bagram who appeared to be in her 30s, had been torn away from her children and didnâ€™t know where they were.)Â 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), persistentÂ headaches, and anÂ intubation tube. She also emphasized that she was in and out of consciousness;Â and, at times, mentally incoherent.
As Afia testified that afterÂ completing her doctorate studies at Brandeis, she taught in a school, and that her interestÂ was in cultivating the capabilities ofÂ dyslexic and other special needsÂ children, theÂ monstrous image that the government had carefully crafted (with considerableÂ support fromÂ mainstream media) of this petite young woman began to beÂ effaced by one of a committed Muslimah, humanity-lovingÂ nurturer and educator, gentle yet resolute mujahid for truth and justice began toÂ emerge with full force.
Testimony then proceeded to the events ofÂ July 17-18, 2008. Aafia recalled being concerned about theÂ whereabouts of herÂ missing children. She also remembered a press conference inÂ an AfghanÂ compound, being tied down to a bedÂ until sheÂ vigorously protested, and later untied and left behind aÂ curtain.Â SheÂ later heard AmericanÂ and Afghan voices on the other side of the curtain,Â and concluded that theyÂ [Americans] wanted to return her to a â€œsecretÂ prisonâ€ again. She pleaded with the Afghans not to let the Americans take herÂ away.
She testified about peaking through theÂ curtain into the part of the room where Afghans and Americans were talking, andÂ how when a startledÂ American soldier noticed her. He jumped up and yelled thatÂ the prisonerÂ had gotten loose, and shot her in the stomach. She described howÂ she wasÂ also shot in the side by a second person. She also described how afterÂ falling back onto the bed in the room, she was violently thrown to the floor andÂ Â lost consciousness.
She testified that she was in and out ofÂ consciousness, and vaguely recalled being placed on a stretcher, a helicopter,Â and receiving a blood transfusion -â€“ which she protested, drawing laughter in theÂ courtroom when she recounted how she had â€œthreatened to sueâ€ her medicalÂ attendants if theyÂ gave her a blood transfusion. During this testimony, AafiaÂ animatedlyÂ rejected the allegation that she picked up a [M-4] rifle and fired itÂ (or that she even attempted to doÂ so).
The cross examination began with AafiaÂ revisiting the degrees that she received at MIT and Brandeis universities. SheÂ acknowledged that she tookÂ a required course in molecular biology; but emphasized that her work wasÂ in cognitiveÂ neuroscience. When questioned on whether she had ever doneÂ any work with chemicals, her response was, â€œonly whenÂ required.â€
This line of questioning wasÂ significant for its prejudice producing potential in the minds of jurors. While Aafia is not beingÂ charged with any terrorism conspiracyÂ counts, the threat of terrorism has been the pink elephant in the roomÂ throughout this troubling case. The prosecutor attempted to draw a sinisterÂ correlation between Aafia and her [then]Â husband being questioned by the FBI inÂ 2002, and leaving the U.S. a week later. Aafia noted that there wasnâ€™t anythingÂ sinister about the timing; they had already planned to make that trip homeÂ before the FBI visit and she later returnedÂ to the U.S. to attempt to find work in herÂ field.
One of the most heart-wrenching moments inÂ the cross-examination wasÂ when Aafia described how she was briefly re-unitedÂ with a young boy inÂ Ghazni (July 2008) who could have been her oldest son. In a mental daze at that time, having seen none ofÂ her children in five years, she could not definitively (then or now)Â 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 didnâ€™t know what was in the bag, nor could she definitively determine if the handwriting on some ofÂ the documents was hers or not. She also mentioned on a number of occasions (toÂ the chagrin of the prosecutor) how she was repeatedly tortured by her captors atÂ Bagram.
Aafia also elicited an approving reaction inÂ the courtroom when she opined, in reaction to the governmentâ€™s narration ofÂ events, she could not believe a soldier would be so irresponsible as to leaveÂ his M4 rifle on theÂ floor unsecured. While rejectingÂ most of Kamerman’s testimony revisited by theÂ prosecutor, Aafia spoke highly of a number of nursesÂ (and a doctor) who took care of her at Bagram.Â There was one nurse in particular thatÂ Aafia promised to mention favorably if she ever wrote a book. She then producedÂ laughter inÂ the courtroom again when she stated, â€œSince I donâ€™t think Iâ€™m going to write a book, Iâ€™m mentioning her now.â€
One of the most powerful and revealingÂ moments in the testimony wasÂ when she spoke about the people who systematicallyÂ abused her in theÂ â€œsecret prisonâ€ â€“ denouncing them as â€œfake Americans, not realÂ Americans.â€ (Because of the wayÂ their actions both violated and damagedÂ Americaâ€™sÂ image!) As her testimony repeatedly drew the ire of anÂ increasingly frustrated prosecutor, Aafia noted how she can now understand howÂ people can be framed (for crimes they are not guiltyÂ of).
After a beak in the testimony which, IMHO, was to allow the prosecutor to regain her composure and consult with fellowÂ prosecutors for a more effective line ofÂ attack, Aafia spoke of how sheÂ was often forced-fed
information from one group of persons at the secret prison,Â and then made to regurgitate the same information before a different group ofÂ inquisitors. While it was presented to her as a type of â€œgame,â€ she spoke of howÂ she would be â€œpunishedâ€ if she got somethingÂ wrong.
I sincerely believe that AafiaÂ Siddiquiâ€™s time spent on the witness stand on January 28th was a catharticÂ experience for her â€“- but one that the prosecution, in retrospect, now deeplyÂ regrets. For any truly objective and fair-minded person who witnessed that dayâ€™sÂ proceedings, the U.S Governmentâ€™s case against Aafia Siddiqui was exposed forÂ what it alwaysÂ was: a horrific andÂ profoundly tragic miscarriage of justice!
El-Hajj Mauriâ€™Â Saalakhan
The Peace & Justice Foundation