February 14, 2011http://counterpunch.com/brittain02142011.htmlA COUNTERPUNCH SPECIAL REPORTA New Turn as Lawyers Release Explosive, Secretly Recorded Tape
The Siddiqui Case
By VICTORIA BRITTAIN
In 2003 an MIT-educated expert in children’s learning patterns, Dr Aafia Siddiqui, disappeared with her three children in Pakistan. Was she, as the Americans said, an Al Qaeda operative who in 2008 emerged after five years undercover, carrying a handbag full of chemicals and plans for major terror attacks in the US, and then attempted to shoot US soldiers? Or was she, as her family, and most people in Pakistan have always maintained, seized by Pakistani agents for reasons unknown?
Now new evidence of the kidnapping of Dr Siddiqui prises open part of one of the most shocking of the myriad individual stories of injustice in the war on terror. It also underlines the recklessness and perfidy of a key United States’ partner in the war on terror, which carries its own threat of explosion.
Dr Siddiqui was sentenced in a New York court last year to 86 years for attempted murder of US soldiers in Afghanistan. Her mysterious five-year disappearance before that, her reappearance in Afghanistan in 2008, her subsequent trial in the US, and the confusion surrounding all these events, have made Dr Siddiqui’s a symbolic case in much of the Muslim world. Now a senior law enforcement officer has claimed to have been involved personally on the day she was seized, with her three children, by Pakistani police agents in Karachi in March 2003 and handed over to the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI.
The FBI put out a “wanted for questioning” alert for Dr Siddiqui just before she disappeared. She was later high on the US wanted list, with the US claiming that she was living undercover as an Al Qaeda agent. She was a "clear and present danger to the US", the then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in 2004. For all these years the Pakistani government repeatedly denied holding her, and after her arrest in Afghanistan in 2008 spent $2 million on US lawyers for her trial. After her conviction, the Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, committed himself to work for her return from a US prison. Dr Siddiqui had become, “the daughter of the nation” and the centre of a popular cause he could not afford to ignore.
The new evidence, on a secretly recorded audio tape, is a potential earthquake in the chronically unstable political situation in Pakistan, where rage against the US runs deep and wide, especially as civilian casualties mount with the use of drone aircraft. Already the case of Aafia Siddiqui has periodically brought tens of thousands of people out on the streets in the last two and a half years in protest at what has been done to her by the United States’ military and legal systems since she reemerged, in US custody and seriously wounded, in 2008. The Pakistani media have always claimed that the ISI was responsible for her disappearance and that the Americans were involved too. The tape reopens the whole question, not just of Dr Siddiqui, but of the corroding effect of the US alliance with Pakistan’s military and intelligence elite in a war on terror which has had so many Pakistani victims. The ISI has run its own agendas, hand in glove with various US officials at various periods, ever since the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and then becoming godfathers of various Afghan factions tearing that country apart. There are plenty of astute Pakistani journalists with the language skills to use this tape to the utmost to embarrass their own security services and the government.
For the US too there are questions to answer about the extensive cover-up of what happened to Dr Siddiqui and her three children - two of whom are US citizens, and appear to have spent five traumatized years separated from their mother and from each other, in various prisons. It is scarcely credible that high officials in the Bush and Obama administrations over the years were unaware of what their troublesome allies in Pakistan had done with her and her children.
On April 21 2003, a “senior U.S. law enforcement official” told Lisa Myers of NBC Nightly News that Siddiqui was in Pakistani custody. The same source retracted the statement the next day without explanation. “At the time,” Myers told Harpers Magazine, “we thought there was a possibility perhaps he’d spoken out of turn.”
According to the Associated Press, “[t]wo federal law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, initially said 31-year-old Aafia Siddiqui recently was taken into custody by Pakistani authorities.” But later, “the U.S. officials amended their earlier statements, saying new information from the Pakistani government made it ‘doubtful’ she was in custody.”
An FBI spokesperson also formally denied that the agency had any knowledge of Dr. Siddiqui’s whereabouts, stating that the FBI was not aware that she was in any nation’s custody.
Dr Siddiqui’s mother was visited by an unknown man a few hours after her disappearance and warned to keep her mouth shut if she ever wanted to see her daughter and grandchildren again. In 2003, in a closed hearing when the FBI had subpoenaed some documents from Dr Siddiqui’s sister, an FBI official confirmed to her family that she was alive and well, but would answer no questions on her whereabouts.
The new audio evidence was secretly taped in a social situation last year; children can be heard in the background. It was given, unsolicited, to one of the many lawyers involved in Dr Siddiqui’s case in the US. The source, whose identity has been protected, told lawyers at the International Justice Network that he had made the tape after a social evening when he had heard shocking things about Pakistani counter terrorism, about the fabrication of evidence, and about Dr Siddiqui’s disappearance, discussed casually by a senior official. He felt outraged and returned for a second evening with a recorder and got some of the previous discussion repeated. “If it can help anyone I had to do it,” he said to the IJN Executive Director Tina Foster who has represented Dr Siddiqui’s family since January 2010. IJN are experienced hands in war on terror cases. They represent a number of prisoners in Bagram air base prison in Afghanistan, some of them rendered from Abu Ghraib, Dubai and Thailand by the CIA, as well as several disappeared people in Pakistan.)
The witness is a Pakistani/American and he has been extensively interviewed by IJN’s lawyers who tell me they are entirely confident of the tape’s authenticity, the source’s account and thus the identity of the prime subject.
IJN’s source says he was introduced by a mutual friend whose home he was visiting, to a man he identified to lawyers at International Justice Network as Imran Shaukat, the Superintendent of Police for Sindh province.
A full report, and the four hour tape, in Urdu, Punjabi and English, is being released by the International Justice Network in the United States at 6am EDT Monday, and can be accessed here and, here with the permission of the witness. Portions of the tape concerning Dr Siddiqui were made available to this reporter and were independently translated for this article. As of midnight Sunday, EDT, this excerpt can be listened to here.
Mr Shaukat (who is voice 2 on the tape) says, “I am stationed in Karachi. I head the counter terrorism department for Sindh province.”
In the key passage in the tape for the Siddiqui case he is asked by:
Voice 1 (who is the witness) ”Did you arrest her?”
V 2. “Yes, I arrested her. She wore glasses and a veil….. When she was caught she was travelling to Islamabad….She was hobnobbing with clerics. …..
V 1 “ So what happened after the arrest. Did ISI ask for her custody?”
V 2 “Yes, we gave her to ISI”
V 1 “ISI or something else?”
V 2 “ISI, so we gave her to them.”
Mr Shaukat also describes her as “stick thin” and “a psycho”, and, elsewhere as “not a handler, a minor facilitator” – presumably for Al Qaeda - and he mentions a connection to Osama Bin Laden. Asked then why couldn’t she help them get Bin Laden, he replies, “Well, they are not fools. They wouldn’t inform her of their forwarding address.” And he says too about the children, “we took them with us. They were American nationals, children are American nationals, they were all born there.”
There is some discussion on the tape about the return of her daughter, Maryam. (Two unidentified voices are also heard.)
V1: Oh, another thing. They found her daughter yesterday.
V2: She’s home already.
V1: Yes, she’s home. She speaks English only. She was in the prison. She is seven or eight years old. And she only speaks English.
UM1: Eight years old?
V1: Yeah. Children were in prison and they spoke to them in American English.
UM1: Is she home?
V1: Yeah. They got her home.
V2: They were actually, I.
V2: It’s five or six months.
UM2: Is she in Karachi?
V1: She got home today, yesterday.
V2: Well, it goes back to before I came here.
V1: I read the news just yesterday, today. Maybe, in the night.
V2: It’s two or three-months old.
All that has been reported in the public domain to date is that Maryam was returned a day or two before the recording. But, according to the childrens’ lawyer, Tina Foster, Mr Shaukat’s description is consistent with how Maryam was repatriated to Pakistan.
Elsewhere in the tape Imran Shaukat talks about how the Pakistani police and ISI work to “disappear” or to use people they have taken into custody. According to Amina Masood Janjua at Defence for Human Rights, there are currently about 500 people who have disappeared in Pakistan as part of the “war on terror” – this does not include Sindhi and Balochi separatists. Part of the audio describes the doctoring or manufacturing of documents, creating false identities, using body doubles, with reference to various terrorist attacks, including Mumbai. “This is a game of double dealing, direct them right and exit left,” Mr Shaukat says at one point.
Such details are an explanation of the extraordinary litany of contradictory stories about Dr Siddiqui, including curious reported sightings by family members, that were launched into the public domain over the five years after her disappearance. In this John Le Carre world of ruthless manipulation of the vulnerable it is impossible to know how, or whether, she could have been used in counter terrorism’s goal at the time of finding Osama Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan.
From other sources it has been established that Dr Siddiqui was separated from her children for the five years of her ordeal, and that the two older children, born in 1996 and 1998, were not together, but in separate prisons, and that the third child, Suleman who was six months old on the day of the disappearance, probably died then.
For nearly eight years now, manufactured confusion has surrounded the disappearance and the subsequent whereabouts of Dr Siddiqui and her three children.
The confusion only deepened with the second section of the story, which was her mysterious reappearance in 2008 in Afghanistan, and the bizarre circumstances of her being seriously wounded by two shots to the stomach by a US soldier. John Kiriakou, a retired CIA officer with extensive background in Al Qaeda- related work told ABC News, “I don’t think we’ve captured anybody as important and as well connected as she since 2003. We knew that she had been planning, or at least involved in the planning of, a wide variety of different operations.” Such statements set the tone for the Western media on her return under arrest to the US.
Her subsequent trial in New York, ending with the 86 year sentence, is the third section, when, extraordinarily, Al Qaeda and terrorism were not made part of the case against her which was narrowly focussed on the alleged attempted murder incident.
Dr Siddiqui’s background was an unexceptional one of a highly educated young woman from a privileged, professional family, some of them settled in the US and most of them educated in the West. She spent a decade studying at universities in Texas, and at MIT - where she graduated in biology summa cum laude - and at Brandeis, where she took a PHD in cognitive neuroscience. She specialized in the science of how children learn, and in addition had a class teaching dyslexic children. Besides her academic work she lived a busy life in the Muslim community in Boston, attending cake sales and auctions to raise money for Muslim refugees in the Bosnian war. She was married to a doctor from Pakistan in a classic arranged ceremony conducted by phone. The couple had two children.
Life in Boston soured when her marriage began to break down. There are reports from her professors in Boston that they saw her with bruises on her face. And her husband, Dr Amjad Khan, told Harpers Magazine reporter Petra Bartosiewicz in 2008 that his wife had once had to go to hospital after he threw a bottle at her. There are photographs of her with a deep cut across her face. She returned home to Pakistan in late 2001. In a brief reconciliation back in the US a few months later she became pregnant with her third child. On August 15, 2002, after an incident in which witnesses claim that Dr Khan pushed him, Dr. Siddiqui’s father collapsed and died of a heart attack. A few days later, while Dr. Siddiqui was still pregnant with their youngest child, Suleman, Amjad Khan separated from her and immediately married again. Dr Khan gave custody of the children to Dr Siddiqui on condition they received an exclusively Islamic education
Dr Khan came under FBI suspicion in May 2002 for various items purchased by him on the internet when the couple were living in Boston. He said they were for big game hunting, and he was not arrested, but both he and his wife had come under suspicion.
In March, 2003, a global alert went out with both of them wanted for questioning by the FBI. A few weeks after Aafia Siddiqui disappeared, her husband had a four-hour interview with US and Pakistani agents, and US suspicions of Dr Khan were dropped. About two months later Dr Khan travelled to Saudi Arabia for some time.