Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cry, Lady Liberty!

CRY, LADY LIBERTY! – Maryam Sakeenah

Shortly after the disappearance of young Dr. Afia Siddiqui and her three minor children from Karachi in 2003, the American news channel NBC reported that she had been arrested in Pakistan 'on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for Al Qaeda.' Both Pakistani and US intelligence agencies, however, have since sworn an oath of silence over the issue. Senior Pakistani ministers have denied knowledge of her whereabouts. The Pakistani authorities have, however, insisted that Dr. Siddiqui 'was connected to Al Qaeda,' and that 'you will be astonished to know about her activities.' No evidence of these suspicious activities, however, has ever been shown the light of day.

Lord Nazir Ahmed, British MP, raised the issue in the House of Lords, highlighting the rampant human rights abuse the prisoner was subjected to. He held that this woman prisoner from Pakistan was 'physically tortured and continuously raped by the officers at the prison, to the extent that she had lost her mind.' Soon after, on July 6, British journalist and revert to Islam Yvonne Ridley who authored the book 'In the Hands of the Taliban', appealed to the Pakistanis to secure her release. She said: Today I am crying out for help – not for me, but for a Pakistan woman who you and I have never met, but she is our sister in Islam and she is in desperate need. She has been held in isolation by the Americans in neighbouring Afghanistan. As you know I was also held in Afghanistan, in prison for 10 days at the hands of the Taliban in September 2001. My story made international headlines, front page pictures and major stories on television. I was released on humanitarian grounds without charge even though I was guilty of entering the country without a passport or visa.But there has been not one word, not one paragraph about Prisoner 650 – the Grey Lady of Bagram … a murderous detention facility under the control of the US Military and intelligence services. I call her the Grey Lady because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her."

Yvonne Ridley quoted from former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Beg who authored 'Enemy Combatant', in which he recounts: "I began to hear the chilling screams of a woman next door. My mind battled with questions I was too afraid to ask. What if it was… my wife? Eventually I did agree to say whatever they wanted me to say, to do whatever they wanted me to do. I had to finish it. I agreed to be their witness to whatever. At the end of it all, I asked them, "Why have you got a woman next door?" They told me there was no woman next door. But I was unconvinced. Those screams echoed through my worst nightmares for a long time. And I later learned in Guantánamo, from other prisoners, that they had heard the screams, too, and believed it was my wife. They had been praying for her deliverance." Other detainees from Bagram have attested to the same. In an interview on TV, a former Bagram detainee confirmed he had heard a woman's screams, and also that he had seen her. He told that the other prisoners in Bagram had gone on hunger strike for six days to pressurize those incharge to stop torturing the woman. Yvonne Ridley continued: "Today I am making a demand that the US military hands over the Grey Lady immediately. We do not know her identity, we do not know the state of her mind, we do not know the extent of the abuse or torture. What I do know is that this would never happen to a western woman – what is wrong with the US military? Don't they value a Muslim woman, is her life worthless, does she not deserve to be treated with respect? In truth I don't think any of us with a conscience can rest until she is released. Sadly, she is not the only one."

Weeks later, due to the overwhelming media attention on the issue, a frail, battered, badly wounded and immobilized Dr. Afia Siddiqui was produced in a US court. Her Lawyer Elizabeth Fink stated: "She is complaining of abdominal pain. She understands she lost part of her intestine, and suffers from continual intestinal bleeding. She has been here, judge, for one week and she has not seen a doctor, even though they (U.S. authorities) know she has been shot." In view of the fact that Dr. Siddiqui had a serious wound in her abdomen and stitches all the way up her torso, the judge ordered that she must immediately be seen by a doctor. The explanation offered for the enormous and untreated bullet wound in her abdomen was that she had been 'allegedly trying to fire on a group of U.S. troops who had come to question her in an Afghanistan prison.' How a woman who could not even move, let alone walk, talk or even lift a gun shoot straight at an armed security officer defies any explanation. Ridiculously, the U.S. prosecutor told the court in an effort to explain, that this was 'a complicated situation,' and because of her 'alleged attack on an American officer', the decrepit woman was considered a 'high-security risk.' The US authorities pull a straight blank regarding the whereabouts and condition of Dr. Siddiqui's three minor children. There have been conflicting statements about whether they are alive and if so, where. While the unforgivable brutality inflicted on 'Prisoner 650' has been shamelessly justified on the grounds of her 'suspected involvement with Al Qaeda', no amount of 'logical discourse' or 'legal argument' can ever attempt to justify how and why her baby and two toddler sons have been 'punished.' So much for America's commitment to fundamental Human Rights and basic justice.

And yet, there are those who would jump in defence of this naked viciousness and barbarism, those sitting on high seats in prestigious offices of the great and mighty empire of the United States of America. Ms. Anne Patterson, US ambassador to Pakistan writes: "Ms. Siddiqui is accused of seizing a weapon and firing_ unprovoked_ on US personnel during questioning… At no time was Ms. Siddiqui mistreated or abused in any manner whatsoever… The United States has no definitive knowledge as to the whereabouts of Ms. Siddiqui's children… She is charged in a criminal complaint filed in New York with one count of attempting to kill US officers and employees, and one count of assaulting US officers and employees. If convicted, she faces a sentence of 20 years in prison on each charge."

After 9/11, the United States granted exclusive powers to the Executive to detain suspected terrorists for indefinite periods, denying judicial review of evidence on the basis of which a suspect is detained. The appalling truth, however, is that despite years of detention, the investigating authorities have utterly failed to produce any tangible evidence about involvement in terrorism, except for a minuscule percentage. The evidence found, however, in most cases, only proved that a number of detainees were being held without having any past record of links to terrorism, on the basis of mere suspicion.

With the issuance of John Yoo's famous 'torture memos', certain methods of torture for interrogation of suspected terrorists were also licensed. These "torture memos," advocate enhanced interrogation techniques. They attempted to make these war tactics acquire legality by refuting the Geneva Conventions altogether, so that violating them was no longer required. The government has authorized coercive interrogation methods publicly for non US citizens detained outside the US. For this purpose, the State has sent foreign terror suspects to locations outside the US where coercive interrogation (even involving torture in most cases) can be carried out. The US government holds an undisclosed number of detainees (presumably over 2000) at undisclosed locations. The CIA and FBI as a matter of course hand suspects over to foreign intelligence services for intensive interrogation. One US official was reported to have said, "If you don't violate someone's human rights some of the time, you probably aren't doing your job."

In 2004, horrifying images from Abu Ghraib prisons in Iraq were released into the media showing humiliation and abuse of prisoners. Shortly after, similar information about widespread prison abuse at Bagram prisons in Afghanistan was revealed. It afforded a glimpse into the inhuman barbarity unleashed on suspects and detainees that had been going on unabated behind the scenes.

The fact remains, however, that the Geneva Conventions signed and ratified by the US prohibit torture of prisoners of war even if obtaining information can save lives. The evidence that torture has in fact been used in US prisons has steadily built up revulsion in the public mind regarding the USA's counter terror strategy and its unscrupulous conduct. President Bush, however, remained on denial amidst allegations of the use of torture: "The United States of America does not torture. And that's important for people around the world to understand."

Military lawyer Alberto J. Mora reported that policies allowing torture methods were officially handed down from the highest levels of the administration. ABC News reported on April 9, 2008 that "the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency."

According to the New York Times, "What happened at Abu Ghraib was no aberration, but part of a widespread pattern. It showed the tragic impact of the initial decision by Mr. Bush and his top advisers that they were not going to follow the Geneva Conventions, or indeed American law, for prisoners taken in antiterrorist operations. The investigative file on Bagram showed that the mistreatment of prisoners was routine: shackling them to the ceilings of their cells, depriving them of sleep, kicking and hitting them, sexually humiliating them and threatening them with guard dogs -- the very same behavior later repeated in Iraq."

Steven C Welsh writes: "Under the Geneva Convention it is the United States as a nation which must confront its responsibility for the actions of the men and women representing it in its prisons."

The horrendous exposition of unabated use of the vilest torture on detainees, the latest of which that has come to light is the nightmarish tale of Dr. Siddiqui has left ugly, deep scars reaffirming the image of the US as a state not befitting of its gigantic role in world politics. With leadership comes responsibility. Abu Ghraib, Bagram and the suffering of Afia Siddiqui has taught us that the 'saviours' are no better than the 'terrorists' they fight. The gaping black hole of moral depravity at the heart of the War on Terror stands exposed. Perhaps uglier still is the façade of a superior civilization that the US chooses to put up, and to which Ms. Anne Patterson chooses to play along: "The US justice system is based on the abiding principle that defendants are innocent until proven guilty… We would encourage you to remain open-minded but skeptical of sensational allegations that have no basis in fact." Ms. Patterson's 'blind spot' towards the utterly miserable physical, emotional and mental state of Dr. Siddiqui who is as of yet legally unconvicted is only too obvious.

Prominent writer Bob Herbert rejects attempts at 'making over' the ugly face of the U.S like Ann Paterson has chosen to do: "... There is also the grotesque and deeply shameful issue that will always be a part of America's legacy -- the manner in which American troops have treated prisoners under their control in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. There is no longer any doubt that large numbers of troops responsible for guarding and interrogating detainees somehow loosed their moorings to humanity, and began behaving as sadists, perverts and criminals."

Abdul Malik Mujahid, understanding the degeneracy of a civilization represented through the horrors at US 'anti-terrorist' detention camps in an Islamic context, laments the loss of what Islam calls 'haya' in the West. 'Haya' implies an inner sensibility creating a sense of aversion from what is evil, obscene and indecent. It is a retraining influence that keeps the distinction between right and wrong, not letting it blur into a mishmash of confused morality. The Prophet of Islam (SAW) called it the 'distinctive feature of Islam.' Mujahid comments: "The photos of American soldiers abusing prisoners have stunned and disgusted the world. While such images shocked America, most Americans may not be able to comprehend what type of cultural threshold has been crossed in terms of dealing with Islam and Muslims. In a culture that sometimes values life less than honor, we have done the ultimate act of dishonoring people. May God forgive us. There certainly is a big cultural gap in the way people in the West deal with modesty and privacy of the body, and the way individuals in the Muslim world do, regardless of their level of Islamic practice. This Islamic sensibility of considering the human body part of a very personal realm is connected to the concept of honor, dignity and privacy. This should explain the deep pain, shock and horror over the nightmare of physical abuse and perverted sadism that went on in Abu Ghraib, (and that has victimized Dr.Afia Siddiqui and others like her). Unlike what some in America lead us to believe, no one hates America in the Muslim world because of democracy and freedom. It is the immorality of America (championed by Hollywood), along with American foreign policy which defines the conflict between the Westernized elite and religious elements in Muslim societies. Graphic images of this criminal behavior by some members of the most organized and educated army of the only superpower in the world are bound to become the most dominant images of this new "Crusade" in the collective psyche of Muslims."