As captured by El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan

(source: Muslim Matters.org)

Aafia Siddiqui – a daughter, a sister, a mother of three, committed  Muslim, social scientist, hafiz of Qur’an – needed to be heard. For years  she 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. That day finally came on Thursday, January 28, 2010!

The high drama of that day’s proceedings 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, leaning more in  favor of her following the advice of her lawyers. Even Pakistani  Ambassador Hussain Haqqani became involved. During a short visit he was  allowed with the defendant, he 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  fully supported our sister’s right to be heard, and was guardedly  optimistic about the potential outcome. More than anything, however, I  knew that Aafia – like two young Muslim men in an Atlanta courtroom, and  several young Muslim men in a New Jersey courtroom (who were eager, but  manipulated into not taking the stand in their own defense not long ago) –  needed to be heard! Aafia needed to have her day in court! The process began with a preliminary (test) examination, with Aafia  taking the witness stand in the absence of the jury – a kind of hearing  within a hearing – to see how she would respond to that type of intensive  and focused examination. After the 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 it was on. (And  what truly spectacular courtroom drama it turned out to be!) The following summary is based on my notes from January 28th Open court proceedings began late in the morning, due to a number of  procedural issues that needed to be addressed behind closed doors. Once  proceedings began, it did so with the judge explaining Aafia’s right, and  the possible risks, of her taking the stand. There was extensive  discussion about the course and extent of cross examination should Aafia  decide to testify. 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). The First Witness It was noted by the government that 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. According to Sercer, Aafia mostly enjoyed her discussions with this  special agent. Sercer maintained that she treated Aafia with respect and  did her best to respond to Aafia’s needs – i.e. when she requested food,  water, bathroom access, or when she requested a Qur’an and a scarf, or  when she would complain that the “soft restraints” were too tight and  needed to be loosened, etc. Between 7/19/-8/4/08, FBI agents were posted inside and outside Aafia’s  room 24 hours a day, ostensibly to insure that Aafia could not escape and  to provide security for hospital personnel – despite the “soft restraints”  which secured her hands and legs to the bed (in what Aafia later described  as very uncomfortable positions) during her stay at this field hospital in  Bagram. The second witness 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, a hearing within the trial  was held so that Aafia could give testimony (in the absence of the  jury). 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 “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. (I should note here that Aafia’s testimony was consistent with  information contained on an audio CD that we’ve produced on the case. On  the CD, former Bagram and Guantanamo prisoner Moazam Beg recounts how the  un-identified female prisoner at Bagram, known only as Prisoner 650, was  identified as a Pakistani national who appeared to be in her 30s, and as  someone who had been torn away from her children and who didn’t know where  they were.) Aafia also testified that she had multiple gunshot wounds; and that in  addition to the gunshot wounds she had 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. The video testimony of an Afghan security chief (by the name of Qadeer)  was received by the court. While I had to briefly leave the court, and  missed this testimony, it is my understanding that what Qadeer had to say  about events at the Afghan National Police station in Ghazni – leading up  to the shooting of Aafia – contradicted the testimony of a number of the  government’s main witnesses. Later in the afternoon, when Aafia testified in front of the jury, the  overflow courtroom (where I was seated) was full of observers. The  majority appeared to be non-Muslims in professional attire – a probable  mix of court and Justice Department personnel (including interns), law  students, and a few journalists. I would estimate that roughly a quarter  of the observers in this overflow courtroom were made up of solid Aafia  supporters – and yet the reaction to the testimony at times was both  interesting and edifying. When I returned to the courtroom (about 10 minutes into Aafia’s  testimony), she was describing her academic work leading up to the  achievement of her PhD at Brandeis University. She testified that after  completing her doctorate studies she taught in a school, and that her  interest was in cultivating the capabilities of dyslexic and other special  needs children. During this line of questioning, the monstrous image that the  government had carefully crafted (with considerable support from  mainstream media) of this petite young woman, had begun to be  deconstructed. The real Dr. Aafia Siddiqui – the committed muslimah, the  humanity-loving nurturer and educator, the 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  testified that she remembered being concerned about the whereabouts of her  missing children. She also remembered a press conference in an Afghan  compound. She testified about being tied down to a bed until she vigorously  protested, and was 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  testified about how she had 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 This is the time when every eye and every ear was riveted on the  proceedings. It was the moment that Aafia’s defense attorneys, her  brother, and a host of Muslim and non-Muslim supporters (seated within  both courtrooms) dreaded. It was also the point in the proceedings that  had the prosecution salivating for what opportunities would come there way  – or so they thought! 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 opening 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. To underscore this point, she noted how 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. She spoke of how  she was mentally in a daze at that time, and had not seen any of her  children in five years. As a result she could not definitively (than or  now) determine if that was indeed her son, Ahmed. When asked whether she had incriminating documents in her possession on  the day she was arrested, Aafia testified that the bag in her possession  on the day that she was re-detained 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. She was also questioned on whether she had taken a pistol course at a  firing range while a student in Boston. Her initial reaction was that she  did not have any recollection of taking such a course, and when pressed  further, answered “No.” When the prosecutor continued to press the issue  (infusing sinister motivations in the process), Aafia admonished the  prosecutor in the strong, clear voice that was heard throughout her  testimony: “You can’t build a case on hate; you should build it on  fact!” Aafia testified that all she was thinking about at the time of her  re-arrest in Ghazni, was “getting out of that room and not being sent back  to the secret prison.” While discussions were going on between the Afghans  and Americans, Aafia was searching for a way out. She repeated her  assertion that she startled one of the soldiers who hollered, “She’s free!  – before shooting her. 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. In response to government questioning she again took the opportunity to  strongly rebuke Agent Kamerman, while rejecting most of his 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!) She spoke again, under cross examination, about the strong pain  medication she was on, and some of the effects this medication had on  her. Aafia also mentioned how she was instructed to translate and copy  something from a book while she was secretly imprisoned. During the course  of this testimony which 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). At this point in the proceedings, the judge ordered a brief recess.  Clearly the government had thought that they would be able to control and  manipulate Aafia in manner that would work in their favor; this ended up  being a MAJOR MISCALCULATION. The purpose of this break in the  proceedings, in my humble opinion, was to allow the prosecutor to regain  her composure, and consult with fellow prosecutors for a more effective  line of attack. When testimony resumed, 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. On defense cross, Aafia was shown pictures and asked to identify  herself in them. She reluctantly did so, but with a little levity, citing  how unattractive and immodest the photos were. I could not see the photos from the overflow courtroom where I was  sitting, but I assume that these were the photos of an un-covered,  emaciated and emotionally disfigured Aafia Siddiqui – after her horrific  ordeal at the hands of American terrorists. A final note: 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! The struggle continues…