How Dr Aafia Siddiqui lost her legal case – by Ardeshir Cowasjee

The national mindset is not given to looking before it leaps, to thinking or to cogitation. Emotions overtake the process of reasoning and the ubiquitous issue of national ‘honour’ and ‘pride’ often defies logic.

Dr Aafia Siddiqui, US citizen, is a case in point where the truth has got lost somewhere along the way and is now unfathomable. The government of Pakistan has blown $2m defending someone who knackered her own defence. Her ranting in court sealed her fate as far as the jury was concerned.

Her family and supporters, and the political parties of the religious right, used her case to attack government authorities at home and in Washington, but provided no evidence to absolve her.

They found a controversial ex-congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, an Iranian-born wannabe human rights advocate, Tina Monshipour Foster and Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who was converted to Islam by the Taliban, to support her case but none managed even one inch of sympathetic press coverage in US — and, what’s more, no major human rights organisation picked up the case.

Why were the international supporters of her case more intent on getting to Pakistan to register their protest than doing so in the States where Dr Siddiqui was imprisoned?

The verdict and sentencing passed by the US court may have been harsh but the comprehensive sentencing judgment goes a long way to explain the whys and wherefores. However, there are jurisdictional issues which need to be examined. For one, how does the US claim jurisdiction to try an alleged offence which did not take place within its territory? She was arrested by the Afghan National Police in Ghazni province in 2008 on charges of suspected terrorism.

The judgment makes a most illuminating read. The judge clearly states that he doesn’t realise why Dr Aafia was in Afghanistan, and we must all wonder, like him, as to what exactly she was doing there in the first place.

On her mental state, while saying that he believes that she is mentally fit to stand trial, he states that “this is most certainly a situation where the defendant’s political beliefs and perspectives blur the line between mental health issues and political advocacy” and “… while this court has found that she is competent, she is in fact suffering from mental illness and diminished capacity. And that has been supported by not only the psychologist we hired for the defence, but also her treating clinician….”

Sending someone like her to prison for a period of 86 years does not seem to be a balanced decision in any legal system. She has a right to appeal but so far has stated that she will not do so.

Such is life — the sane sit in our parliament cleared of their crimes and a mentally incapacitated woman is sentenced to 86 years in jail. Injustice is relatively easy to bear. It is justice that too often stings. And now, Aafia Siddiqui is being used by political parties and ‘civil society’ to vent the anti-American sentiments that are a must if one is to attempt to prove patriotism.

Source: Dawn, 03 Oct, 2010



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