Editorial: A war and its innocent victims

Editorial: A war and its innocent victims
11 August 2008

THE case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, an award-winning Pakistani neuroscientist who grew up in the US and was a star student at top US universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at Boston, is perhaps the most bizarre in the US war on terror. Siddiqui, 32 at the time, went missing with her three children five years ago in Karachi as she was visiting her parents. And earlier this week she was presented in a New York court on charges of assaulting FBI officials in Afghanistan.

The US officials claim she was picked up in Ghazni last month with a bag full of “suspicious liquids in glass containers.” Subsequently, we are told, Siddiqui attacked a team of US soldiers and FBI officials with a rifle conveniently placed next to her at an Afghan police station. Also, Siddiqui got herself shot when she attacked the US officials. As cock-and-bull stories go, this doubtless takes the cake. The Afghan and US officials peddling this incredible yarn could have at least employed more imagination and ingenuity. How do they expect the world to buy this bunkum? If Dr. Siddiqui is indeed an Al-Qaeda terrorist and has links to the top leadership of the outfit, why wasn’t she presented before a court of law all these years? And where was she hiding or hidden for five years with her children while her family was desperately looking for her, pleading with the Pakistani authorities for her whereabouts? Why were her parents and the Pak authorities not informed of her detention? And how did she turn up in distant Ghazni province in Afghanistan while she was supposed to be visiting her parents in Karachi? Also, where are her three young children today? Have they joined Al-Qaeda ranks too? (Many fear, no doubt with some justification, that they too have been consigned to the big black hole called the Guantanamo Bay.)

There are so many holes in the case against Dr. Siddiqui that it cannot stand in any court of law, if the so-called due process and rule of law prevails, or are allowed to prevail. This is yet another instance of how, in their zeal to fight terror, the US authorities are undermining the ideals and values that once inspired America’s Founding Fathers. More important, they are trampling on everything that the world has come to view as sacrosanct, from the rule of law to human rights to a fair trial, as enshrined in the UN Human Rights Charter and Geneva Conventions.

If the US and Afghan authorities have betrayed a shockingly casual attitude to human rights and the rule of law in this case, the Pakistani authorities are guilty of not doing enough to protect vulnerable citizens like Dr. Siddiqui. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says Dr. Siddiqui’s case is only the tip of the iceberg. It argues there are hundreds of such people in the US detention in Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and the Guantanamo Bay. It is time to let them go.

Terrorists need to be fought and defeated. But the fight should be in such a way that it does not play into the hands of terrorists by confirming the worst things they say about their enemies in general and the West in particular.

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