2. Prisoner 650: A MIT grad, Al-Qaeda Lady or a Human?
(Part of Collection: Stories That Need To be Lived: Because We Live a Single Life)
This story is inspired by the real life imprisonment of Dr Aafia Siddiqui formerly held in Bagram Detention facility and after being prosecuted for susceptible charges of attempted murder, imprisoned for 86 years in Fort Worth Federal prison in Texas.
What is surprising enough for me as an English Literature majors’ student is to accept the black and white story about Siddiqui. Siddiqui, who has been on FBI Most Wanted List back in the early 2000s, had been arrested without warrant and detained without trial in Bagram Detention Facility in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2008. While some deny that Aafia had never been detained in Bagram, there are credible sources, on the other hand that testify about the inhuman treatment of prisoner 650 themselves such as the British journalist turned Muslim campaigner, Yvonne Ridley and Binyam Mohamed, a former Dark Prison, Bagram Detention Facility and Guantanamo Bay Prisoner in an interview to Moazzam Begg, a former prisoner and spokesperson of Cageprisoners, a British human rights group, after Mohamed’s release. And then there are some sources that justify Aafia’s imprisonment, on grounds that she carried information about how to make chemical weapons and planned to carry out suspected mass bombings in New York. I mean, anyone and everyone in today’s time, with access to internet, can be vulnerable to knowledge more than one should know…so does this vulnerability make each one of us an extremist, a radical or a terrorist? Then, some also argue that Siddiqui’s arrest is justified because her name has been suggested by Khaled Sheikh Mohammad, the 9/11 mastermind and nephew of Ammar al-Baluchi who is popularly known to be the second husband of Siddiqui while Siddiqui’s family deny her second marriage with Baluchi. So, it means we have the right to arrest someone and transplant that who in a horror some place, just because Mohammad suggested so…I mean can we really trust a terrorist such as Mohammad more than the victim or the credible evidence itself? And there is a list of debatable allegations hurled on Siddiqui, that need to be debated but are rather taken as one and binding.
I am neither a defendant nor a plaintiff for Siddiqui. For me, Siddiqui is as much accused on basis of the alleged allegations as much she is wrongly accused on the absence of credible evidence. Before writing this blog, I did quite a lot of secondary research (the secondary articles I went through, the links to which are posted at the end of the article) on Siddiqui, looking at both sides. But then there are questions that still seemed to be unresolved, at least to me.
‘Is it legally and morally justified to summon 86 years’ imprisonment on a woman, who is believed to be as fragile as to cause harm, let alone be involved in a minor controversy as the attempt to murder two American officers in an Afghan police station?’ Aren’t there many of those convicted out there, who have yet to be convicted for some of the horrendous human crimes they have convicted such as murder, mass terrorism and so on?
Secondly, as Evan Kohlman, an international terrorism consultant with Flashpoint Global Partners, a private security firm, points out, “She does not fit into any of the stereotypes of an extremist. Was she radicalized by sociopolitical factors or something more personal? What was it?” As Sally Jacobs in her article ‘The woman ISIS wanted back,’ for Boston Globe explains how Siddiqui might have been partly radicalized by what seems to be an impassionate understanding to be a Muslim woman, as a woman who wears a hijab, gives impassionate speeches to students during her time at Houston and who used to be particularly affected by graphic ‘videos of pregnant Bosnian women being killed.’ Given this explanation, we all should be largely desensitized rather than campaigning for solidarity with the refugees or the Jews innocently killed in Holocaust… if showing sympathy is radically taken to be a crime too?
And most importantly, the question lies that does Siddiqui has her very own humanly and individual right to defend her very ownself? Or is her right to speak for herself, lost to the authoritative judgement passed against her, by a legal justice institution in Manhattan, in a country, defined by its own legality? This is primarily why I have decided to pen down a fictional account of what it would be like if the suppressed Siddiqui would be given a chance to defend herself and sincerely hope, that one day this story could reach out to the concerned authorities, both in USA and Pakistan.
As readers, you have all right to disagree with my perspective on Siddiqui’s case (which is why I would be eagerly awaiting your comments on this), but also, it is largely difficult to accept what is actually ‘real,’ in the postmodern world we live in, isn’t it?
Happy Reading folks!
Two days ago, I had the hearing. Nothing miraculous happened or maybe nothing miraculous is ever bound to happen, atleast in my case. And so, I am imprisoned for an added 86 years in this box. The defense lawyer for my case reassured me saying, ‘Its only 86 years Aafia, not life imprisonment. Time shall pass.’ Looking at him, I was dumbfounded. I am sure that I was quite angry on him but instead of acting gross, I remained silent. I don’t why. Perhaps, this is one of the results of learned helplessness with my time spent here. However, my defense lawyer was indeed true on one part. Time will pass, yes it has indeed passed. And with the passing of time, I have learned a lot about the meaning of life. Also, with time, I have developed a conditioned bonding with this box.
When I was first brought into this box, I had no idea as to how and why I was brought here. It was like within the blink of an eye, I was taken off from my home in my country, Pakistan to an unknown soil and premise. But yes, with time, I learned about this unknown premise. This unknown premise was popularly called as Afghanistan’s Guantanamo where detainees were imprisoned in boxes. The constables, in charge of this premise liked to call the detainees here as prisoner with numbers. And so, according to them, I was prisoner 650. But for me, I was just a detainee, detained for baseless charges. Here, we were all supposed to dress in orange, from head to toe. Aside from this, whatever rest we did, was set to a minimal standard. For instance, we were not allowed to read and write or talk to each other than the ‘prescribed hours,’ where we had the privilege of giving some mental and physical exercise to our tired brain. We were not allowed to walk within this six by six box. We were not allowed to sleep either. All that we were supposed to do, was to sit and look straight, straight out into the haze in our lives. We were not even supposed to slip into eye contact with either the other detainees or the constables. And to shout out our horror when one of us, would be brutally raped, shot or hit. Especially, when demanded for an answer, we had to make sure that our heads are lowered towards the ground while we talked to the constables. Once, a detainee decided to bend the rules for himself and turned around to talk to one of his friends, in the adjoining box. Immediately, both of them got hold of the constable’s attention and were beaten severely until they bled with red streams running right from the top to below. Nevertheless, both of them were left to heal by their very own selves. Not only because these two detainees were enduring enough of the red every now and then, but they had the choice of having no choice than to be victimized and yet emerge as survivors? And then, there was another time, when I was abused. Physically abused, mentally tormented and sexually harassed…I felt that I could never have the courage again to anything. You know why? Because, I felt disgusted. Disgusted to what had just happened with me, which had left me devastated and left me abandoned of my dignity. It all began, when I refused to comply to the constables and to stop the recitation of the Quran. He warned me once, twice, thrice but I was adamant and kept on reading. What else could I have done, any way? I was in low spirits and wanted some religious motivation to keep myself steadfast in the face of the time. And so, the bastard banged into my box, and flunged himself on me. And twisted and twirled while I moaned and asked for help and mercy…but no one came to my help. What help can you expect from humans either way? Finally, he snatched the copy of the Holy Book and flushed it into the commode, adding in ‘So Aafia, how are you going to ask help from your God, now that you don’t have the book anymore with you?’ And then he left. Left me in tears, left me cynical towards my very own self and my life. And it was this very same time, I realized how helpless a woman is in the face of the men. Raised up in a family where my parents always preached the doctrine of equality between me and my brother, I had thought that the society we cohabitate in, is just as equal when it comes to the distinction between women and men. Men and women can co-exist and look upto each other for support. But I was extremely wrong in how equitable I had conceived the modern society to be…extremely wrong.
And, in the next couple of months, I stayed in the box. Just in this six by six box. It was around this time, I started to develop a conditional bonding with the box. The more I looked around the box, the more I was able to contemplate my initial impressions of this box. The physical details remained the same though…they didn’t change much. This box still ‘looked like a box, nothing more or less.’ Being a square shaped box, the walls inside this box were painted dull grey while the floor was of concrete. Towards the right corner, was a small commode dangling out its nakedness. Whereas, towards the other end, was a small mattress with a cotton pillow laid upon the floor. And so, this box is just as plain as my life is now. However, the only source of comfort, that kept my sanity in check, was the small box on one of the walls of this large box. It was from this small box, gleams of sunlight would seem into and was a source of warmth and hope for me. It was this box, that I could glance out into the clear blue skies and wonder about the birds, taking their flight. Within time, I developed an uncanny association with these birds. I didn’t know them before nor did these birds know me. I couldn’t communicate with these birds nor could they communicate with me. They couldn’t hear or feel my moaning and sense of longing to be free from the unfair allegations. But then, I could symbolize myself in the image of these birds. In many aspects, both I and these birds were similar. Both of us were wanderers in a land unknown. Both of us couldn’t speak out our innocence in language, comprehensible to these humans. And above all, both of us were symbols of love and peace who wanted to enlighten the far off corners of Earth with education and intellect. The only thing, which made me largely different to these birds was my imprisonment. I was imprisoned, locked, restricted and caged while these birds were free, free to do anything, free to fly off from this grey world. Oh! How I wish…sometimes, I was a bird instead. Atleast, I wouldn’t be subject to manned conventions. How I wish…it to be true sometimes.
By now, I have realized my learned helplessness. I have realized how helpless I am…with my freedom restricted within this box. Never have I been as cynical towards my life as I am now. When I was being educated, I was told that I had the right to choose my career and so I chose to become a microbiologist who graduated from MIT. But has this made me free in the sense of freedom I own as an individual? Rather it has made me barred in this box. Where are all those ideals I was educated with, in that free society? Infact, these ideals about freedom exist no more than on paper and in speech…infact all these ideals are nothing but a disillusion. And as the clock ticks on, as each new day dawns and wanes its glory, I have realized the daunting reality that my life is and will be in this box, for the rest of my life. No matter how much I complain or moan or grumble, my life would still be the same. This is why; I have come to terms with my life. I have no regrets, no expectations, no hopes whatsoever…what’s the point of expecting from humans, anyway? All that I expect is from my God to reward me for my patience in my afterlife. And I hope that one day, perhaps, these birds could testify my innocence and speak of my misery in this box…perhaps someday these birds could tell the authorities out there in both countries how wrongly they have accused me of a crime and an allegation unknown to me. Perhaps someday…I hope.