On August 5, 2008, CHUP first reported about Dr. Afia Siddiqui, the Pakistani woman who, along with her three children, disappeared in early 2003. Many, including her family and several human rights groups, claim that Afia was actually Prisoner 650, a prisoner-of-war who was reportedly held without trial in a U.S. prison in Afghanistan. Despite the allegations that Siddiqui was held in U.S. custody, particularly after the FBI in 2004 described her as an “Al Qaeda operative and facilitator who posed a clear and present danger to America,” her whereabouts for the past five years were never confirmed. In July 2008, however, Afia allegedly “reappeared” when she attacked and shot a U.S. military officer in Afghanistan. Afia was then transported to New York, where she was charged with one count of attempting to kill U.S. officers and employees, and one count of assaulting U.S. officers and employees, with a maximum 20 years in prison on each charge, [no charges related to the terrorism allegations have been raised]. On September 4th, media outlets reported that she was indicted on those charges.
This week, news agencies provided further updates on Dr. Afia Siddiqui’s trial. BBC News on Tuesday reported that Afia “has been deemed by U.S. psychiatrists as mentally unfit to stand trial.” The news agency added, “They have concluded that Afia Siddiqui is unable to understand the nature and consequences of court proceedings and cannot assist properly in her defense…The evaluation was performed at a medical center in Fort Worth, Texas,” where she is currently in custody. On Wednesday, Judge Richard Berman affirmed to the federal court that the defendant was not competent to continue with the trial, emphasizing that her “course of treatment should continue.”
According to a Pakistani news agency, Afia’s lawyer, Elizabeth Fink, told the court that her client was “hallucinating” about her family, saying, “She [Afia] believes she lives with two of the children.” As we learned in September, Afghanistan’s government handed over custody of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s son Muhammad Ahmed to Pakistani authorities. Of her other two children, [that went missing in 2003], one is allegedly dead, while the other is still missing.
Meanwhile, the controversial case has stirred public concern and outrage in Pakistan. Her family insists that Afia is “innocent of any crime” and deny that she has connections to Al Qaeda. According to a Pakistani news agency, “A leading Pakistani human rights activist has reportedly filed a constitutional petition seeking intervention by the Sindh High Court (SHC) to ensure the release and safe return of Dr. Afia Siddiqui.” According to the Nation, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani also recently told the Parliament that he had conveyed to the U.S. Ambassador the Pakistan’s concern over Dr. Afia Siddiqui’s continuous detention in the U.S., demanding that she be sent back to Pakistan “immediately on medical grounds.”
It is a case marred by controversy, ambiguity, and human tragedy. Regardless of what Afia Siddiqui is guilty of, her disappearance, and more importantly, the disappearance of her three young children for five years are cause for concern and hold further ramifications for the deepening anti-U.S. sentiment in Pakistan.