Aafia transfer only after sentencing, says US

(APP) The US government will act on Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s letter requesting the repatriation of Aafia Siddiqui on humanitarian grounds only after she has been sentenced by a New York Judge, according to official sources.Under US law Aafia Siddiqui has already been found guilty by a jury and now her punishment has been awarded by a judge. Efforts by the Pakistani embassy in Washington to get Aafia repatriated have been thwarted by her family and supporters from various religious political groups who refused to advance her case by providing evidence of her innocence and instead focused on political agitation in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, has also taken a keen interest in the Afia Siddiqui case given its political importance at home, sources say. He had two meetings with the Bush administration’s Attorney General and has made President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder at least four times to discuss the case. The US government has been unusually considerate in allowing these meetings, American officials point out, as it is not usually US policy to let foreign ambassadors get involved in cases pending before its courts.

Senior diplomats from the Pakistani embassy in Washington have been following Aafia Siddiqui’s case since the beginning. On the insistence of her brother Mohammed Ali Siddiqui, an expensive team of lawyers was hired to defend her in court with special approval from Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. It was unusual for the Pakistan government to pay top human rights lawyers, who had successfully defended other Al-Qaeda linked  prisoners in the past, to defend a single Pakistani citizen who was not arrested while in service.

Later, Aafia and her family turned against the lawyers and Aafia told the court that she would not have an American lawyer represent her just like all Al-Qaeda linked defendants have done in US courts so far.

Aafia Sidiqui hurt her case in court by publicly speaking against Jews and America and also by giving evidence that proved she had learnt how to use guns while studying in Boston. In meetings with officials, she offered to mediate between US and the Taliban leader Mullah Omar leading Americans to conclude that her family’s claim about her having no connection to Jihadi groups was not correct.

Since the beginning, Haqqani and other diplomats argued, supported by officials in Islamabad, that the best way to get Aafia released is to prove her innocence. At least two dozen letters and cipher telegrams were sent from the embassy in Washington, in addition to almost daily telephone conversations with Aafia’s mother, in which material evidence was sought to prove that Aafia was not arrested from Ghazni, Afghanistan as the US government says but had been in some secret detention facility as is generally claimed by her supporters in Pakistan.

Instead of helping provide the evidence that could have secured her freedom, Aafia’s family joined up with various religious groups opposed to the government. At press conferences around the country at different times, the family and its supporters levelled allegations against Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Ambassador Haqqani. No one in the Pakistani government or in the embassy in Washington has anything to gain from keeping Afia in prison, one official pointed out. The problem was that Aafia’s family and politically motivated supporters believed pressure on Pakistan government and officials considered close to US would somehow lead to the Americans dropping the case against Aafia. This was a big error.

After Aafia was found guilty, primarily because of her insistence against her lawyers’ advice on appearing as a witness, the embassy in Washington requested that her family members come to the US to provide evidence before the court about her character and personality. None of the family members was willing to do so.  Several personalities, like British journalist Yvonne Ridley and US lawyer Tina Foster have issued statements in Pakistani media but none of them provided crucial evidence that could have secured Aafia’s release.

US Attorney General Holder had told the Pakistani ambassador that if there is any evidence that Aafia had been grabbed from a Karachi street and kept in illegal confinement for five years then some evidence should be presented to prove that claim. The US attorney general said US government would withdraw the case against Aafia if evidence was presented, even if only through government to government channel. Request by the Pakistani embassy in Washington to provide this evidence met with silence and Aafia’s family and supporters insisted that Pakistan threaten to break off diplomatic relations with US or cut off NATO supplies to get Aafia released.
Although many statements and speeches have been made in Pakistan making the claim that she was taken from Karachi and detained illegally, none of Aafia’s supporters in Pakistan or outside have made any effort to provide evidence about Aafia’s alleged illegal detention from 2003-2008 that could have secured her release before sentencing.

Now, the only possibility for Aafia Siddiqui is to be transferred to Pakistan under a Prisoner Transfer Treaty for which Interior Minister Rehman Malik has made personal request to the US Attorney General.

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