It’s one of the weirdest stories you’ll find in the media.
On the one hand, we have the meek but highly educated Muslim American woman, busy with her life - her job as a neurologist, arranging playdates for her kids, volunteering at Muslim charities, and generally not making too many waves in her Boston surroundings.
Then there’s the charges of terrorism, consipiring to kill Americans, and the accusations of diamond smuggling for arms.
And then, there’s the name: the Grey Lady of Bagram.
A film plot following the life or should I say, the alleged lives, of Aafia Siddiqui would be discredited as too far fetched. But here’s the rough outline so far:
Aafia Siddiqui, US citizen, Boston based mother, neuroscientist and recently divorced, had returned to visit her family in Pakistan in 2003. She had recently re-married Ammar al-Baluchi, who was the nephew of Sheikh Mohammed, a member of Osama bib Laden’s al-Qaeda’s network who was captured and taken to Guantanamo Detention Centre.
In March 2003 Siddiqui decided to take her children to visit some relatives, and was last seen getting into a taxi. Her family didn’t hear from her again. Five years later, she re-surfaced in Afghanistan. She’d been named by Sheikh Mohammed, as a senior Al-Quaada agent. Mind you, that was after he’d been water-boarded 183 times in a month.
No one seems to have definite proof of what happened to her and her children in those blank five years, but there are reports from ex detainees at Bagram about a woman there whose nightly screams provided the backdrop for the nightmares of several of the prisoners.
And if all this isn’t wierd enough, we have the Afghanistan incident where she was behind a curtain in a room when some US interpreters and soldiers came in and inadvertantly left their gun on the ground. She apparently charged for it and attempted to shoot the Americans. They weren’t hurt, but she was shot. A Human Rights Commission report dated not long after this episde, has an eye witness account of her in a pathetic state - she’d lost a kidney, several teeth, her nose had been broken and reset and she was gaunt and thin. And it seems, deranged.
Meanwhile there are differing stories about the fate of her three missing children - Ahmed, Maryam and Sulieman. Ahmed emerged in Pakistan from Afghanistan in 2008 and was taken in by Aafia’s sister, Fauzia in Karachi. Later a young girl was deposited outside the sister’s house with DNA that apparently matched the boy’s making them a sibling match, so that’s possibly Maryam. But Aafiya’s uncle Dr Shams Hassan Faruqi doesn’t believe they’re really Aafiya’s kids. The third child who was only a baby at the time of the taxi abduction, would be eight now. And there’s little in the news, or even questions about his whereabouts.
According to Amina Janjua, director of the organization, Defence of Human Rights in Pakistan, the two older kids are most definitely Aafia’s. And she said that Ahmed, when he was being held in Afghanistan, was told by an American man that his baby brother Suleiman was dead. But Ms Janjua says that there’s no way of knowing if this is true - she believes that there’s a possibility that the child is still in custody of the Americans somewhere.
And here’s the cherry on the cake. Aafiya Siddiqui was tried by a New York court and sentenced to 86 years in prison. She hasn’t killed anyone, and according to her supporters, the evidence brought against her was flimsy and unverified. Pakistanis are outraged. Says Ms Janujua:
We as a nation feel hurt at this kind of thing happening – we’ve been called an ally of the US but I’ve noticed that countries don’t have friends, they have interest. If we are two friends, they should have released Aafia – they’re humiliating the whole Pakistani nation.
Whatever the truth of this case, I’m hoping that one day we’re going to get a really good novelist writing it up. Because I suspect, the real truth - or perhaps, the most plausible truth - can only emerge in fiction.