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Terrorism & Security

Terror suspect's court appearance raises questions about U.S. military conduct

The US military has rejected claims that Pakistani doctor Aafia Siddiqui, who has been missing for the past five years, was being illegally detained and tortured.

By Liam Stack / August 14, 2008



Aafia Siddiqui, whose face once stared down from posters claiming that she was "the most wanted woman in the world," appeared before a United States court in Brooklyn, New York, last week on charges of attempting to murder American servicemen in an Afghanistan shooting incident. But her first court appearance has raised disturbing questions about her treatment and the conduct of the war on terror, with lawyers claiming the Pakistani neuroscientist was secretly arrested five years ago, tortured by Afghan and US officials, and framed for crimes she did not commit.

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The charges are the latest wrinkle in a case that has pitted the governments of the US, Afghanistan, and Pakistan against Ms. Siddiqui's family and lawyers as well as international human rights groups.

Agence France-Presse reports that the US military has rejected claims that Siddiqui was being held in military detention during the five years she was missing.

Siddiqui, 36, was arrested in the central town of Ghazni on July 17 by Afghan police who said they believed she had been planning a suicide attack.
She has been described by US officials as a "treasure trove" of information on Al-Qaeda.
Her arrest was the first time in five years she had been seen publicly and her family and lawyers allege she had been held captive since disappearing in Pakistan in 2003 – possibly in a secret US or allied prison.
The US military based at Bagram, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of Kabul, said Siddiqui had only been to the base for military treatment for gunshot wounds after her arrest, and not before that.
"She has never been held in US military custody," spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Rumi Nielson-Green told AFP.

But outside observers have begun to doubt the credibility of the US military's claims. Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director for Amnesty International, called the government's account "extraordinary" in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

"It seems extraordinary to imagine that four U.S. agents who'd gone to pick her up — two military, two FBI — along with at least two Afghan translators, were somehow surprised by this woman, who overpowered them, grabbed a gun, flipped the safety, fired off a couple of shots, and then could only be subdued by shots to the torso," said [Zarifi].
"If the story suggested by the U.S. government is accurate, it paints a very unflattering picture of the competence of forces who are literally on the frontlines of the 'war on terror,'" he said. "If the U.S. story is not true, then we're looking at a serious breach of U.S. and international law when a prisoner in custody is shot."
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