The recent appearance of Dr Aafia Siddiqi in a New York court (August 5) has brought another disturbing episode in the ‘war on terror’ of President George W Bush to light. According to a lawyer acting for Dr Siddiqui, an American-educated scientist of Pakistani origin, her client was brought to New York after spending several years in US custody at an unknown place, thought to be the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. While in detention, she suffered ‘horrendous physical and psychological torture’. The American authorities claimed that they captured Dr Siddiqui only in July 2008, accusing her of attacking US military officers and being an Al-Qaeda operative. These charges have been dismissed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
The case has drawn international attention and comes at a time when the Bush administration, in its last few months, appears determined to put as many detainees captured during its ‘war on terror’ as possible on trial. According to Dr Siddiqui’s lawyer, New York has been chosen as the venue for her trial because it is the city of Twin Towers, where the sentiment is likely to be most prejudicial and the November elections are close. Just before Dr Siddiqui was produced in court in New York, a US military commission in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp convicted and sentenced Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver, to five-and-a-half years in prison. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both criticised the Guantanamo trial as falling below the acceptable standards of justice.
The crisis for human rights has grown to unprecedented proportions since 9/11. On the day Amnesty International published its 2007 human rights assessment worldwide, its message reflected something that had become increasingly obvious. The ‘war on terror’ had left a long trail of human rights abuses and created deep divisions that cast a shadow on international relations, making the world more dangerous. In one of the strongest repudiations of the policies of Western governments, the Secretary-General of Amnesty, Irene Khan, said: “The politics of fear are fuelling a downward spiral of human rights abuses in which no right is sacrosanct and no person safe.” More