By Tammy Obeidallah
In the final scene of the 2002 remake of “Dr. Zhivago,” Lara observes the inevitable black car following her and has just enough time to make up a game with her young son, challenging him to a race. She knows full well she will never see him again.
“I’ll let you have a head start,” she smiles at her little boy. He begins running as she is escorted to the car, offering no resistance as she continues watching him from the backseat; the first leg of a journey to an unnamed Siberian gulag.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui had no such warning, no time to distance herself from her three young children during the mayhem of their 2003 kidnapping in Karachi, Pakistan. Neither U.S. nor Pakistani officials admitted knowledge of the family’s whereabouts from 2003 to 2008. It was later learned that Dr. Siddiqui was detained and subjected to brutal interrogations at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan before resurfacing in New York in 2008, answering to charges of the attempted murder of two U.S. soldiers.
For years, Dr. Siddiqui did not know whether her children were alive or dead until her oldest son, Ahmed, was released in 2008. Daughter Maryam was dropped off at the family’s residence in Karachi in April 2010, speaking only English and Farsi. The fate of baby Suleman, six months old at the time of the kidnapping, remains unknown.
Former prisoners in Bagram tell of the tortured screams of Prisoner 650, commonly known as “the Gray Lady of Bagram.” By all their accounts, Prisoner 650 was Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and she herself later testified that she endured both physical and psychological torture, including being forced to look at a photograph of her baby Suleman lying in a pool of his own blood.
It is no surprise that anyone under such unspeakable conditions would seek every opportunity to exact revenge on their tormenters. Yet discrepancies in testimony describing the “crime” for which Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was sentenced to 86 years in prison—the attempted shooting of two US soldiers—raise serious doubts as to whether it actually occurred. Furthermore, Dr. Siddiqui was detained and tortured for allegedly plotting terrorist acts and links to Al-Qaeda. Why wasn’t she brought up on terrorism charges?
The overriding question remains: Why was a brilliant American-educated neuroscientist singled out for such heinous abuses?
Zaid Hamid, Pakistani political analyst and host of the program “Brasstacks,” stated that Dr. Siddiqui’s novel and unique research in neuroscience included groundbreaking work relating to biology, psychology, perception management and mind control: the latest weapons coveted by governments, militaries and media. Dr. Siddiqui later revealed that an Indian interrogator at Bagram had asked her about her research at MIT, his familiarity with her work leading her to believe he was a former colleague.
In addition to her research at MIT, Dr. Siddiqui completed her Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from Brandeis early in 2001. Her PhD dissertation abstract discussed how people perceive, remember, and enact observations. One of her experiments required volunteers to view and then recreate the movement of a disk across a computer screen in order to study the components of visual perception and memory. She observed that they saw only the momentary positions of the disc and had to interconnect those positions. She concluded that in a sequence of movements without a visible trail, it became difficult for the subject to form a picture or a story.
A May 2010 Greg Miller appearing in Smithsonian Magazine entitled “How Our Brains Make Memories,” unwittingly ties into Dr. Siddiqui’s research. In the article, Montreal neuroscientist Karim Nader discusses the “flashbulb memory” effect surrounding such occasions as 9/11 and his theory that the very act of remembering can alter a memory.
Such a suggestion would indicate that if our own memories are altered by repeated remembering, how much easier would it be for some other entity—the government or the media for instance— to alter our memories by repeated playback of 9/11 footage, peppering scenes of the attacks with commentaries from their own “experts” and “eyewitnesses?”
Could it be that Dr. Siddiqui, because of her groundbreaking research in the field, was tapped by the government to potentially help develop a weapon of mass psychosis which would cause a nation to believe that airplanes brought down the World Trade Center and the aerial maneuvering of a novice pilot landed another smack-dab into the Pentagon? Her refusal to cooperate would have been motive enough to discredit her and lock her away, let alone if she had actually been briefed on such a plan.
Why, some will ask, was she not killed outright? Why risk the possibility of this information coming to light? One explanation is that she is being used as an example, to frighten and intimidate others who dare to defy the powerbrokers in the “War on Terror.” Furthermore, the initial injection of an unknown substance followed by years of torture rendered Dr. Siddiqui nearly incompetent to stand at her own trial. Even if connections with 9/11 plots and mind control weapons had surfaced, they would be dismissed as the ranting of an insane woman and her crackpot-conspiracy-theorist supporters.
It is imperative that we discover the truth, not just to save an innocent mother of three, but for the sake of our whole society. I have often been told that my western appearance has saved me from the horrors of interrogation, but I wonder, for how much longer? My children and I were harassed by immigration officials upon our return to the United States from Ecuador this summer and recent days have seen the homes of peace activists in Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan raided by FBI agents who confiscated laptops, cell phones and bank records.
Do we hold our elected officials and media responsible? Do we organize mass civil disobedience in support of those harassed and detained for speaking out against U.S. policy? Or do we wait for the black cars, wondering if we will have time to give our children a head start?