Friday, 10 July 2009

'Prolonged Detention', and the Grey Lady of Bagram

Dr Aafiya Siddiqui is a neuroscientist from Pakistan who lived and trained in the US. She left America for her home country in 2002, saying that it was hard to live as a muslim in the post 9/11 climate. The US claim to have arrested her in Afghanistan in 2006 – with ‘dangerous substances’ concealed on her person - but she went missing four years earlier, and numerous reports from ex-detainees (including Binyam Mohammed, who was imprisoned at Bagram before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay) have confirmed her repeated statements that she was held and tortured for a very long time at the US prison in Afghanistan. Detainees say that they frequently heard her screams and cries for help, and Binyam reported that when he saw her she seemed at the edge of insanity. It appears that she was indeed the long-unknown ‘Grey Lady of Bagram’, and it would be hard to think of anyone who has suffered more than Aafiya at the hands of the US in its self-declared ‘war on terror’.

Aafiya is still imprisoned, this time at a Detention Facility in the US. She is a physical and emotional wreck, but still holding to her heartbreaking story. You can read more about her case at the Cageprisoners website, here:

You can also write to Aafiya with cards or letters of support. She loves nature and has said that she would like to receive books on the subject. She will need all the support she can get, because the situation does not look bright for many of those held in indefinite detention in the US. Some Guantanamo detainees may be transferred to Bagram (reportedly far worse than Gitmo) or to prisons on the American mainland. In a recent speech, Preident Obama criticised the Bush system ad-hoc system of indefinite detention, before proposing one of his own: ‘Prolonged Detention’. Under this system, the US will be able to hold prisoners essentially indefinitely, even if they have been legally acquitted of committing a crime, simply because someone thinks they ‘may’ commit one in the future. This is an incredible proposal from the leader of any democracy, let alone one that claims to promote democracy around the world, which wanted to ‘liberate’ the Iraqi people from a totalitarian state in 2003. Obama is beginning to look like Bush in nicer and more intelligent clothing. And what he is proposing is as Orwellian as anything the preceding administration dreamed up.

Watch excerpts from Obama’s speech, and Rachel Maddow’s commentary on it, here. Maddow’s analysis is scathing, but cuts through the doublespeak and is good viewing:

All this means that people like Aafiya, and the ‘last Londoner in Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer, may still not be released for a very long time, if at all. Shaker has never been charged with a crime and has long been cleared for release by the US authorities, but he has still not been returned home to the UK, and has been tortured and held in solitary confinement for most of his years in Gitmo. He is on hunger strike and being brutally force-fed every day (survivors of this ordeal have described it as a form of torture in itself), but is rapidly losing weight and may be close to death. If you want to help him, email the Foreign Secretary David Miliband (at and ask him to ensure that Shaker is brought safely home to England as his predecessors have been. You can read more about Shaker’s case at:

You can also write to Shaker in Guantanamo by contacting Reprieve at Whenever I write to detainees I am never sure if the letters actually reach them, but we know that in many cases they do and are a very gratefully received. If you do not feel able to campaign actively against these abuses in the ‘war on terror’, which you can do by joining organisations like Reprieve, CagePrisoners, or the National Guantanamo Coalition, please consider writing to people like Aafiya and Shaker, even if it is only by sending a card. I cannot find the address for sending to Guantanamo detainees, as Reprieve have re-furbished their website and I’m still finding my way around. But if you want to write to Aafiya, the address to send to is:


P.O. BOX 329002

Please consider writing to her, or to one of the other detainees. They need your support, to know that they are not alone and that well-wishing people are thing of them. It seems to me that there is no longer Change We can Believe In, and perhaps there never was from the Obama camp. The Leader of the Free World is continuing to slide outside of the rule of law and into barbarity. Aafiya and Shaker are just two of the real people who have suffered, and are continuing to suffer, more than we can imagine. Perhaps one day the real Change will come, and they will all receive justice and an end to their years of pain and despair.