U.S. judge orders medical treatment of Aafia Siddiqui

August 13, 2008

NEW YORK (APP) – Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, an American educated Pakistani neuroscientist who is suffering from gunshot wounds, was granted access to urgent medical attention by a U.S. judge when she appeared for her bail hearing in a federal court on Monday.

British journalist Yvonne Ridley visited Pakistan recently and called on the international community to work for the release of ‘Prisoner 650’, held at the U.S. detention center 60 kilometers from Kabul.
After that, Dr. Siddqui was charged with trying to kill U.S. soldiers in a gunfight in Afghanistan, and was flown by the United States to New York on Aug. 4 and lodged in the Metropolitan Detention Centre. Since then she has not had any medical treatment.
However, the United States claims it has no idea where she was during the last five years.
A frail-looking Siddiqui, wearing white hijab, came in a wheelchair at a hearing held in the U.S. District Court and instead of discussing bail as planned, her lawyers immediate made a strong case for her medical care.
That was granted by U.S. Judge Henry Pitman, who ordered she be seen by a physician within 24 hours. The judge also put off the bail hearing till September three while Dr. Siddiqui undergoes medical treatment. Her lawyers agreed to the postponement.
Dr. Siddqui was shot in the abdomen and wounded last month while allegedly trying to fire on a group of U.S. troops who had come to question her in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province.
Outside the courthouse a number of Pakistani-American men and women as well as human rights activists staged a demonstration demanding that Dr. Siddqui be freed. “We want justice,” protesters chanted. They held playcards including “Stop U.S. Torture, close Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib & Bagram” and accused the United States of secretly detaining Dr. Siddqui.
The protest rally was organized by Pakistan-U.S. Freedom Forum.
Dr. Siddqui’s lawyer, Elizabeth Fink, told a packed courtroom on the 26th floor overlooking Brooklyn bridge that she had not received proper medical care since being shot in the alleged incident on July 18.
“She needs to be taken out of custody and put in a hospital. She’s been here... for one week and hasn’t seen a doctor,” Fink said.
Another defense lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, said Dr. Siddqui was a physical wreck following both the shooting and a five-year period of her disappearance.
After the hearing, Ms. Sharp was asked by a battery of reporters why the defense team did not press for Dr. Siddqui’s bail. “What’s the point of bail,” she said, adding her medical treatment is now the priority.
The United States says it has no idea where she was during the last five years. Campaigners and her family members insist she was in U.S. custody in Afghanistan.
U.S. prosecutors say she was detained on July 17 by police after acting suspiciously. The following day she allegedly grabbed a rifle in the police station in Ghazni and shot at visiting US servicemen—who returned fire. Siddiqui’s lawyers reject the charges as “absurd”.
She “has gunshot wounds to the abdomen—we are not sure how many—and a long line of stitches from her breast plate to her belly button,” Ms. Sharp said. “She understands she lost part of her intestines. Digestion is an issue. She’s reporting bleeding.”
Prosecutors said Dr. Siddiqui had been provided with adequate medical care since her detention in Afghanistan. However, they were unable to confirm whether she had been seen in New York by a doctor or merely a paramedic.
Prosecutor Christopher Lavigne said medical treatment was delayed because Siddiqui had refused to see a male physician since she was brought to the United States a week ago. Fink said her client was willing to be seen by a male doctor. Physician’s gender was not the issue, she added.
The judge ruled that “the defendant be examined by a medical doctor within 24 hours.” The doctor will advise whether Dr. Siddiqui can remain in prison, or should be moved, as requested by her lawyers, to a hospital.
Earlier, the Pakistani embassy in Washington has asked the United States to provide immediate medical treatment to Dr. Siddiqui and ensure that she is not subjected to any humiliation on the pretext of body searches before and after visits by her lawyers.
On the instructions of Pakistan’s Ambassador to U.S. Husain Haqqani, the embassy asked the State Department that Dr. Siddiqui be provided proper medical treatment.
The embassy sought the State Department’s intervention in ensuring that Dr. Siddiqui is not subjected to any humiliation or degradation on the pretext of body searches before and after visits by her attorneys, as such a practice is unacceptable in Islamic culture.
Dr. Siddiqui studied at a U.S. university before her return to Pakistan in 2003, is under detention in New York on charges of attempted attack on U.S. officials. Her lawyers have rejected the charge as ‘absurd’ and Monday complained that she had not received medical treatment since her arrival last week following which the judge ordered immediate medical attention for her.
Meanwhile, the embassy has detailed a diplomat at the Pakistani consulate in New York, Saqib Rauf, to stay in contact over the issue.