The more I read statements and ‘demands’ made by political leaders in Pakistan about Dr Aafia Siddiqui, the more I wonder why, as someone who supports democratic processes in Pakistan, I’m not an alcoholic yet.
Much has been said about ‘Dr Aafia’ (why we don’t call her ‘Dr Siddiqui’ is beyond me. Is it because she’s a woman? Is there another, more nefarious, Dr Siddiqui who mediapersons and political leaders wish to make sure we don’t mistake her for? Or is ‘Aafia’ just too fun a name to pass up using on as regular a basis as possible? Who knows?). More, perhaps, than has ever been said about the fate of female prisoners in Pakistani jails. Or about how annoying Pakistani wannabe hipsters are (which, to my mind, is a fairly pressing issue…and if you disagree, you are a Mossad-RAW-CIA agent. Or you wear jeggings.)
Right, so the point of that last paragraph was that there has been a ridiculous amount of Op-Eds, beepers, ‘live breaking alerts’, inane talkshow conversation and just general consternation about Dr Siddiqui’s sentencing in a US court. With our penchant for victimisation, and the connect-the-dots mentality we display whenever trying to fit something within the ‘narrative’ of the US leading a war against Muslims, this was inevitable. Frankly, I’m not going to get into the political communication aspect of this, because Mosharraf Zaidi has already done a great job of that, here.
No, what bothers me goes beyond the “contrived outrage”. It is that when demanding Dr Siddiqui’s release, political and civil society leaders invariably refer to either “humanitarian grounds“, or her “innocence“. Based on this emotive plea for the release of their ‘innocent sister’, they believe the US government should immediately comply and repatriate Dr Siddiqui to Pakistan.
Do these people (and ‘people’ here covers the breadth of Pakistani society – from political leaders to that guy on the street angrily waving a “America is terrorist!” placard) know how courts work? Here’re the Cliff Notes: Based on the presentation of evidence, the merits of any case are decided based on interpretations of the constitution and legal precedents; the burden of proof rests with the prosecution, while the defence must only prove that either a) the prosecution has not provided reasonable grounds for believing that the act was committed, or b) that the ‘act’ was not ‘illegal’, either because the relevant laws do not apply, or because it does not fulfill the criteria for violating those laws. (There, now you dont need to go to law school.)
That’s still not the important bit. The important bit is coming up. Watch for it.
This is the important bit: the government cannot, at its own discretion, just decide to ‘give someone back’ after a court has ruled that they are guilty of a crime. Justice and politics are two very separate subjects. Hell, Obama might think that giving Dr Siddiqui back will be the final push Pakistan needs to finally believe that the US loves it truly, madly and deeply and will never, ever, ever abandon it again . . . but that still doesn’t give him the power to reverse the decision and hand her back. Not even if he can conclusively prove that such a move would save American lives (as opposed to, say, koala lives, ‘American lives’ are the most valuable commodity going in the US political sphere).
The point I’m trying to make is this: they can’t just hand her back because they feel like it. There is a system, and she has been adjudged guilty based on that system. If she is to be released, she must be released by the system, through an appeal and production of enough evidence to show that the previous judgment was wrong. Am I saying she’s guilty? Hell, I don’t know . . in particular I think there are real questions that need to be asked about how she ended up at Bagram Air Base at all. But what I am saying is that if you ‘demand’ that the US should hand Dr Siddiqui back because she has been, according to you, ‘unjustly convicted and imprisoned’ and if your belief is that this should happen through an executive order and not through a legal appeal, then you’re . . . well, let’s not put too fine a point on this: you’re an idiot.
Now I’m going to go get a drink.