By Andrew Purcell,
November 20, 2010
"Our normal rules don't seem to apply to your sister"
After driving from Houston this is what the guard told Muhammad as we sat outside the Carswell prison facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
Visiting Aafia Siddiqui has proven to be dificult. She and her brother have not been allowed a visit since May 2009 before she was sent to New York City from Fort Worth. Aafia has been repeatedly told that her brother hasn't made the arrangements to visit her. Muhammad has been told that she has to make the arrangements. This has been a continuing issue. Aafia and Muhammad are constantly being given conflicting information about the requirements for visitation rights.
Following her sentencing hearing Aafia has been returned to Carswell and Muhammad is still having trouble getting the information he needs to visit his sister. He filled out and returned all the forms needed for visitation priviliges but has not gotten any confirmation that he had been approved to visit. Phone calls to the prison administration were unreturned. Letters were unanswered.
Muhammad decided to try the direct route. Drive up to the front door and see if they will let him in. He asked me if I wanted to come along. I sat next to him for three weeks in the courtroom in New York City so a weekend in Fort Worth didn't seem to be too terrible (sorry Fort Worth, you are probably a beautiful city but all I have ever seen is the prison).
For those of you unfamiliar with the basic geography, there are nearly three hundred miles of Texas between Houston and Fort Worth. It is nearly all on modern highways, but the trip still takes about five hours.
When we got to the gate of the prison, Muhammad asked the guard to confirm the status of his visitation priviliges. The guard took his information and driver's license into his office and made a phone call.
About half an hour later he returned. I suspect he made more than one phone call, or at least spoke to more than one person, but it was obvious that he was told that all he needed to know was that this is just the way it is. While he maintained his professional politeness he was also visibly confused. Muhammad did have visitation priviliges but he would not be allowed to visit.
Since Aafia is now housed in the maximum security facility extra guards were required and had to be scheduled in advance, but the guard told us that even if the extra guards had been scheduled Muhammad would not be allowed to see Aafia. I thought for a second that he was going to tell us that Aafia would be required to pay for the overtime for these extra guards, but all he said was, "Our normal rules don't seem to apply to your sister."
He did give Muhammad a new phone number to call and a new name to ask for. This new number and new name may be helpful, but I doubt it. Their normal rules don't apply to Aafia.
After all, Aafia's first trip to Carswell was to determine whether she was competent to stand trial. It took the government a second try to get the finding it wanted.
The rules still didn't apply. This now legally competent Aafia Siddiqui immediately wanted to exercise her right to fire the lawyers representing her and replace them with lawyers of her choosing. She viewed the lawyer paid for by the United States as one more person representing the American government, and she viewed the three lawyers paid for by the government of Pakistan as agents of the Pakistani government. After the last seven years she doesn't have much trust in either institution.
All she wanted was a lawyer who was working for her. The rules say that it is her right to choose her own lawyer. The judge repeatedly denied her requests. I watched one such exchange in court when the judge told her she could fire the existing lawyers only if she could give him the names of her new lawyers. Her response, "You won't even give me a telephone book, how can I pick a new lawyer?"
Again, Muhammad, the normal rules do not seem to apply to your sister.
Aafia has been able to retain a new lawyer, a half year after her conviction. She has not been allowed any contact with this lawyer, which is interfering with her ability to file appeals in a timely fashion.
Muhammad has postponed surgery twice because he had hoped to visit Aafia. He is unable to postpone it any longer. This surgery will leave him unable to travel for a month and a half. He fully expects to get permission for a special visit the day after the operation and they will tell Aafia that he refused to see her.
This is the pattern of interference by authorities with Aafia's rights to consult her lawyer and her privileges to receive visitors. Keep her isolated, confused, uncertain, and feeling lost and abandoned. And most of all, keep her quiet.
So, no, the normal rules do not apply to her.