Yvonne Ridley :Biography
Brothers and sisters, Assalam alaikum -
I first came to Pakistan seven years ago following the horrific events of 9/11 - I am sure every single one of you can remember that day very well.
It was the dawn of a frightening new era - it was the time when George W Bush said: You are either with me or with the terrorists.
Who here is with George W Bush now? Who here stands shoulder to shoulder with the President of the United States?
He might be gone from The White House soon, but his rotten legacies will live on. And one of those legacies is his never-ending War on Terror.
His War on Terror gave birth to the cages of Cuba - to Guantanamo Bay where hundreds of our brothers were sold like slaves to the Americans.
I wish this obscenity had happened somewhere else, but the stark reality is retired General Pervez Musharraf and his men got rich on the back of this vile trade - he even admitted it in his autobiography.
How could Muslims sink so low as to sell their brothers like parcels of meat?
Because of this an international organisation called Cage Prisoners was launched from London and its work initially focused on the torture and detention of those brothers held in Guantanamo, a boil on the face of humanity.
I became one of the patrons of Cage Prisoners and tried to raise awareness to get justice for our brothers in Islam.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever believe that sisters would also be swept up in the War on Terror. Never did I ever in my darkest nightmares imagine they would be brutalised, raped and tortured … but they have.
I suppose we should not have been too surprised, after all it seems the US President is totally disinterested in the suffering of others, especially when it comes to Muslims.
Muslim blood is cheap as far as the US military is concerned. The rivers of blood in Iraq and Afghanistan have now been swollen with the blood of innocent Pakistanis.
How did we allow ourselves to sleepwalk into this outrageous state of affairs.
But what still catches my breath is the disinterest expressed by brothers and sisters across the Muslim world to the plight of sisters … and I am talking about all corners of the Muslim world, including here in Pakistan, a country I have grown to love and regard as my second home.
I salute those dear sisters in Lal Masjid who were mocked and ridiculed for trying to close down a brothel - they were mocked and ridiculed for their piety and many of them were martyred as they fought for common decency.
How did we allow that to happen? How did we sink so low?
Newspaper columnists here in Pakistan sneered at their efforts and called their work the Talibanisation of Pakistan.
Anywhere else in the world they would have been praised as feminists and as righteous individuals for trying to close down the sex industry which clearly exploits women.
But it’s not just the heroic sisters from Lal Masjid which brings me here today.
OK - five years ago few of us believed that the Bush Administration could really sanction the kidnapping of a mother and her three children.
I am probably one of the few Muslims who flew half way across the world to get to Guantanamo without having to be shackled, shaved and abused.
The experience as brief as it was left me shocked – in fact as I left the maximum security block at Camp Delta one of the young guards asked me how I felt. I told him I was speechless, lost for words. He said proudly: Yup, it’s awesome isn’t it?
One of the first people I interviewed when I returned home from Guantanamo was brother Moazzam Begg, a British detainee who went through untold atrocities at the hands of the so-called civilised American military.
He was kidnapped in the middle of the night from his home in Islamabad and sold to the Americans for 5,000 dollars.
And while we’ve spoken many times before this latest interview triggered something new inside me.
I had read his book Enemy Combatant and often heard him talk about the screams of a female prisoner in Bagram but in truth, while I would never question Moazzam’s story, I did assume that what he heard was a series of pre-recorded tapes performed by actors as part of the CIA/FBI mental torture program.
So in this latest interview I threw this theory at Moazzam and he responded saying he knew the screams were real because other brothers in Guantanamo talked about it when he arrived there and, more importantly there were eye witness accounts, brothers who had actually seen the woman detainee.
Bagram, he said, was far worse than anything in Guantanamo. Did you know four Arab brothers escaped from Bagram in July 2005? Did you? Well this is something the Americans do not want you to know, but they did and when they fled that hell hole one brother gave an interview to talk about the plight of one prisioner in particular.
This prisoner was the woman that Moazzam Begg heard scream throughout the night, every night without fail. When the Arab brother saw her he said she had clearly lost her mind. She had been raped, abused and used without mercy by those dogs in Bagram.
Without giving away sources, we soon established that the woman in Bagram was registered in US intelligence documents as Prisoner 650 - I was horrified. I suddenly realised that the screams Moazzam had heard were real.
But no such respect and decency was given to Prisoner 650 - no, this sister was brutalised. She had to share the same open toilet as the men and there were no closed doors, or shower curtains when she wanted to wash.
No wonder Moazzam still hears her cries and screams today.
I also began to hear her cries and screams and so I came to Pakistan in July to ask for help.
I turned to Imran Khan, a great politician and a man of integrity - he agreed to organise a press conference, and was so moved by the mission to find Prisoner 650. I begged the media to help demand the release of Prisoner 650.
I pointed out that my story had made headlines and front page news for the entire 10 days of my captivity when I was captured by the Taliban after 9/11 simply because I am a white, western woman.
It was inevitable that people would assume Prisoner 650 was Dr Siddiqui and the awkward questions started to be asked after more than 100 media turned up at our scrambled press conference. A Cage Prisoner report was handed out giving the wider picture of the disappeared in Pakistan.
Then suddenly Dr Aafia Siddiqui emerged as though a magician had pulled a rabbit out of a hat - she emerged in a dazed and confused state outside the Governor of Gardez’s offices in Afghanistan.
Imagine that … FIVE years after her disappearance in Karachi. And according to the FBI she was carrying in her handbag pieces of bomb-making equipment and photographs of various landmarks in New York City.
What nonsense and how dare the FBI insult our intelligence this way.
Of course the FBI lost much of its credibility when its chief J Edgar Hoover was revealed to be a transvestite who preferred to wear a red dress and be called by the name of Mary.
Hoover, probably one of the most powerful men in America was the originator of dirty tricks campaigns, lies and deceits and his legacy lives on.
Even today it seems FBI Agents live in a fantasy world but instead of mincing around in red frocks they spend their time dressing up the truth with layer after layer of lies.
This was quite evident with the story of Dr Aafia Siddiqui.
It is no coincidence that Cage Prisoners had raised the issue of Dr Siddiqui less than two weeks before.
Many of you know Dr Siddiqui’s story - she had been shot by a US soldier at close range after she managed to overpower one of his colleagues and fire a gun twice. This woman is less than 70 pounds. This story is rubbish.
I am told she is in constant pain - a testament to the work of the medical butcher in Bagram air base who calls himself a surgeon.
But you know what makes this even worse - while our sister lies in agony waiting to be tried for nonsense charges in an American court, two of her children, a babe in arms and toddler (at the time of their disappearance), are still missing. Where are they?
And I’ll tell you something else which should make your blood run cold. The Americans have now admitted that the Grey Lady of Bagram does exist.
But Dr Aafia Siddiqui is NOT Prisoner 650, the Grey Lady of Bagram. We still do not know who Prisoner 650 is. We do not know where she is, and we do not know how many other Pakistani women are being held as female enemy combatants - yes, that is what the pentagon calls them: Female Enemy Combatants.
Today I am begging each and every one of you, as your sister in Islam, to help me find Prisoner 650.
If you remain silent I may never find her. But I tell you something now - I can hear her screams and when you go to bed tonight so will you.
Have we all sunk so low that the cries of this sister remain unanswered? The time has come when the people of Pakistan need to restore pride to this great country. You here today can set the agenda. You here today can make a change. You here today can get rid of those rotten politicians and their weasel words.
Those in power only seem great because they try and keep you on your knees. Rise up and bow to no one but Allah. When the people lead, the leaders will follow.
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