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Fate of Some CIA Detainees Unknown

By Farah Stockman


President Bush’s announcement this month that the CIA has emptied out its secret prisons has raised new questions about what has happened to dozens of Al Qaeda suspects who were believed to have been in US custody.

One of them is Aafia Siddiqui ’95, an MIT-educated Pakistani scientist and Roxbury mother of three who disappeared with her children in 2003. A newly declassified government document says Siddiqui married a top Al Qaeda operative who is among the 14 suspects moved by President Bush from a secret prison to Guant namo Bay for trials.

But the document gave no further information on Siddiqui’s whereabouts.

Siddiqui’s mother said she believes her daughter was being held by the US military, and she traveled to the United States to search for information after reading Pakistani newspapers articles that said Siddiqui had been arrested in Pakistan and sent abroad in a private plane, said Elaine Whitfield Sharp, a Marblehead lawyer and the family spokeswoman.

“Nobody knows where she is, but one has to wonder if she is one of these secret detainees,” said Sharp.

Bush’s announcement of the transfer of prisoners to Guant namo Bay was the first official confirmation that the CIA had secretly arrested suspected terrorists and held them in undisclosed places overseas.

A senior administration official briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity last week said that fewer than 100 detainees had been held in the CIA program and that all of them have been “turned over to the Department of Defense to be held as unlawful enemy combatants [at Guant namo Bay], returned to their country of origin, or entered into a legal process to be held accountable for their crimes.”

But human rights groups say the fate of dozens of detainees who were in CIA custody is still unknown.

“The Red Cross has said 36 high-level suspects have been in CIA custody,” said Zachary Katznelson, senior counsel to Reprieve, a British legal aid society. “Fourteen have been transferred to Guant namo Bay, and President Bush says that there are now no terrorists in the CIA program. Where are those 22 other men?”

Human Rights Watch released a list last year of 27 suspects who were thought to be in CIA detention. Thirteen of the 27 were among the 14 transferred recently to Guant namo Bay.

Mariner said many on the list came from countries such as Egypt and Jordan, which have been cited by international bodies for torture and arbitrary detentions. She said that if detainees had been returned to those countries, little would be known about their fate.

Human Rights Watch had too little information about Siddiqui’s case to include her in the list of the 27 “disappeared” suspects, but considered her a possible secret CIA detainee, Mariner said.

The story of Siddiqui has become one of the most bizarre chapters of the war on terror. Her whereabouts have been a mystery since she climbed into a taxi with her three children outside her mother’s home in Karachi in 2003.

Siddiqui traveled from Pakistan to Texas in 1990 to live with her brother, an architect, and attend the University of Houston. She eventually transferred to MIT, where she studied biology and raised money for what she said were charitable Islamic causes, such as the sponsorship of orphans and widows in Bosnia.