Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Conversation with Yvonne Ridley: What has Become of Prisoner 650?

The British-born journalist, Yvonne Ridley, was my guest today on "The Real Deal", an internet radio program whose archives are at Yvonne is well known within the Muslim world for her outspoken views and defense of Islam. She endeared herself to the Muslim community in Britain when she converted to Islam 30 months after making international headlines when she was captured by the Taliban during an undercover assignment in Afghanistan.

She was chief reporter of the Sunday Express at the time, having spent nearly 10 years on Fleet Street working for several prestige newspapers, including The Sunday Times, The Observer, Daily Mirror, and Independent on Sunday. She has also worked as a broadcaster, producer and presenter on programs for BBC TV and radio, CNN, ITN and Carlton TV, travelling to Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. A founding member of Women in Journalism, she also promotes women’s rights as an original member of the "Stop The War" Coalition and of the RESPECT political party.

She was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan in September 2001 while working for the Sunday Express. Repeatedly refused an entrance visa, she followed the lead of BBC reporter John Simpson, who had crossed the border anonymously in a burqa. When she was discovered without passport or visa, she was held by the authorities for 11 days. One of her captors asked her to convert to Islam. She refused, but gave her word she would read the Qur'an after her release. In freedom, she kept this promise, which eventually led to her conversion.

Yvonne travels around the globe promoting peace and bearing an anti-war message. She has delivered lectures on issues related to Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Uzbekistan, "Women in Islam", the "War on Terror", and journalism at Ivy League universities and across the US, Australia, South Africa and the Middle East. She has written three books, In The Hands of the Taliban (2003), Ticket to Paradise (2003), and God Made Me! Who Made You? (2009). Currently working on a biography of Osama bin Laden, Yvonne is a patron of the UK-based human-rights groups, Cageprisoners and Hhugs.

Yvonne explains why she converted to Islam

Yvonne currently works for Press TV, the Iranian English language 24-hour news channel, hosting many talk shows, among them The Agenda. She also writes a column for New York-based, Daily Muslims, and other publications. In May 2008, on an assignment for Press TV, she and film-maker David Miller shot a documentary focusing on the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. In an extraordinary development, they were given unprecedented access to the now-defunct Camp X-Ray and the operational Camp Delta by the US military, which operates this detention facility in Cuba, where hundreds of men--defined as "enemy combatants"--have been detained, many since January 2002.

Guantanamo : Is it Time to Forgive and Forget?

In November 2008, Yvonne and the young award-winning film-maker and journalist, Hassan al Banna Ghani, headed for Afghanistan to produce a documentary about female prisoners being held by the US. Their film, "In Search of Prisoner 650", was broadcast by Press TV in the spring of 2009. During the making of this documentary, the two came under fire during a violent confrontation between the Taliban and Afghan police on the road to Ghazni. They were fortunate to survive.

In Search of Prisoner 650 TRAILER

After privately viewing "In Search of Prisoner 650", Binyam Mohamed, a torture victim himself, was “100 percent certain” that the woman detainee he knew as "Prisoner 650" was in fact Dr Aafia Siddiqui. Aafia, a highly educated researcher who had even studied at MIT for some 10 years and completed a Ph.D. in genetics, had mysteriously disappeared with her three children from Karachi in March 2003. On 7th July 2008, a press conference led by Yvonne in Pakistan produced international coverage of Aafia’s disappearance. The whereabouts of two of those children remains unknown to this day.

Her abduction was questioned by the media and by political figures in Pakistan. On 3 August 2008, an agent from the FBI visited Aafia's brother's home in Houston, Texas, and advised him that she was being detained in Afghanistan. On 4 August 2008, US federal prosecutors confirmed that Aafia had been extradited to the US from Afghanistan, where, they alleged, she had been detained since mid-July 2008. US officials claim that she was arrested by Afghani forces outside the Ghazni governor’s compound with manuals on explosives and "dangerous substances in sealed jars" in her possession. They further offered the allegation that, while in custody, she had shot at US officers and was herself injured in the encounter.

Siddiqui's family and supporters believe that Aafia has been held at the dreaded Bagram detention centre, north of Kabul, for the past five years, where she has suffered unspeakable horrors, including multiple rapes. Today, Aafia is being held in a US detention facility in New York, in poor health, repeatedly being subjected to degrading strip searches and cavity searches whenever she receives a legal visit or appears in court. She may be suffering from brain damage and a portion of her intestines may have been removed due to damage from her abuse. Her lawyers have suggested that her symptoms are consistent with those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In pursuit of human rights - Yvonne Ridley interviewed on "The Real Deal" with Jim Fetzer (26 November 2009) in four 25-minute segments:

(1) Introducing Yvonne Ridley

(2) Searching for Prisoner 650

(3) Conversion to Islam

(4) The World Today

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