TEHRAN — British journalist Yvonne Ridley flew to Pakistan on a whirlwind trip this week to highlight the plight of a woman who has been held in U.S. custody for more than four years.
She referred to the woman, known only by her prisoner number 650, as The Grey Lady of Bagram.
More than 100 journalists attended the press conference hosted by Pakistan political leader Imran Khan who pledged his full support to Ridley’s mission, which is part of a Cage Prisoner Campaign to help the female detainee.
A statement of support from British MP and RESPECT Party leader George Galloway was also read out during the conference.
Details of Prisoner 650 are being kept secret by the U.S. military.
On Monday night she said: “I think everyone was shocked to hear that the Americans were holding this woman at Bagram in Afghanistan. From the information coming through I am told she is being held in exactly the same conditions as the men and has absolutely no privacy when it comes to toilet and shower facilities.
“This would never happen to a Western woman and it shows just how women are viewed by the U.S. military. There is even a suggestion she has been molested and sexually abused by her captors. We need to demand the truth,” added Ridley who was held captive herself in Afghanistan for 11 days in September 2001.
“I was released on humanitarian grounds. Mercifully my treatment was good, respectful and decent, although still terrifying,” she added.
Ridley, also a patron of the organization Cage Prisoner, revealed how she first read about the woman in a book written by ex-Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg called Enemy Combatant.
“I remembered Moazzam telling me about the woman’s screams and how he first imagined they could be from his wife. In truth, I thought maybe he had just been listening to a tape recorder as part of a form of mental torture.
“However, we now know the screams came from a woman who has been held in Bagram for some years. And without compromising anyone, we can also reveal from impeccable sources that her prison number is 650.
“This information has been enough to scramble the Pakistan media into action by demanding the return of this woman to her homeland immediately,” added Ridley.
Joining her at the open air press conference in Islamabad at the headquarters of Khan’s PTI party was Saghir Hussain, a lawyer and member of Cage.
He handed over a dossier prepared by Cage which reveals the full extent of the Disappeared from Pakistan… individuals who have been literally kidnapped from the streets.
“Prisoner 650 is just the tip of a very nasty iceberg of human rights abuses, illegal detentions and rendition flights. It is a shameful episode in Pakistan’s history which must be put right.”
Amina Masood Janjua, chair of the Defense of Human Rights, also joined the platform along with other supporters whose husbands, sons and brothers have disappeared without trace. She thanked Cage for its dossier and the supporting work it had conducted on the Disappeared.
“I wonder how can we hand over our sister to the non-Muslims for their illegal trial by men whose history is full of rape and other abuses to prisoners,” the Pakistani daily Dawn quoted Ridley as saying.
Ms. Ridley read the text from the book’s section covering Mr. Begg’s stay in Bagram: “I began to hear the chilling screams of a woman next door… Why have you got a woman next door? They told me there was no woman. But I was unconvinced. Those screams echoed through my worst nightmares for a long time. And I later learned in Guantanamo, from other prisoners, that they had heard the screams too.”
She said the account had been corroborated by four Arabs who had escaped from Bagram in July 2005. “While on the run, one not only confirmed he had heard a woman’s screams, but said he had seen her.”
Ms. Ridley said, “My story made international headlines, front page pictures and major stories on TV. But there has not been one word, not one paragraph about Prisoner 650 — the ‘grey lady’ of Bagram, a murderous detention facility under control of the U.S. military and intelligence services.”
She urged every Pakistani to ring America, and ask them who Prisoner 650 is. What was her crime? Who else was being held illegally? How many secret detention centers were there?
Ms. Ridley’s colleague Saghir Hussain gave details about other people of the country who had ‘disappeared’.
“All, like the grey lady of Bagram, have been illegally abducted by secretive intelligence agencies. They began disappearing in 2001 during the so-called war on terror,” he said.
Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan demanded that the government hold an investigation into the case. “What has the sovereign parliament done about the missing persons?” he asked.