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Rabia Chaudry

Tag: Seema Iyer

A Thousand Little Pieces

On Sunday I visited Adnan after a very long time – at least four months. Since he was moved to Cumberland six years ago, it’s been difficult for anyone, including his family, to see him often. The trip takes most of the day going back and forth and the past few months have been a tornado of busy-ness related to Adnan’s case, my work projects coming to a head, travel, moving, and generally just trying to keep it together.  Frankly, I’ve been treading water. Barely.

So in all of this, the talks about Adnan’s case, the blogging, the media, etc, Adnan himself got kind of lost.   Last week I pulled out some of his old letters to remind myself of what this is all about and decided it was time to get to Cumberland.

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Last week I learned that a plane will not go down if people are talking on their cell phones. I know this now because a good ten minutes before my plane landed in Pakistan, at least four people whipped out their cell phones to tell loved ones in the airport that we were about to touch ground.  It was amazing and hilarious.  The last three hour leg of my journey from Abu Dhabi to Pakistan (the US to Abu Dhabi flight was relatively quiet) filled my heart up with affection and awe of “my people”.

Let me tell you a bit about my people (and I can totally call them out since they are mine, but don’t you dare): my people do not believe in cough drops  – they are ok hacking and snorting and moving phlegm noisily around their heads for hours at a time. My people-of-the-male persuasion will casually pick their nose, scratch their underarm, and fix you with an unblinking death stare that will leave your soul feeling naked though you are actually fully covered. My people will totally disregard flight attendants and refuse to bow to seat-belt signs or captain’s orders. Turbulence does not faze them.  My people will sit in your seat and not be bothered to move no matter how many times you politely insist you requested that window seat. My people know how to stand in a line but will fight that shit tooth and nail. My people will burp directly in your face because hey, we just spent three hours together, aren’t we all friends now?

Yes, actually we are.  Because my people will also know your marital status, how many children you have, what illnesses you’re dealing with, and maybe even your salary by the time you land. My people will let out a collective frightened yelp when the captain hits the brakes too hard on landing, and then collectively raise their voice to say “alhamdulillah”, praise be to God in thanks. My people, as they are racing to get out of the plane before anyone else, make sure to shake hands with new friends and say a prayer for you. My people will carry their old mothers on their backs down the steps of the plane – the same mothers who lovingly pat flight attendants on the heads, thank them, and pray for their health and life.  My people will exclaim with joy when they’ve reached their beloved Pakistan, for many it having been years and years since they were last home.

I spent close to 15 years representing mostly “my people”, Pakistani immigrants most of whom are in the US for a better life for their families. Many of them are in the US alone, having left behind loved ones, knowing that their sole wages will support entire families back home.  I’ve represented clients who were stuck – without legal status, so that if they returned to Pakistan, as they desperately wanted to, they could never return to the US. And so they stayed because their income bought medicine for their elders, paid for sibling’s weddings,  for a nephew’s education, for the burial of parents they would never see again.  The pain of such separation is soul-deep, knowing you may never return to the place you were born because the cost is too high.

If there is one thing Americans take for granted, its the ease with which we can travel the world, enter places others may never see, visit homelands natives are banned from.  We rarely realize our privilege. A young American Muslim activist once told me she shunned the identity of being an “American” because it was an oppression to others who are not. I remember cringing internally and thinking about the hundreds of my immigrant clients who would trade her that privilege in a heartbeat.

I’m an immigrant, though my immigrant story was one of relative ease.  I was about six months old when my parents emigrated to the US, and I’ve returned for a short trip. After a harrowing few weeks, here I am, in the motherland.  My motherland because I was actually born in Lahore, Pakistan (thereby rendering any chance of becoming POTUS nil). I feel very literally that Pakistan is the mother that birthed me, and the United States the father that raised me. I love both nations in the way a child often does with parents – no favorites, each with its own special place in my heart, irrevocably tied to both, for better or worse.

Back in the day with the folks, 1976, Falls Church, Virginia. As you can see, I've worked hard to maintain my physique.

Back in the day with the folks, 1976, Falls Church, Virginia. As you can see, I’ve worked hard to maintain my physique.

All of my elders who have passed are buried here, and memories I have of them, vague for some, bright and true for others, are the anchors of my identity.  There is no easy way to cultivate an identity based on cultures that can be contradictory – one valuing individualism, the other community, one valuing challenge to authority, the other respectful deference.  I’ve always had a nagging feeling that my dual cultural identity has meant missing large chunks of both, in a weird 1+1= less than 1 equation.

I think a lot about what my life would have been like but for the visa stamped into my father’s passport in 1974. I would have been married into family probably, with at least 5 kids, living among dozens of relatives and in the same neighborhood for most of my life. I think it would have been a good life, a quiet life.  And I sometimes find myself wishing my father had never gotten that visa.

But he did, and here I am, a visitor in my birthplace – salt in the wound of separation.

I was born in the neighborhood of this monument, Chauburgi, in the heart of old Lahore

I was born in the neighborhood of this beautiful, historic monument, Chauburgi, in the heart of old Lahore

I wonder, but don’t have the courage to ask, if Adnan’s parents regret that visa too.


A month is how long it’s been since I last blogged. Not for lack of wanting to, time just wasn’t on my side. The project I run at the New America Foundation is underway, and taking me to all parts of the country, keeping me busy along with other work related commitments.

A few weeks ago I was in Atlanta and woke up on a Saturday to be tagged in a Facebook post by Tanveer, Adnan’s older brother. The post congratulated me and others and said that Adnan’s leave to appeal had been granted. I sat there on the hotel bed, bleary eyed and tired, not comprehending what I was reading.

“This can’t be right”, I said out loud.  Loud enough to wake my friend in the next bed. She sat straight up and said “what’s going on?” I told her and then I broke down in tears.

They were tears of incredulity, relief, and thankfulness. There is no doubt that winning on the application was a long shot, though made better thanks to Asia. Still, it’s never easy to convince a court to essentially give you another chance at post-conviction, and it’s unheard of for it to happen that fast. I expected the court to take at least six months, if not up to a year. Instead, it ruled within three days of our last filing.

Adnan usually calls his family on the weekend and when he called his mother and she told him the news, he didn’t believe her. Then Yusuf confirmed it and he realized it was true.  He laughed in amazement, and I’m sure there were some tears too.

Needless to say I was pretty energized during my extended weekend in Atlanta thanks to this incredible news. I had the great pleasure of meeting local Muslim activists during our social media training, giving a talk about Adnan’s case and Serial at Georgia Tech, and meeting President Carter during a summit on women, faith, and violence, where I was honored to facilitate a workshop with international advocates.

Georgia Tech. Great crowd.

Georgia Tech. Packed to the gills.

One of the greatest honors of my life to meet this incredibly humble and dedicated peace maker.

One of the greatest honors of my life to meet this incredibly humble and dedicated peace maker.

Shortly after that I got to join Adnan’s lawyers, current and past, along with Susan Simpson and Saad, at the University of Baltimore Law School for a great discussion. One of the issues raised was how Adnan, at 17, was prohibited from seeing his lawyer and how denial of his bail doomed him. The full video is here.  Further down in this post is a letter written by Doug Colbert, one of Adnan’s initial attorney’s, on the day he was arrested.

I then joined Susan Simpson and Ben Levitan on MSNBC’s The Docket, hosted by attorney Seema Iyer.  I was totally unnecessary, an accessory to the information, analysis, and knowledge of the other guests. But I nod my head really well, so I consider it a job well done!  More episodes of The Docket have been dedicated to the case, and I’ll join a future show again sometime.  I’m incredibly excited that Seema has taken an interest in the case and sees the need to continue coverage based on all the new information, overlooked or not considered, that’s emerged since Serial ended.  I wish Sarah and her team would revisit the cell phone evidence and reconsider the position they took on it, and I know lots of people wish they’d do a follow up episode/s. Maybe after the appeal hearing in June?

An event I’ve been anticipating for the past few months then took place last week, as the White House hosted a CVE (countering violent extremism) summit, the first of it’s kind.  It was the center of a series of events, one which I attended and got to stand really close to VP Biden, and then listen to the activists that had gathered from around the country and world to discuss how their communities were working on this issue. An issue which, by the way, is incredibly contentious and rightly so. I’ve been working in the world of CVE on my own terms for the past few years, and there is much to consider in terms of equity and efficacy – I’ll be writing about these issues separately but suffice it to say…it’s complicated.

I didn't get to shake his hand b/c he was turned the other way and I didn't want to be obnoxious and/or embarrass myself by yelling "can I shake your hand!?" so time.

I didn’t get to shake his hand b/c he was turned the other way and I didn’t want to be obnoxious and/or embarrass myself by yelling “can I shake your hand!?” so anyway…next time.

I hopped over to  Kansas City last weekend for another social media training, met yet another amazing group of local activists, and took another epic selfie group shot. The day after I returned, I moved. Two days later I was on a flight to Pakistan.

So yeah. It’s been busy.

The group #AmplifyOnline selfie is now a thing

The group #AmplifyOnline selfie is now a thing


So I hear Susan Simpson was ill treated on Reddit. Surprise, surprise. I mean, many of us ladies have been subjected to pretty sexist stuff  – which, upon being discovered, moved the gracious Evidence Professor Colin Miller to tweet that he would no longer post there.

What is most astonishing and sad about the sub is that so many people on there have just the worst assumptions about humanity. I have never seen such a skeptical, jaded, negative group (I mean the ones who resulted in Susan, Colin, and I leaving it) who ascribe the worst things to others.  I generally don’t tend to think anyone is a liar unless its actually been proven to me. But this sub is full of people who will call me, Susan, Saad, and of course Adnan liars. Just straight up. Without any evidence. (And stop with the bullshit on Adnan lying to the cops about asking for a ride from Hae, I already explained he didn’t want to admit being in her car in front of his dad).

The issue that seemed to push the anti-Susan frenzy into overdrive (other than her simply being a brilliant, articulate, driven woman who threatens weak, lazy, stupid men) was the question of whether Hae smoked pot. Susan, in case no one noticed, actually never brought that up until she was given all the documents, and then only in conjunction with the theory that Hae may have been picking up some pot when she was murdered.

Discerning minds, minds as clever as Susan’s, should have been able to deduce she found something in those documents.  She did. But she was too classy to reveal her source. So she stuck to what I and Saad had said earlier – that we knew Hae smoked pot because Adnan told us she did.

I tend to believe Adnan because in all these years I’ve never experienced him lying to me. So when he told me that Hae did smoke pot, though infrequently, I believed him.  It didn’t hurt that this was actually corroborated by Hae’s diary.  Susan, being respectful and sensitive to revealing what was in Hae’s diary, did not want to publicly point to it as the source that confirmed what I and Saad said.  This leaves me in a dilemma. I have no intentions of ever sharing Hae’s diary. It is a heinous violation of her privacy to do so. But if I state that it is clear from her diary that she did smoke pot, pitchforks will fly for evidence, and I’ll be called a liar in absence of it.  If I post the excerpt, pitchforks will fly for violating her privacy.  Idiots abound.

But in the search for the truth of what actually happened to her, I think it’s important to seriously consider where her day may have lead her.  And it may absolutely have led her to buying some weed.

Excerpt from Hae's diary. According to Adnan, pot was the hardest thing she did.

Excerpt from Hae’s diary from August of 1999. According to Adnan, pot was the only “drug” she did.


Last week was the 16th anniversary of the day Adnan was dragged out of bed at dawn by the police, never to return home again.  He waived his right to a lawyer, assuming he would return home soon, and was interrogated for the rest of the day by cops without counsel – even when his lawyer tried repeatedly to see him.

Adnan's attorney sends this letter in frustration

Adnan’s attorney faxes this letter in frustration

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In case you missed it, Adnan was a minor. With no priors. Hey Urick, how about his Constitutional rights? Asshole.

I found notes created by Doug and Chris in preparation for Adnan’s bail hearing, which they discussed at length in the University of Baltimore Law School event, thought they may be of interest:

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Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 3.53.09 PMI want to address a few of the myths perpetuated about Adnan:

  • He doesn’t remember anything from that day
  • He was not upset by Hae’s disappearance and death BUT at the same time was obsessed with her
  • He started the rumor that she went to California
  • He confessed to Gutierrez

I’ll just share documents and let you reach your own conclusions.

First, the police notes from an interview with Becky. FYI, the black triangle means “defendant”, ie Adnan.

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Before you freak out, this is a common concept in Islam – that our death is written and decreed, its determined from the time we are born, and we only live as long as God meant and not a second longer. Since many of the same losers who call me a liar will still be here on my blog gobbling up documents but not believe me, to you I say go ask another Muslim.


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In August of 1999, Gutierrez’s assistants visited Adnan to get information about his day.  This was before the first trial of course, and before they actually knew the timeline that was going to be put forth by Jay and the state.

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Adnan’s notes indicate he remembers what happened during the school day and he thinks he went to trial. The only time he is unable to account for with certainty is the time between 2:15 and track practice, which started around 3:30.  Part of this time, we know now, Asia was with him in the library. She left, and perhaps he stuck around a little longer.

In the notes Adnan mentions that he told the coach on the 13th that he would be leading prayers on the 14th. This has been corroborated by both testimony by grand jury witness Bilal and Mr. Maqbool Patel, the president of the mosque. To refresh the memory of why it may have been memorable that Adnan led prayers on that night, it was because it was the second to last night of Ramadan – the last ten nights of Ramadan being very important, and each night getting more important as Ramadan comes to an end.

Taken from Bilal's grand jury testimony notes taken by an attorney

Taken from Bilal’s grand jury testimony notes taken by an attorney

From the same testimony

From the same testimony

Notes taken from interview of Mr. Maqbool Patel, president of the mosque, confirming that Adnan gave a talk on the 14th at the mosque

Notes taken from interview of Mr. Maqbool Patel, president of the mosque, confirming that Adnan gave a talk and led prayers on the 14th at the mosque

Notes taken as the second trial was beginning.  This is not the kind of exchange that happens when someone has confessed to their attorney:

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I want to call particular attention to the note above regarding Stephanie.  Stephanie, if you are reading this, paying attention, I want you to know that over and over again in different documents Adnan expressed his concern for you and how Jay cheated on you (oh and by the way it looks like Susan Simpson found the girl he was cheating on you with from back then).  Adnan was your friend for years.  You knew him.  You didn’t believe he could do this but Jay, a pathological liar who was cheating on you, convinced you.  Today you’re a grown woman.  Think about everything that has become public and think about who Adnan was to you.  It is still not too late to support him.


Justin Brown, Adnan’s post conviction attorney, is preparing for the June hearing and first has to submit a brief, due this month. He’s working on it and it will be public when filed.  Next month the State must respond. The hearing itself will probably be public but Adnan will not be there.  His family will, and I will, and I’m sure many reporters will too.

Our private investigator is following a number of credible leads, one in particular that may clinch the matter entirely, not just helping Adnan in an appeal, but in fact exonerating him altogether.  In many ways we are inching closer to the truth of what happened to Hae.

Hae’s brother is paying attention, and recently posted a comment on Colin Miller’s blog. I hope this means that he, and her family, see that Adnan was wrongfully convicted.  Justice for Adnan also means justice for Hae and her loved ones. I pray to see this come to pass soon.

To end this long, very overdue post, some transcripts:

February 17, 2000

February 18, 2000

Forget Everything You Know

At the Columbia School of Journalism, thanks to Sharaf Mowjood and the South Asian Journalists Association.

At the Columbia School of Journalism, thanks to Sharaf Mowjood, President of the South Asian Journalists Association, and mimic extraordinaire. Full video here.

I never intended a tour, but it looks like it’s turning into one.  Starting with Stanford Law School a few weeks ago, American Law last week, and Columbia Journalism on Friday, the next few months will take me to about a dozen other venues to speak about Adnan’s case and, naturally, Serial.  In at least half of these places, a good friend is the organizer and invited me, and heck I can’t say no to a friend.  That, and the fact that the venues are packed, often sold out quickly, means people really have been impacted by Adnan’s story.  I keep thinking at some point the public will tire and move on, but am so grateful that it’s not happened.  I also worry that I’ll keep saying the same things over and over, and there is certainly some repetition, but even so every event so far has drawn out different information and discussions.  Makes sense of course, a conversation with law students will certainly sound different than one with journalism students. Continue reading

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