[Guest post by DRJ]
The criminal trial of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui began last week in a New York City courtroom with jury selection and will continue Tuesday morning with opening statements. Pakistani-born Siddiqui attended Brandeis, is an MIT-trained neuroscientist, lived in Boston with her anesthesiologist husband, and is the mother of three children. Siddiqui was captured in Afghanistan with suspicious documents and is charged with trying to murder an American soldier outside Kabul, Afghanistan.
The parties offer vastly different profiles of Siddiqui. In this Guardian article, Declan Walsh summarized the prosecution’s facts that led to the charges against Siddiqui:
“On a hot summer morning 18 months ago a team of four Americans – two FBI agents and two army officers – rolled into Ghazni, a dusty town 50 miles south of Kabul. They had come to interview two unusual prisoners: a woman in a burka and her 11-year-old son, arrested the day before.
Afghan police accused the mysterious pair of being suicide bombers. What interested the Americans, though, was what they were carrying: notes about a “mass casualty attack” in the US on targets including the Statue of Liberty and a collection of jars and bottles containing “chemical and gel substances”.
At the town police station the Americans were directed into a room where, unknown to them, the woman was waiting behind a long yellow curtain. One soldier sat down, laying his M-4 rifle by his foot, next to the curtain. Moments later it twitched back.
The woman was standing there, pointing the officer’s gun at his head. A translator lunged at her, but too late. She fired twice, shouting “Get the fuck out of here!” and “Allahu Akbar!” Nobody was hit. As the translator wrestled with the woman, the second soldier drew his pistol and fired, hitting her in the abdomen. She went down, still kicking and shouting that she wanted “to kill Americans”. Then she passed out.
Whether this extraordinary scene is fiction or reality will soon be decided thousands of miles from Ghazni in a Manhattan courtroom. The woman is Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist and mother of three. The description of the shooting, in July 2008, comes from the prosecution case, which Siddiqui disputes. What isn’t in doubt is that there was an incident, and that she was shot, after which she was helicoptered to Bagram air field where medics cut her open from breastplate to bellybutton, searching for bullets. Medical records show she barely survived.”
Early last week, one of Siddiqui’s defense attorneys claimed the prosecution’s evidence is not admissible and, in any event, Siddiqui didn’t do it:
“On Monday, defence attorneys asked US District Judge Richard Berman to bar testimony and evidence from Siddiqui’s capture in Afghanistan the day before the shooting. Prosecutors allege she was carrying a list naming the Stature of Liberty and other New York landmarks, and notes about chemical and biological weapons. Defence attorney Linda Moreno argued a jury should only consider whether her client fired a weapon – not her motive. She said there were no fingerprints or other forensic evidence to prove that her client had even picked up the weapon. “We’re saying she simply didn’t do it,” the lawyer said.”
On Wednesday, Judge Berman ruled admissible Siddiqui’s handwritten documents and any fingerprint evidence, but barred the prosecution from linking Siddiqui to any terrorist organization or offering printed materials in her possession that might suggest terror-related links or sympathies.
Collecting evidence and following traditional police procedures are difficult to do in war, and I suspect this case and the legal issues it presents will be a preview of the Guantanamo detainee trials yet to come.
PS — Don’t miss this October 2004 Boston Magazine article regarding Siddiqui written before the shooting incident.