New York trial prompts outrage in Pakistan
Aafia Siddiqui, shown in custody in Afghanistan in 2008, faces life in prison on charges of attempted murder. AP
The U.S. says Aafia Siddiqui is a terrorist. Her countrymen say she is a victim of American injustice
By Saeed Shah
January 20 2010
In the United States, she’s been dubbed “the most dangerous woman in the world.” In Pakistan, she is seen as a victim of American injustice in the fight against al-Qaeda. And at the opening of her trial in New York, the judge found her too disruptive and had her removed from the courtroom.
“I was never planning a bombing! You’re lying!” Aafia Siddiqui shouted as she was taken out of court less than two hours into the proceedings yesterday.
The outburst came as U.S. Army Captain Robert Snyder testified that documents found in Dr. Siddiqui’s possession included targets for a mass casualty attack, including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge.
There was shouting in Pakistan, too, at demonstrations in cities across the country in support of Dr. Siddiqui, who is a national cause célèbre as a symbol of Muslims mistreated during U.S. antiterrorism efforts, just like the prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, or Bagram, the Afghan prison where her supporters say she was secretly held for years.
Dr. Siddiqui’s frail appearance and tormented outbursts in pretrial hearings have added to allegations that she has had to endure years of torture since going missing from her hometown of Karachi in 2003. But according to her detractors, including her former husband Amjad Khan, she was a jihadist who spent those years on the run. Some have even suggested that she became a double agent, working at some point against al-Qaeda.
U.S. officials have accused Dr. Siddiqui, a 37-year-old neuroscientist educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, of working for al-Qaeda, in particular as a facilitator for the 9/11 hijackers. The only charges she faces in the New York court, however, are related to the extraordinary circumstances of her supposed capture in Afghanistan in 2008.
“They couldn’t find a more innocent person,” says Fauzia Siddiqui, Aafia’s sister in Karachi. “I don’t believe that there’s any justice possible in the post-9/11 U.S. system.”
Fauzia Siddiqui cares for 13-year-old Ahmed, one of her sister’s three children, who were all with her when she disappeared. The whereabouts of the other two, Suleman, who would now be 7, and Maryam, 10, remain a mystery.
Dr. Siddiqui’s family says she was abducted by Pakistani intelligence and then handed over to American agents.
Shortly after the stories of Dr. Siddiqui’s alleged detention at Bagram hit the international headlines in 2008, she turned up in American custody. U.S. authorities said she was arrested after acting suspiciously in Ghazni, Afghanistan, a town 80 kilometres south of Kabul, and found with documentation on U.S. landmarks and jars containing chemicals.
According to the U.S. account, when in custody at a police station in Ghazni, the petite Dr .Siddiqui jumped out from behind a curtain, grabbed an M-4 rifle that was lying at the foot of a U.S. soldier, and shot at him twice, missing. A second soldier fired back, hitting her in the stomach. She was then flown to the United States.
In New York, she faces life in prison on charges of attempted murder, armed assault on U.S. officers and employees and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence – all stemming from the Ghazni incident.
Defence lawyer Charles Swift – whom Dr. Siddiqui has disowned – told jurors there was no conclusive evidence she ever picked up the rifle. “There are many different versions of how this happened,” he said.
In Pakistani cities such as Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, there were small but emotional demonstrations.
“They [the Americans] are just trying to lock up people to show they have some bad guys, to try to prove they are winning the war,” 18-year-old student Mohammad bin Ismail said in Islamabad. “They are using people like trophies.”
The fact that Dr. Siddiqui is a woman seems to have generated much anger in conservative Pakistan, where her support is noticeably from the religious right. “It’s a case of rendition,” said Amina Janjua, a local campaigner for missing people. “We feel that as a Pakistani nation, our respect, honour and dignity is at stake.”
Aafia Sid NEW YORK:
Pakistani neuroscientist and an alleged al-Qaida sympathiser Aafia Siddiqui accused of shooting at US military officers in Afghanistan, today promised to behave in court and refrain from any outbursts.
Siddiqui has been accused of shooting at US military officers and FBI agents, was taken out of the court, following an outburst on the first day of trial.
Siddiqui exploded into an disjointed protest shortly after the first witness, Captain Jack Snyder began testifying about a paper on which the defendant allegedly had written words like “radiation material”, “dirty bomber”, and names of New York City landmarks including Brooklyn Bridge and Empire State Building.
“I was never planning to bomb,” “When you’ve been in a secret prison,” “When your children have been tortured” are some of the things, she said, before being taken out from the courtroom.
Siddiqui told Judge Richard Berman she would be quiet on even though she might disagree with testimony. The prosecutors requested that Siddiqui not be allowed back in for the rest of the trial that is expected to last about ten days.
The defendant, herself, has refused to participate in the court proceedings, several times, and does not recognise here defence team retained by the Pakistani government including, Charles Swift, who is well know for being the lawyer for Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamadan.
Siddiqui was picked up by Afghan forces after she was found wandering around the governor’s house in the city of Ghazni with a small boy, the alleged handwritten paper and a thumb drive with more notes in various languages including Urdu.
After opening statements from both sides, the prosecutor presented three witnesses who proceeded to describe how the defendant had picked up a M4 rifle that had been left unsecured by one a military official during her interrogation in the police headquarters in Ghazni.
Snyder recalled that the gun was pointed straight at his head and being able to see in the barrel of the gun. “I used the arms of my chair to spring out of my seat and get out of the line of the fire,” he said.
The defence team intends to show that the suspicious material that the defendant allegedly had on her person is not credible as it changed hands several times between Afghan and American officials, and also that the petite 90 pound, Siddiqui, could not have lifted a M4 much less fired it.
The defendant, 37, who studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has also been described as an Al Qaeda sympathiser but this case is only about whether she shot the army personnel and she is not facing any terrorism-related charges.
Siddiqui left the United States for Pakistan in 2002. The following year she disappeared from Pakistan and suddenly resurfaced in 2008 in front of the governor’s house. It is believed she was held by the US authorities during this time.
Jury selected for Dr Aafia’s trial
By Masood Haider
January 16, 2010
NEW YORK: A 16-member jury was chosen on Thursday for Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s trial next week, as the Pakistani neuroscientist repeatedly interrupted questioning of potential jurors about the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.
Of the 16 jurors, 12 will be part of the jury team and four will be alternate team in case someone falls sick.
“I have nothing to do with 9/11,” Ms Siddiqui declared when a potential juror who cited her personal experience on Sept 11 was dismissed. Dr Aafia suggested Israel was behind the attacks.
Ms Siddiqui’s trial for allegedly shooting at her US interrogators in Afghanistan last July begins in the US District Court in Manhattan on January 19. She’s not facing terrorism charges.
When Judge Richard Berman quizzed the jury panel whether their 9/11 experiences would influence their deliberations, Ms Siddiqui stood up from the defence table.
“The next question will be on anti-Semitism, Israel was behind 9/11. That’s not anti-Semitic,” she said before being escorted out.
Judge Berman later said that anyone who disrupts proceedings will be removed, but that Ms Siddiqui has a right to be present for her trial and would be allowed to return.
On Wednesday, Ms Siddiqui demanded that Jews should be excluded from the jury at her trial.
Ms Siddiqui has repeatedly said she is boycotting her own trial and has attempted to make her case directly to prospective jurors and the judge.
In the end on Thursday, a jury of seven women and five men was chosen, with four alternate jurors, two men and two women.
Ms Siddiqui is accused of attempted murder of US Army officer by grabbing rifle during an interrogation in Afghanistan in July 2008.