Aafia speaks out about her ordeal in U.S. custody
Originally published here.
NEW YORK – Dr. Aafia Siddiqui spoke directly to her jurors in a US court on Thursday when the Pakistani neuroscientist took the stand and rejected as “ridiculous” the charge that she grabbed a M-4 rifle to kill US interrogators in Afghanistan, saying she was framed for the alleged crime.
“It’s just ridiculous. I didn’t do that,” Ms. Siddiqui said of the attempted murder charge, in a clear and confident tone as she, for the first time, gave her version of the shooting incident at the police headquarters in Ghazni where a soldier shot her in the abdomen.
The jury listened to her intently as she described her ordeal in the packed U.S. District Court in Manhattan, presided over by Judge Richard Berman.
Ms. Siddiqui, who decided to testify over the objections of her lawyers, repeatedly told the court that she had been held in “secret prisons” and tortured before her arrest in Afghanistan. But she was told by the judge time and again not to talk about the events before the July 2008 incident.
Experts said that it appeared the defence lawyers’ fears about Ms. Siddiqui taking the stand were misplaced. “She did very well. I am relieved that she told her side of the story to the jury, including her concerns for her children,” Attorney Tina Foster and family spokesman told reporters afterwards.
“I’m hopeful now,” Ms. Foster said, pointing out that the prosecution had produced no physical evidence and their witnesses’ testimonies were inconsistent.
On Thursday, the defendant told the jury her children were always on her mind and she was in a “daze” at the time of her arrest in Ghazni. She was afraid that she was again going to be transferred to a “secret” prison by the Americans and was trying to slip out of the room where was shot.
Ms. Siddiqui testified she was shot shortly after she peeked from the side of a curtain dividing the room to see if there was a way she might slip out of it. “I was very confused,” she said. “I wanted to get out. … I was afraid.”
She not only denied firing the M-4 assault rifle, she said when she heard about the allegations she thought, “What does an M-4 look like? She went on to say that she saw an M-4 for the first time when it was produced in the court a couple of days ago as the weapon she allegedly used.
Ms. Siddiqui told the jury it was absurd to think an American soldier would carelessly leave his weapon in a place where a suspect like her could grab it. “It’s too crazy. It’s just ridiculous,” Siddiqui said, adjusting her white scarf. “I didn’t do that.”
Prosecutor Jenna Dabbs then asked about her purse which FBI claimed contained chemicals, a list of terror targets in New York City, instructions on how to make a dirty bomb and drawings of weapons.
Ms. Sidddiqui denied to Ms. Dabbs having any knowledge of the bag’s contents. “I can’t testify to that, the bag was not mine, so I didn’t necessarily go through everything,” she said.
“Did you have notes on a dirty bomb?” Ms. Dabbs asked. “To answer your question, I do not know how to make a dirty bomb,” Ms. Siddiqui said, adding later, “I did not draw those pictures. I’m definitely not that good an artist, I can tell you that.”
At one point, Ms. Siddiqui also said that some of her notes were translations from a magazine article she was asked to prepare by her captors holding threats to the safety of her missing children. It was “pure psychological, emotional torture,” she said, describing her situation.
“I thought it was a continuation of what had been done to me in my secret prison history,” she added, referring to reports that she was imprisoned overseas since 2003.
On cross-examination, Ms. Dabbs, one of the assistant United States attorneys prosecuting the case, tried to establish that Ms. Siddiqui was actually treated well in the hospital and singled out her relationship with Angela Sercer, an FBI special agent. But Ms. Siddiqui said that while in Bagram where she was transported in a critical condition from Ghazi for medial treatment, no one who interacted with her ever identified himself as FBI agent. Ms. Sercer might have just seemed pleasant, leading to one of the more notable exchanges of the afternoon.
“I consider everyone a nice person unless they give me a reason to think otherwise,” said Ms. Siddiqui, before nodding in Ms. Dabbs’s direction. “I think you’re a nice person, too. Why, are you not a nice person?”
Under questioning, Ms. Siddiqui called it “the biggest joke. I have sometimes been forced to smile under my scarf. Of course not.”
The judge allowed her to testify only after a lengthy question-and-answer session on whether she understood her rights and a debate between prosecutors and defence lawyers over whether statements she made to FBI agents while being treated at the Bagram hospital for a gunshot wound could be admitted into evidence.
Judge Berman ruled that the statements could indeed be used to impeach Ms. Siddiqui, and Ms. Dabbs introduced several of them, including one in which Ms. Siddiqui allegedly told an agent she had fired the weapon.
Ms. Siddiqui denied it and making the other statements as well, telling the jury at one point, “If I messed up it was torture. It was the same game.”
She also denied taking pistol lessons at the Braintree Pistol and Rifle Course in Braintree, while she was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When asked by Ms. Dabbs whether she had “fired thousands of rounds” at the club, Ms. Siddiqui answered, “I have no recollection.”
At one point, when her headscarf began to slip over her face, her attorney, Elaine Sharp, asked her to explain her attire to the jury.
“If you’ve been in a secret prison, abused, you get more modest. And it’s part of the religion,” Ms. Siddiqui said.
The prosecution is expected to counter that testimony with a witness during its rebuttal case on Friday.