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USA Vs. Aafia Siddiqui, Fear vs. Fact

Posted by on Feb 4th, 2010 and filed under FEATURED. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Cageprisoners Inside the Courtroom Coverage

By PETRA BARTOSIESWICZ

AFTER a day and a half of deliberation, a 12-member jury found Siddiqui guilty today on charges that she tried to kill a team of U.S. soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan in 2008. The verdict was announced just after 2 p.m. in a packed courtroom. Siddiqui remained silent as each juror answered “yes” when asked if she was guilty on all counts. As the jury was ushered from the courtroom, Siddiqui spoke out, saying, “This is a verdict coming from Israel, not America,” and then turned to the spectator gallery and said, “Your anger should be directed where it belongs. I can testify to this and I have proof.”

Siddiqui now faces up to 50 years in prison on seven charges, including attempted murder, assault, and possession of a firearm while committing a violent crime. The firearm charge alone carries a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison. Sentencing is set for May 6 in the same courtroom where her nearly three-week trial took place. Within minutes of the verdict news sites and blogs had spread the word of Siddiqui’s conviction. The case has been widely reported in the Pakistani press and protests and vigils have been held for Siddiqui in Pakistan. Outside the courthouse, her attorney Elaine Sharp said Siddiqui was “adamant she doesn’t want to see any violent protest” as a result of the verdict. Defense attorney Charles Swift told reporters the case was about “fear versus fact,” and said that prosecutors portrayed Siddiqui as a terrorist though she was not charged with any terrorism offense. The prosecution team of Christopher LaVigne, David Rody and Jenna Dabbs did not comment publicly. A statement later released by the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, said the jury had “brought Aafia Siddiqui to justice.”

Over the past two days of deliberations jurors periodically sent notes to the judge requesting to see the testimony of various witnesses. At one point they returned to the courtroom to inspect the M-4 rifle Siddiqui is said to have fired at the U.S. team, and the 9mm revolver the U.S. Army chief warrant officer used to shoot her. Periodic laughter could be heard coming from the jury room today as deliberations continued. When jurors sent word that they had reached a verdict, the prosecution and defense teams filed into the courtroom. U.S. Marshals and court security officers ringed the spectator gallery and Siddiqui was brought into the courtroom from the holding cell she has spent much of the trial in. Siddiqui’s brother, Mohammed, who has attended every day of the trial and taken detailed notes throughout the proceedings, sat several rows directly behind his sister. At the announcement of the verdict he shook his head and put his notepad back into his suit pocket.

Jurors did not find that the shooting was premeditated, which would have carried a potential life sentence, but Siddiqui may get effectively just that because prosecutors are expected to ask the judge to apply a terrorism enhancement, which will likely push her sentence towards the maximum number of years. In addition to the mandatory 30 years in prison she faces on the firearm charge, she could get as many as 20 years in prison on two charges of attempted murder and assault, as well as 8 years on three lesser assault charges. Her sentence on the attempted murder and assault charges may be served concurrently, but the sentence on the firearms charge must be served consecutively.

Although Siddiqui was not charged with terrorism, prosecutors cast her as a would-be terrorist by introducing documents she was allegedly found with in Ghazni, Afghanistan on July 17, 2008, the day before the shooting incident. The documents, which reference “cells,” “dirty bombs” and a “mass casualty attack,” and name New York City landmarks like the Empire State Building, were the subject of fierce wrangling by prosecutors and defense attorneys. On the eve of the trial Judge Richard Berman ruled in favor of the prosecution and said they could introduce the documents to show Siddiqui’s intent in the shooting. Siddiqui’s defense team acknowledged the documents were in her hand, but when Siddiqui took the stand in her defense she did little to clarify where they were from or why she had them, saying only that she had not packed her bag and didn’t know how she got them. She later suggested she copied the text on the documents from a magazine. Prosecutors said the documents demonstrated Siddiqui had the “knowledge and the know-how” to attack the U.S. The excerpts shown in court, however, suggested something less than a master terrorist. One page showed a crude sketch of a gun that was described as a “match gun” that operates by lighting a match. In the absence of any counter-narrative from the defense, the documents remained suggestively incriminating and provided a backdrop for the charges. Full page excerpts of the documents were shown in open court on an overhead projector during the trial, but were too distant for those in the spectator gallery to make out the words, and the judge later issued a protective order sealing their contents from public view.

Because the charges against Siddiqui were limited to the shooting in Ghazni, the trial unfolded in a kind of vacuum. Early in the case Siddiqui’s defense team suggested she was a victim of the “dark side,” picked up by Pakistani or U.S. intelligence, but prosecutors insisted they found no evidence she’d ever been illegally detained. By the time of the trial, no mention was made of Siddiqui’s whereabouts during her five missing years. No explanation was given as to why a would-be terrorist would wander around openly with a slew of almost theatrically incriminating materials in her possession. No questions were raised about the whereabouts of her two missing children, one of whom is a U.S. citizen. And yet, references to the backstory came trickling out in ways that must have seemed strange to the jurors, who were given strict instructions not to read anything about Siddiqui or the case. During Siddiqui’s testimony she made numerous references to “secret prisons” and “torture.” FBI agents also testified that Siddiqui told them she believed her missing children were likely dead, and that she was worried for the safety of her eldest son, with whom she’d been found in Ghazni. Her statements, like her outbursts in the courtroom, were dismissed by prosecutors as calculated attempts to sabotage the proceedings. Her defense attorneys, who made an unsuccessful appeal to the judge to have her blocked from testifying in her defense, said she was mentally unstable. Siddiqui’s mental health will likely be a major issue on appeal. After she was brought to the U.S. to face charges in August 2008, the court initially found her mentally incompetent, but after an extensive psychiatric evaluation the decision was reversed and she was deemed fit to stand trial.

Petra Bartosiewicz is a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including The Nation, Mother Jones, and Salon.com. Her forthcoming book on terrorism trials in the U.S., The Best Terrorists We Could Find, will be published by Nation Books early next year. You can find her investigation of Aafia Siddiqui’s case, “The Intelligence Factory: How America Makes its Enemies Disappear,” in the November 2009 issue of Harper’s magazine (www.harpers.org) and at her website www.petrabart.com. She can be reached at petrabart@petrabart.com.

1 Response for “USA Vs. Aafia Siddiqui, Fear vs. Fact”

  1. muslima says:

    What can we expect from terrorists no. 1 – America? For them 1 more Muslim woman and 2 children, what difference does it make amongst so many killed and tortured?

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