The best defense testimony in the trial of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui came from the defendant herself Thursday in New York when she responded to the charges saying: “you can’t build a case on hate, build it on facts.”
The most shocking testimony that had spectators in tears and jury members visibly disturbed was her account of being “held in a secret prison” and “her children being tortured”.
Dr. Siddiqui described her recollection of being shot by not one but two different individuals explaining that the shots came from two different directions.
After hearing her allegation that she was in constant threat that her daughter would be raped or killed, the jury members requested a break.
Much of the morning’s proceedings concerned whether or not Dr. Siddiqui would be allowed to testify. Although she had constantly expressed her desire to testify, her defense team filed a motion to bar her from testifying based on her “mental condition”. The judge denied the motion citing that its best to err on the side of her “constitutional rights”.
There were also deliberations in the morning on the permissibility of self-incriminating statements she made to FBI officials while at a hospital in Bagram. During that hearing it was revealed that she was under 24 hour surveillance by two FBI agents while both arms and legs were tied to a bed for several weeks as she was being administered medical treatment.
During that time she had numerous conversations with a female FBI agent, Angela Sercer, who did not identify herself to Siddiqui as an FBI agent. Siddiqui said that “everyone who entered the room turned their badges around”, so she did not know who anyone was. Throughout this period she was on several types of medication, sleep deprived, and dependent on the agent for food, water, and to go to the bathroom.
The defense objected to the use of these statements as evidence based on “Miranda laws” which mandate that an arrested individual must be informed of their rights, must have access to an attorney, or as in the case of international law, consular staff, and law enforcement officials must identify themselves. Despite the fact that none of these rights were granted to Dr. Siddiqui, the judge denied the motion and allowed them to be used in questioning.
After the ruling Dr. Siddiqui took the stand. How literally she took her sworn oath was immediately evident when she responded to the question about the year she was born. The prosecutor asked her if she was born in 1972. She hesitated. “that’s what people tell me but I can’t testify to that..how can anyone remember when they were born”.
The prosecution spent a long time asking her questions about her education in an attempt to highlight her training in the sciences. She said she majored in biology because her mother wanted her to be a medical doctor, but that her real interest was always the social sciences. She said she took only the required science courses at MIT and took as many social sciences as she could.
Throughout her academic career she won numerous awards. One was for an national essay competition on the value of multiculturalism; the others for social service. She recalled her PhD work which studied the various conditions and methods by which children learn, a field known as cognitive neuroscience. Although her work and degree are considered a social science, the prosecution did their best to paint her training as that of a someone who would have expertise in various types of biological or chemical weapons.
When questioned about the incident on July 18, 2008 she objected to the idea that she was on trial for what happened on that day because she was the one who was shot. She said she did not want to endorse the trial for charges that she deemed “ridiculous”.
She did however proceed to answer, claiming that on the day in question her only concern was to “get away” because of her fear of being returned to the “secret prison” where the “bad guys” were.
Dr. Siddiqui said she peaked beyond the yellow curtain to see if there was a chance she could get away. She testified that a soldier from across the room looked at her and said “she’s loose” and shot her in the abdomen. She also testified that another shot hit from her side and went through her back. She felt warm blood on her back and fell back on the bed.
Siddiqui said that she was thrown from the bed to the floor by U.S. soldiers who referred to her as “the B word”. She could not say the word out loud. Then she said she passed out from which point she was in and out consciousness. She recalled being transported in both a vehicle and a helicopter during which she said she heard soldiers express concern that she may be about to die. According to Siddiqui’s testimony she heard someone say that if she were to die “a couple of us are going to lose our jobs”
Siddiqui gave very detailed and lengthy answers to most questions fielded by the defense and prosecution and she maintained her innocence throughout. “The first time I saw an M4 was in this court”, she said. On key issues during the cross examination she maintained that she neither picked up the M4 nor did she ever tell anyone that she picked up the M4. She referred to the Governments account as “ridiculous”.
She also responded to allegations that she had incriminating evidence in her purse. “I was not my purse” “They gave it to me” she repeatedly responded. She also claimed that the handwritten notes were copies from a magazine which she was told to copy under threat of torture of her children. She also referred to her arrest at Ghazni as her “re-arrest” claiming that prior to her arrest she was in a “secret prison” held by people who she constantly referred to as “bad guys” . She said they sounded like Americans but could not have been “real Americans” but “pretend Americans” because of the things they had done to her.
Testimony that was difficult for many people to hear were her references to her children as she explained her motivations. She was asked if she remembers being at the Ghazni police station with her son, Ahmed. She said that she couldn’t answer but that she remembered being there with “a boy” who “could have been” her son. She attempted to explain that she couldn’t know for sure if that was her son because he was kept apart from her for several years before she was cut off by the prosecutor. She mentioned being shown a “photograph” of her son…and then she was stopped.
Her son has given a statement to police in Lahore Pakistan stating that he has been in a juvenile prison in Afghanistan for several years. He also said that he, his siblings, and mother were picked up by Pakistani men while they were on their way to the airport. The children were separated from their mother who was immediately hooded. According the report all the children were crying and Suleman who was 8 months old at the time was thrown in the taxi and was bleeding. If his story is correct it would explain why his mother could not be sure that Ahmed was her son.
References to her alleged kidnapping and disappearance is considered “classified” and when a prosecutor accused her of being in hiding for five years the defense immediately moved for a mistrial. The defense seems as eager as the prosecution not to allow testimony about her alleged kidnapping and 5 year disappearance. Many of her supporters expressed concern about whether this is because the defense is being paid by the Pakistani government. The family claims that she was initially kidnapped by Pakistani inteligence officials. The prosecution has tried to portray her as a cunning and well trained terrorist; and the defense has tried portray her as a mentally unstable victim. Her supporters, however, were very pleased with her testimony. Despite all the efforts of her own attorneys to keep her from testifying she may have been her own best defense.
The prosecution has requested that they be allowed to bring 4-5 more witnesses to rebutt Siddiqui’s persuasive testimony. Although this would be in essence re-trying the case, the judge will rule tomorrow. If the judge allows it the proceedings will continue until next week.