The trial of Aafia Siddiqui began on Tuesday last week at the federal court of the Southern District of New York at 500 Pearl Street in Manhattan. Surprisingly, the turnout of spectators, protesters, and journalists was large enough that two other courtrooms needed to be opened up with closed-circuit TV feed. I was at a conference last week, so I am writing this in arrears, but Petra Bartosiewicz, the freelance reporter who produced a great piece on Ms. Siddiqui late last year, has done two days of blog style reporting and a good piece in Time Magazine. They are well worth the read.
Opening remarks by the prosecution centered on the idea that evidence cannot be perfect in the middle of a war zone, and that Aafia Siddiqui is a dangerous person found with vials and cosmetics bottles and hand written notes and jump drives and whatever (by the side of a road in Ghazni, at the edge of, or not really in, the "war zone", in a burka, writing things on a tablet, with her son by her side), and yelled "by the blood of [indistinct] on your heads and hands" and picked up an M-4 rifle and tried to kill Americans, which apparently is against the law if they’re soldiers in a war zone. [Private guess: if she ever said anything at all like that to them, in any context, even bleeding and lying on the ground, never having grabbed anything or shot at anyone, then the indistinct word was 'Suleman'.]
Opening remarks by the defense, delivered by Charles Swift, were to the effect that they weren’t claiming she did it in self-defense, or that she did it without knowing what she was doing, or any other affirmative defense, they were claiming she never picked up the rifle, never tried to fire it, and the only gun leveled and fired that day was the 9mm pistol of the warrant officer who shot her with it, and that since there was absolutely no material evidence to the contrary, she is innocent of the charges.
Opening remarks by Aafia Siddiqui were that she was not there voluntarily and had ‘fired her defense’ many times already.
The prosecution started with Captain Snyder, the person whose head the gun was supposedly pointed at. He also, at prosecution request, read from the ‘handwritten notes’ (the electronic media on the jump drive has been banned from the trial since the prosecution cannot vouch for its whereabouts for several days and since the trial is not about terrorism, supposedly). Aafia Siddiqui objected that she never intended to bomb anything, and said, to the jury, "It’s not true. I was held in a secret prison, my children were tortured, I was told to copy a magazine…" according to one version (reporters seem to have had a hard time agreeing with each other about her remarks). She was taken out of the court room, but returned the next day.
The problems with the prosecution testimony were ably pursued by the defense on cross-examination all week (the prosecution has now presented all its witnesses). Captain Snyder says she was kneeling and had trouble figuring out the gun, Ahmad Gul, the interpreter who supposedly wrestled with her for the gun says she was standing and he pushed her against the wall. There were no fingerprints on the weapon, there were no bullets or casings of anything but a 9mm pistol in the room, the examination of much of the forensic evidence was conducted in part by the same team who were involved in the incident, the attempted murder weapon, the M-4 was apparently dismantled and some of the parts likely to produce fingerprints given to other soldiers who were apparently in dire need of spare M-4 parts, it took multiple hours before she was in surgery, she was flown to Bagram immediately after the surgery which was at 1am (the incident was in the afternoon), it took 20 days for the evidence to follow, in someone’s backpack, Linda Moreno established that the interpreter has been given all sorts of favors by immigration and is in email correspondence with the person who shot Ms. Siddiqui, and there’s no evidence the M-4 was fired that day at all, according to the FBI forensics specialist who examined the scene.
But there are other elements to the case that favor the prosecution. On Wednesday, the court security set up a second check point and metal detector right outside the courtroom itself (there is already a metal detector and security check at the entrance to the building) and began searching all the spectators as they came in, in full view of the jurors, and asking for their IDs and copying the information off them onto a list. Charles Swift complained to Judge Berman on Thursday that "The suggestion that the public gallery may be a threat is highly prejudicial". He complained again on Friday, and Judge Berman said he’d ‘look into it with the security people’, to which Mr. Swift retorted that the security people say it was ordered by the judge. Personally? I don’t have much confidence that it will be stopped, the judge has been ‘looking into’ the strip searches Ms. Siddiqui must endure to come to court or meet with attorneys for about a year and a half and they haven’t stopped, he apparently looks into things for a very, very long time.
This week, the defense will present its case and call its witnesses.
I do want to note a couple of things: The constant outbursts from Aafia Siddiqui complaining that she isn’t being allowed to speak may seem to those just tuning in for the trial to be very out of line, as the defense hasn’t started it’s case yet and so forth. You have to look at the history of the case. Judge Berman explicitly wrote into his opinion of July 29, 2009 on her competency to stand trial that the defendant has the right to speak in her defense at a competency hearing, but he also explicitly forbade her from doing so. So she has been waiting a long time, and has previously had the right to speak but has been denied that right. Secondly, the case is not a terrorism case on its face, it’s an attempted murder case, so the prosecution is supposed to be banned from trying to make it about her and about al Qaeda. But they were allowed to read from the handwritten notes to ‘establish the context’ for the shooting. Right.
And, for the same reason, the defense is not allowed to talk about her disappearance and possible torture, that’s why her outburst resulted in her being taken out of the courtroom. The U.S. contends that she was in Karachi in hiding the whole time and can prove it: They have statements taken from her during the two weeks after she was shot, when she was in a four-point restraint bed in Bagram, with 24/7 lights and cameras, being interrogated by the FBI. She was apprehended in Ghazni with her son, Ahmed. At the time she was interrogated (July 17 – August 3, 2008), and indeed until October 2008, she did not know what they had done with her son. She claims that her torture included showing her pictures of her younger son, Suleman, lying in a pool of blood, and she has no idea where her daughter is (the U.S., following her ex-husband Amjid Khan, claims all the children are in Karachi). Those statements, thus, taken in extreme duress, recovering from major surgery in four-point restraint while your interrogators have your children and are of those who shot you, which "prove" she was not tortured, were used in her competency proceedings to convince the psychiatrist who was in charge of examining her at Carswell, TX, that she was "malingering" — or feigning symptoms.
For any more about her disappearance and torture, the information will not come from the trial underway in Manhattan, but from the trial looming in Islamabad. There the Pakistani Senate appointed a committee, back when the Lawyer’s Movement succeeded in restoring the Supreme Court, and that court invalidated all judgments made by the Islamabad High Court during the period since the suspension of the Constitution in November 2007, to review all of that court’s decisions and decide which to reinstate, which to retry, and which to dismiss. They are also tasked with investigating the Musharraf administration’s abrogations of justice and handing down charges to be prosecuted.
It is very likely that they will shortly recommend that Pervez Musharraf, and former Inspector General Sindh Kamal Shah be put on trial for the kidnapping and illegal rendering of Aafia Siddiqui and her three children to the Americans for torture. They have appointed an Special Police Investigating Officer, Shahid Qureshi following the filing of charges with the Gulshan Iqbal police (the station with jurisdiction where she was allegedly kidnapped), who is late with his report and has been ordered by the court to produce it.
It is important to understand that the question of whether or not she was apprehended and tortured cannot be conclusively solved on what people can gather right now, which is probably why the U.S. can continue to assert that there was no such disappearance. Petra Bartosiewicz left the question unanswered in her piece last year, very much left the question open. But there is this one thing that I think is the most important development so far on that score:
Police record statement of Dr Aafia’s son
KARACHI: Police recorded the statement of Dr Aafia’s son on Monday, according to a report.
Muhammad Ahmed, son of Dr Aafia Siddiqui – a Pakistani scientist detained in America – told the police that he, his mother and siblings – Mariam and Yousuf – were on their way to the Karachi Airport on March 30, 2003 when plainclothesmen intercepted their taxi in Gulshan-e-Iqbal and took her into custody.
Investigations SP Niaz Khuso said Ahmed stated that he was taken in a separate vehicle and the officials had rendered him unconscious, and when he regained consciousness, he found himself in Juvenile Jail Kabul, Afghanistan.
Ahmed said the Red Cross, a human rights organisation, had contacted him in 2008 for the first time. Khuso said Ahmed could speak English and Darri languages that he had learnt in Kabul. staff report
(my bold of final sentence).
It’s one thing to have a he-said-she-said between the family, the ex, the Pakistani and American officials, the supporters, the woman herself, and even her child. It’s quite another for the U.S. to continue to assert that she was in Karachi the whole time with her children when it turns up that one of them has acquired fluency in a language spoken in Central and Western Afghanistan, not in Karachi.
She may or may not be convicted in New York, in a trial that will never be perceived as fair in her home country if only because of the strip searches are evidence to Pakistanis of her continued torture by the U.S. government. And the terror-fear machine is cranked to high heaven around the trial, with Glenn Sulmasy asserting in NRO that this is why we need a new court system for terrorists, and with people flogging Attorney General Holder for deciding to try them in our courts (he had nothing to do with the decision to try Aafia Siddiqui in New York, or the decision to illegally render her there).
But in Pakistan, it will be the trial of her captors for kidnapping her that will likely produce the truth at long last.