Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Trial of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui: DAY FIVE

Also watch for post COMING SOON here on One Heart: SECOND WEEK for more details as well as for Pakistani and American journalism. Petra Bartosiewicz' Day Five is below.

Aafia Siddiqui Trial: Green Beret Weeps On Stand
Posted on 26 January 2010 by Ibrahim Sajid Malick

ibrahimsajidmalick dot com

Special Agent Eric Negron will resume his testimony on the sixth day of the high profile trial of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, in Southern District Court of New York today.

Proceedings resumed Monday with a testimony of a MIT employee who confirmed that she completed B.S in Biology in 1995.

Specialist Rene Card, a medic with the US Army testified that Dr. Siddiqui shot the M-4 rifle and bullets came towards her. She described in minute details the events of July 18th, 2008, however, she did not recall her two earlier statements to FBI immediately following the incident.

On July 23rd 2008, Specialist Card had said that Chief Warrant Officer was very agitated on the day of the incident and that she was coached by her direct supervisor to modify her statement.

She had said that Sgt. Baker, her immediate supervisor told her: “if it is revealed that it was Snyder’s gun he will be fried but nothing will happen to Chief Warrant Officer.”

Observers believe the Government appointed defense attorney Dawn Cardi did not explore the holes in Specialist Card’s testimony adequately.

An emotional testimony of Chief Warrant officer who sobbed as he described an unrelated attack in which he was injured, was very moving. All the jurors sat on the edges of their chair and two members of jury were visibly upset – with their faces completely red.

Judge Richard Berman asked the prosecutor to clarify that the incident where Chief Warrant officer was injured had nothing to do with Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s trial but defense argues that it has prejudiced jurors against her.

Chief Warrant Officer testified today that he peeked behind the curtain and saw nothing except for a small messy room and possibly a bed.

Chief Warrant Officer and his interpretator Ahmad Gul had identical testimonies in past five days. Everyone else had a different recollection.

But, testimony of Ahmad Gul an Afghan national who came to the US on government paid expenses in October of 2008 and expeditiously received his green card was very much aligned with the testimony of Chief Warrant Officer.

Chief Warrant Officer testified that he saw a number of items allegedly recovered from Dr. Siddiqui by the Afghan National Police including a number of handwritten and pre-printed documents, and various chemicals. He believed that the detainee was an American citizen and he contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist in interviewing and identifying the individual whom the ANP had detained.

Chief Warrant Officer testified that the following day, a team of United States military personnel and FBI agents traveled to the ANP Compound where Dr. Siddiqui was held, in order to interview and identify her.

He said when he arrived on the second floor room he was surprised to see Captain Snyder already present. He said he peeked behind the curtain and ‘sat down’ his M4 on the floor.

He testified that Dr. Siddiqui grabbed his M-4 rifle, and attempted to fire at him. To eliminate ‘threat’ he shot her in the abdomen.

He testified that during and immediately after this shooting, the Dr. Siddiqui repeatedly screamed anti-American statements, including her desire to kill Americans.

Chief Warrant Officer testified that his team later brought Dr. Siddiqui to a military base in Ghazni, where her wounds were treated. The same day, two FBI agents took her to another military base in Bagram for medical treatment.

During cross examination when defense attorney Charles Swift asked him why his testimony today differs from his operational review (aka W5) filed the same day of the incident, sworn statement 4 days later and several statements to FBI, Chief Warrant Officer did not have a satisfactory response.

In his earlier statements he had said he saw Dr. Siddiqui lung towards his rifle and he decided to let her take the rifle and shot with his pistol instead. But on Monday he told defense attorney: “I must have wrote it incorrectly.”

Today he testified that Dr. Siddiqui fired as he did, pretty much simultaneously.

Issue here is: can Dr. Siddiqiui pick up M4 rifle and fire with the same speed that Green Beret with fifteen years experience fires his pistol. Chief Warrant Officer told defense attorney: “as I look back it was certainly amazing she got it up that fast.”


USA v Aafia Siddiqui

Cageprisoners Inside the Courtroom Coverage

by Petra Bartosiewicz

This week the long awaited trial of Aafia Siddiqui began in a federal courtroom in Manhattan. Her case has been one of the most baffling in the annals of post-9/11 terrorism prosecutions. Siddiqui, as regular readers of this website know, is a 37-year-old, MIT-educated neuroscientist, who lived in the U.S. for ten years before mysteriously vanishing from Karachi, her hometown, in 2003, along with her three children, two of whom are American born. For five years her whereabouts remained unknown, while rumors swirled that she was an Al Qaeda operative, and that she had married Ammar al Baluchi, the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and one of the five accused 9/11 plotters expected to face trial in the U.S. In July 2008 she was picked up in Ghazni, Afghanistan on suspicion of being a suicide bomber. The following day, as a team of U.S. soldiers and FBI agents arrived to question her at the police station where she was being held, she allegedly managed to get hold of an M-4 automatic rifle belonging to one of the soldiers, and, according to prosecutors, she opened fire. She hit no one but was herself hit in the abdomen by return fire. What is known is that the U.S. considered Siddiqui to be someone connected to a number of high level terrorism suspects. They say she went on the run and remained underground during her missing years. But human rights groups have long held that Siddiqui is no extremist and believe she was illegally detained and interrogated by Pakistani intelligence at the behest of the U.S. She now faces charges of attempted murder. Her trial is expected to last two weeks.

January 25, 2009 (DAY 5)

The chief warrant officer whose M-4 automatic rifle Siddiqui is alleged to have grabbed, was called by the prosecution today. The officer, whose name was not revealed, was gravely wounded in September by a bomb blast near his vehicle in Afghanistan, which killed three of his fellow soldiers and one Afghan. He arrived in full dress uniform, walking with the assistance of a cane, and wept as he told jurors of the blast which left his body gravely wounded below the waist and with his hearing impaired and severe burns. "I've had several skin grafts and lost a couple of organs. Every bone, waist down to my feet, was broken," he said. While testifying he grimaced and appeared frequently to be in discomfort.

He said shortly after Siddiqui was arrested on July 17, 2008, he was shown the documents and various other materials she allegedly had in her possession and made the decision to contact the FBI to assist in the investigation.

During the warrant officer's testimony, Siddiqui spoke out and said she felt sorry for him and believed he said was covering for Captain Snyder. "Don't do that," she said, before being escorted from the courtroom. "It will make America look bad in international court."

Under direct examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher LaVigne, the warrant officer described going to the governor's mansion in Ghazni on the morning of the shooting, July 18, 2008. "When I arrived, all I knew was that she was in captivity in a cell. I didn't know where." His instructions, he said, were to ascertain whether Siddiqui was a U.S. citizen or not. "I was doing most of the talking because there was a prior relationship," he said. "The FBI agents couldn't just go waltzing into the Afghan National Police headquarters . They wouldn't know who they were." The governor, the warrant officer said, gave them permission to see Siddiqui. He said he was told "she was in a jail cell, chained with all four limbs to the bars because they couldn't control her."

Upon entering the room where Siddiqui was being held, he told jurors he looked quickly behind the curtain where she was being held, but did not see her. "I kind of peeked behind it and didn't see nothing, so I sat down," he said. "It was just a junky messy room. It was very dark."

When asked why he put his rifle down, he said that he felt safe in the police station. "You're in a friendly place. You don't talk to people with an assault rifle around your neck," he said. "It's a show of trust. It's a show of respect. It's a part of the culture."

In the moments leading up to the shooting, the officer said that he set his gun down and began to talk to the Ministry of Interior officials present to explain the U.S. team's request to question Siddiqui. "At that point, I hear a loud scream of Allahu Akhbar. I hear my interpreter scream, 'Chief!' and at the same time I see Captain Snyder's eyes get wide. I look and there's this woman who has grabbed my rifle and is squaring off." The officer said he immediately reached for his 9 mm revolver as the interpreter, Ahmad Gul (who testified on Day 2) dove towards Siddiqui. "I fired two shots as she fired at the room." When asked why he shot Siddiqui, the officer said, because "she displayed hostile intent. I needed to stop this intent."

He said Siddiqui's stance was aggressive and not like his own after years of military training. "She knew what she was doing," he said.

The officer said everything happened very fast. After Siddiqui was shot, "the rifle fell, she fell back, and at this point I closed the distance." As the officer and another member of the U.S. team in the room, FBI Special Agent Eric Negron, attempted to subdue Siddiqui, he said she began shouting, "Death to America," and "I will kill all you motherfuckers." The officer said even after Siddiqui was shot she continued to struggle, so "she was hit a couple times to convince her" to stop struggling. "She continued to scream and be feisty even with the handcuffs on," he said.

On cross examination by defense attorney Charles Swift, the warrant officer was asked about several sworn statements he gave in the days following the shooting in which he said that he saw Siddiqui "lunge for her weapon," which was in contrast to his earlier testimony during the day when he said Siddiqui was already holding the rifle and pointing it in his direction when he first saw her. "I must have wrote it incorrectly," he said. "She had the weapon system." When asked why he noted that she "lunged" in two separate statements, the officer said, "It all all happened fast."

"When you first saw her, she had it or not?" Swift asked.

"Let's see here, it's all one fluid motion," said the officer. "She was diving for it, she had her hands on it."

"She certainly didn't have time to fumble with the gun," Swift said.

"As I look back it was certainly amazing she got it up that fast," the officer said.

Earlier testimony today came from another witness to the shooting, female army medic Dawn Card, who told jurors she remembers seeing Siddiqui pointing a gun in her direction before fleeing the room. But on cross examination Card was asked about a statement she later made to the FBI in which she suggested it was Captain Robert Snyder, not the warrant officer, who left the M-4 automatic rifle unattended. Snyder testified last week and said he was in the room but that it was the warrant officer who had left his weapon unattended (see Day 1 testimony). According to her statement to the FBI, Card said Snyder would get "fried" if it was discovered the rifle that Siddiqui seized was his. On the stand, Card said she did not recall making the statement.

During the morning session two jurors were dismissed after reporting to Judge Richard Berman that a man in the spectator gallery had motioned to them in an intimidating fashion. The man was questioned and later released.

After jurors were dismissed for the day, defense attorney Linda Moreno once again asked for a mistrial, saying that the U.S. Marshals had removed Siddiqui roughly from the courtroom in front of the jury in a manner that "denigrates the presumption of innocence." The judge declined Moreno's request and said that perhaps the defense should focus more on "reigning in" their client. "Dr. Siddiqui doesn't talk to us," Moreno said in reference to herself and the other members of the defense team. "I tried to talk to her today," said Moreno. "She indicated if I didn't leave immediately she was going to accuse me of harassment."

The judge also rejected a defense motion regarding the added security measures outside the courtroom. After the first day of proceedings last week, U.S. Marshals installed a metal detector and began to require all individuals entering the courtroom to show photo identification. Their names and addresses were then logged by court security officials. The judge today said the measures were "totally appropriate," citing prior cases like the Martha Stewart trial which had instituted similar security measures.

Testimony continues Tuesday, Jan 26, with Day 6, USA v Siddiqui.


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.

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