Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The Trial of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui: FIRST WEEK & Day by Day
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 22, 2009 (DAY 4)
Testimony continued with a single witness called by the government. Carlo Rosati, a forensic expert in firearms and ballistics, formerly at the FBI and now a contractor working with the agency, described how he analyzed various materials taken from the crime scene at the Ghazni police station where the shooting took place on July 18, 2008. Rosati, who said he did not travel to Afghanistan or speak with any witnesses connected with the case, analyzed the gold curtain that divided the room, behind which Siddiqui was located just before the shooting. He did not find gun shot residue whose presence might have suggested a gun had been fired nearby. He was, however, able to link the bullet and shell casing found in the room in the Ghazni police station to the 9mm revolver that the chief warrant officer used to shoot Siddiqui.
Much of Rosati's testimony focused on the tests he conducted in an effort to find evidence of any bullets fired from the M-4 rifle Siddiqui allegedly grabbed from the warrant officer. He examined a bag of debris taken from a section of the wall where bullets from the rifle were thought to be lodged, and gave a detailed account of the various tests he performed. Despite these visual, microscopic and chemical tests, and despite inspecting photographs from the scene itself, Rosati was unable to say with any certainty that the section of the wall he examined had been damaged by bullets.
"You found no shell casings, no bullets, no bullet fragments, no evidence the gun was fired?" defense attorney Charles Swift asked.
"Correct," said Rosati.
"You examined the curtain and the debris and neither yielded evidence that a gun was fired in or in the proximity of the curtain?" Swift asked.
"Correct," said Rosati.
Immediately after that exchange, however, Rosati said he could not rule out that the gun was fired either.
"Does all of that mean to you that the weapon was not fired at the crime scene?" he was asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Roday.
"No," said Rosati.
"The bullet could have ricocheted or been deflected?" asked Rody.
"Yes," said Rosati.
As the trial opened this week with the government's case, prosecutors called three eyewitnesses to the shooting in Ghazni. But despite vivid testimony from each of these individuals--a U.S. Army captain, an FBI agent, and a former U.S. Army translator--we have not yet gotten a clear account of what unfolded at the Afghan police station on July 18. The testimony has, in fact, highlighted the sharp divergence of the accounts on certain points, though prosecutors have highlighted the fact that the eyewitness accounts, though perhaps imprecise, match up sufficiently to confirm the allegations against Siddiqui.
On the forensic side of the case, however, testimony from a number of experts this week has, in fact, underscored the difficulty of proving the case with any scientific certainty. The fact that the shooting occurred in a remote city in a war zone clearly made securing the crime scene in a timely manner difficult, if not impossible. Eyewitnesses described a chaotic confrontation that concluded as the U.S. team beat a hasty retreat with Siddiqui just after the incident, leaving the crime scene unattended. The events unfolded in a foreign country whose procedures for preserving evidence like bullets and shell casings are unknown. The individuals present during the shooting were mostly Afghan and U.S. soldiers who were in a combat mentality that did not lend itself to a detailed criminal investigation after the incident.
At the close of the proceedings today Judge Richard Berman addressed the question of security measures outside the courtroom. During opening statements on Tuesday, individuals were permitted to enter the courtroom freely, though space for the general public was limited to just six seats (everyone else watched the proceedings on a video link in an overflow courtroom on a separate floor). But by Wednesday, the second day of the trial, a metal detector was posted outside the courtroom and individuals were asked for photo identification and their names and addresses were logged by court security officers. The measure came even though all individuals entering the courthouse are required to pass through a security check at the main doors, and despite the fact that attendance at the trial had dropped sharply from the prior day dropped sharply. At the close of proceedings yesterday, day three, defense attorney Charles Swift protested the identification check, suggesting that it was unconstitutional and would preclude Siddiqui from receiving a free and fair trial. "The suggestion is that the gallery may be a threat," said Swift, calling the measure "highly prejudicial." During today's proceedings Swift said he would submit a written briefing on the matter to the judge. Berman said he had not specifically ordered the names and addresses of attendees to be noted, but that he had instead merely agreed to the addition of the metal detector as a standard screening measure. Berman suggested that the U.S. Marshals had interpreted this instruction to include identification checks.
Berman said that the trial is proceeding on schedule, which means defense attorneys will likely begin presenting their case at some point next week. What remains unknown is whether Siddiqui will testify in her own defense. In recent weeks she has insisted that she is boycotting the trial and does not recognize her defense attorneys, who she says she has repeatedly tried to dismiss. She was ejected from the courtroom earlier this week after speaking out. During subsequent proceedings she remained silent in the jury's presence, until Friday, when she spoke out again to say she is being prevented from taking the stand. "They want to take away my right to testify. I've asked for it," she said. "I am not an enemy. I didn't shoot anyone. I can bring peace with Afghanistan and the Taliban in one day, God willing." The judge told Siddiqui she has a right to testify but is not obliged to do so, and then had her escorted from the courtroom by the U.S. Marshals.
The trial continues on Monday Jan 25, with DAY 5, 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 in the November 2009 issue of Harper's magazine (www.harpers.org) and at her website www.petrabart.com. She can be reached at email@example.com
Posted by CN at 2:13 AM