NEW YORK, Nov 6 (APP): A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the conviction of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui, who was accused of trying to kill U.S. troops and FBI agents in Afghanistan four years ago. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said that a lower court judge had not erred in allowing Dr. Siddiqui, 40, to testify in her own defence at trial two years ago and in allowing certain evidence against her. The Pakistani neuroscientist was sentenced to 86 years in prison after she was convicted of grabbing a U.S. soldier’s M-4 assault rifle and trying to shoot a group of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and soldiers at an Afghan police compound in July 2008, a charge she consistently denied during the trial.
At trial, she testified that she was simply trying to escape the room and was shot by someone who saw her. Siddiqui, whose conviction was widely criticized in Pakistan and some human rights activists, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in September 2010.
She was convicted by a New York federal jury of attempted murder, armed assault
and other charges. The Pakistani neuroscientist is now spending time in
prison in Carswell, Texas. The U.S. team had traveled to Ghazni,
Afghanistan, to interview her after she was taken into custody by Afghan
Prosecutors claimed she was found with materials that included handwritten notes referring to a “mass casualty attack” in the U.S. and listed several landmark locations in New York City. On Monday, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected several arguments by Siddiqui’s lawyers, including that she shouldn’t have been allowed to testify in her defence because of a mental illness and that a terrorism enhancement shouldn’t have applied to her sentence.
The appellate court claimed that the district judge went to “extraordinary lengths” to ensure Siddiqui understood the implications of her testimony.
“Even were we to discern any daylight between the standards governing a efendant’s capacity to stand trial and those for assessing her capacity to determine whether to testify (and then, actually to testify), we would find no reason to upset the district (lower) court’s implicit determination that Siddiqui did in fact have the requisite capacity to make the latter decision here,” U.S. Circuit Judge Richard W. Wesley wrote in a 42-page opinion.
“That Siddiqui’s choice to testify like many defendants’ decisions to testify was a poor one, does not alter our analysis.” In February, Dawn Cardi, Siddiqui’s court-appointed lawyer, attorney, made a strong case before the justices that her client should been barred from giving evidence before the trial court because of her mental illness, which had been confirmed by doctors.
Cardi also questioned the evidence collected from Dr. Siddiqui by two FBI agents at the U.S. base in Baghram while she was recovering from the bullet wounds she sustained at a police facility in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in July 2008.
She said the evidence was prejudicial because she had not been read her rights and therefore should not have been entertained.
Moreover, she had not had the opportunity to consult any lawyers. Cardi lso said that during the trial, experts had provided concrete evidence that the M-4 rifle which she allegedly picked up had not been not fired and that no spent bullets or casings were found.
She also said Dr. Siddiqui was not being tried for terrorism, the material containing diagrams of New York landmarks allegedly recovered from her should not been introduced into the proceedings. But the government side maintained that Dr. Siddiqui was competent to stand trial. Prosecution lawyers also said that Dr. Siddiqui was not “interrorgated” but was “interviewed”.
Prosecutors alleged that Siddiqui was behind a curtain in the second-floor room where they gathered. She burst from behind the curtain, grabbed an American soldier’s rifle and started firing, prosecutors said.
She was shot in the abdomen by a soldier who returned fire with his sidearm, prosecutors said.
Siddiqui received graduate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of echnology and Brandeis University in biology and neuroscience while living in the U.S. between 1991 and June 2002.