Pakistani Woman Gets 86 Years for Attempted Murder of U.S. Interrogators; Mystery Looms

Last week a Pakistani woman was sentenced to 86 years in prison for the attempted murder of her U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan. Aafia Siddiqui is a Pakistani neuroscientist and devout Muslim who went missing between 2003 and 2008, when she was taken into custody by Afghan police. She was tried in U.S. federal court in New York. HRF’s Daphne Eviatar participated in a discussion of the case on a live television program “The Platform,” along with other guests including Siddiqui’s lawyer. She spoke about how U.S. federal courts handle terrorism cases. “The Platform” is a joint production with VOA and Express 24/7, Pakistan’s only 24-hour English news channel.  Watch it here. Siddiqui is accused of having fired a gun at American interrogators in a room while she was awaiting questioning in Afghanistan. The defense maintained it never happened, and that there was no forensic evidence retained from the scene and thus no proof that this took place. None of the agents in the room were wounded, but Siddiqui was shot by a U.S. soldier. During pretrial proceedings, the defense had claimed Siddiqui was not mentally fit to stand trial. The judge, after ordering several psychological examinations of Dr. Siddiqui which yielded contradictory results, held that despite some evidence of psychological disturbance, Siddiqui was competent to stand trial and assist in her defense. During the trial, against the advice of her attorney, Siddiqui took the stand to defend herself. Her testimony included significant contradictions and she was ultimately convicted. One of the many remaining questions in this case is where exactly Siddiqui was from March 2003 until she was arrested by Afghan police in 2008. Siddiqui has claimed she was kidnapped and tortured, although this was not proven at trial. Both U.S. and Pakistani officials have denied that she was in their custody or mistreated by their officials. According to her uncle, Siddiqui said she was detained in various locations and that she was under the impression that she was in the custody of Pakistani authorities. When she was arrested by Afghan police in July 2008, Siddiqui was found carrying unidentified chemicals and notes that referred to ‘mass casualty attacks’ and various targets in New York. She was not charged with any terrorist-related crimes, however. Instead, she was charged only with attempted murder and other crimes arising out of the shooting. Adding to the intrigue, Siddiqui’s second husband, Amar Al Baluchi, is the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the professed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Dr. Siddiqui’s case has been closely followed in Pakistan. Demonstrations demanding her return to Pakistan have intensified since the 86-year sentence was handed down in New York last week. On Tuesday, her defense lawyer filed a notice of appeal.

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Published on September 29, 2010

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