Speaking publicly for the first time since she was captured in Afghanistan last July and extradited to New York in August, terrorism suspect Aafia Siddiqui denied shooting an American soldier at her mental competency hearing in a New York courtroom today, where she alternated between outbursts, rambling, and moments of resignation with her head down on the table in front of her.
"I can assure you I am not psychotic," said the MIT-trained scientist, dressed in mismatched green and tan-colored prison garb and covered in a full hijab so that only her eyes were visible. Siddiqui, who speaks fluent English, also told the court, "I didn't shoot anybody" and "I did not fire no [sic] bullets."
Her attorneys argue that Siddiqui has a mental disorder and is incompetent to be on trial, while prosecutors maintain that any signs of mental illness are all just an act.
Today's hearing previewed some issues that had been previously under seal and may be presented as evidence in an eventual trial. In the government's indictment, Siddiqui was said to have been arrested in Afghanistan with a bag filled with terror plots and musings.
The alleged Al Qaeda operative is facing charges of attempted murder and other charges following a shootout with security personnel last summer. According to the indictment in the case, Siddiqui fired at least two shots at a soldier who was part of the FBI team that was questioning her. She has pleaded not guilty.
According to the indictment, Siddiqui's notes contained the details of casualty rates for various weapons of mass destruction. Her handwritten notes, the indictment stated, "referred to the construction of 'dirty bombs' chemical and biological weapons, and other explosives."
The defense witness, Dr. L. Thomas Kucharski, however, testified that some of the written materials found in her possession revealed a delusional woman. Kucharski noted that her notes also described viruses that could only hurt adults and not children, others that would kill only certain ethnic groups, and a plot to infect U.S. poultry supply with an antibody that made the animals resistant to salmonella, and thereby sicken Americans who consumed chickens. For a woman with a degree from MIT and a PhD in neuroscience, Kucharski testified, these theories and fantasies were not the product of a healthy mind.
The day after her arrest by Afghani authorities on July 17, Siddiqui was shot twice in the torso, U.S. officials said, when she grabbed a U.S. soldier's M-4 carbine and attempted to shoot another officer as a team of US soldiers and FBI agents prepared to question her. A U.S. interpreter threw off her aim when he pushed the gun, authorities said, and she then was shot twice with a .9 millimeter handgun. According to the U.S. Government, despite her wounds, she shouted that she "wanted to kill Americans," and struggled with her captors before they subdued her.
She was wanted by the FBI as far back as 2004 for her alleged connections to Al Qaeda. According to the indictment, when Siddiqui was detained by Afghan National Police, she was in possession of a document which mentioned "Mass Casualty Attack" and listed various landmarks in New York, including Wall Street and the Statue of Liberty.
At today's hearing, both prosecutors and defense attorneys called witnesses and argued over whether or not Siddiqui is competent to stand trial. Amid sparring between the prosecution's expert witness, Dr. Sally Johnson, and Siddiqui's attorney, Dawn Cardi, Johnson testified that Siddiqui refused to be interviewed yesterday.
"You tortured me mentally, very bad, that's why," Siddiqui shot back before Judge Richard M. Berman cut her off.
During the hearing, Siddiqui, who also asked the judge to remove her attorney from the case, made other statements such as "Very few people have an insider's view like I do. I'm just trying to stop the wars" and "God has brought me out of death for peace to end these wars."
Before the hearing ended, Siddiqui addressed the prosecutors directly, telling them, "Your President wants to make peace, but you guys are not acting on it."
Siddiqui also addressed onlookers in the courtroom, declaring that she was "never against America."
A previous court-ordered mental health examination declared Siddiqui mentally unfit for trial, and she was then sent to a federal medical center in Carswell, Texas to be further evaluated. During a confidential forensic exam there, mental health professionals concluded, "Ms. Siddiqui is not currently competent to proceed as a result of her mental disease, which renders her unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her or to assist properly in her defense."
She was allegedly involved in planning terrorist attacks and recruiting, according to the FBI. During an August 2004 press conference, FBI Director Robert Mueller said, "Aafia Siddiqui is an al Qaeda operative and facilitator, she attended colleges in the Boston area, and is believed to have left Boston in January of 2003."
There have been allegations that Siddiqui has been mistreated while in custody. Some human rights groups have alleged that she was detained for years overseas in various secret sites for high-value detainees. There has not been any official response from any entity regarding Siddiqui's detention or possible mistreatment while in custody.