January 29, 2009 (DAY 9)A day after Siddiqui took the stand in her own defense, her attorneys rested their case. Closing arguments are now set for Monday morning, with jurors expected to begin their deliberations later in the day. In dramatic testimony on Thursday, Siddiqui testified over the objections of her defense team, who argued she is mentally unstable, and described in vivid terms her account of the events at the Afghan National Police headquarters in Ghazni. Siddiqui told jurors she never touched the M-4 automatic rifle she is accused of firing at a group of U.S. soldiers, FBI agents and Afghan police officers and officials. She said that as she peered from behind a curtain where she was being held, she surprised the U.S. team and was shot. "I just wanted to get out of the room," she said. "I never attempted murder. That's a heavy word. No way."On Friday prosecutors called three rebuttal witnesses to counter statements Siddiqui made during her testimony. Gary Woodworth, a longtime member of the Braintree Rifle and Pistol Club in Massachusetts, said he instructed Siddiqui in a basic 12-hour pistol shooting course in the early 1990's. On the stand prosecutors had asked Siddiqui if she received instruction at the club while living in Boston. "I have no recollection of that," she said. "Actually, you can take that as a no." But Woodworth told jurors he recognized Siddiqui from a photo and recalled he gave her instruction in the use of a 9 mm pistol, among other guns, but not an M-4 rifle. The other two witnesses to testify in the government's rebuttal were the same FBI agents who took the stand on Thursday during a hearing that took place without the jury present. At the hearing, which was meant to determine whether to permit Siddiqui to testify, Special Agents Bruce Kamerman and Angela Sercer both told Judge Richard Berman that they questioned Siddiqui while she was recuperating from her gunshot wounds in Bagram Air Base. While on the stand later that day Siddiqui told jurors that Kamerman had mistreated her, watching her as her wounds were dressed and when she went to the bathroom. She denied making any statements to him. But on the stand Friday, Kamerman told jurors Siddiqui had, in fact, initiated a number of conversations with him. He said she told him she hadn't shot anyone in Ghazni. He said she told him she'd never seen, handled or fired a rifle and she picked up the M-4 rifle because it was leaning up against a wall and she wanted to look at it. "She was holding the rifle when she was shot," Kamerman said. He said Siddiqui later volunteered a different version of events, telling him she picked up the rifle because "she wanted to scare the men so she could escape." But Kamerman did not say that Siddiqui ever confessed to firing the rifle. On cross examination, defense attorney Elaine Sharpe asked Kamerman whether he knew that Siddiqui was on medications such as Percocet and morphine and suggested that her statements were affected by the drugs in her system. The third witness in the rebuttal case, FBI Special Agent Angela Sercer, repeated much of the testimony she gave at the preliminary hearing, saying that she was assigned to gather intelligence from Siddiqui in Bagram during her recuperation. Sercer said she developed a good rapport with Siddiqui as she sat by her bedside, sometimes for 12-hour shifts over a period of approximately two weeks. "She was initially weaker but she became stronger as she began to heal," said Sercer, who described Siddiqui as "very intelligent." She said Siddiqui was particularly open to teaching her about Islam. Jurors also heard the completion of testimony begun earlier this week in the form of two videotaped depositions taken in Ghazni, Afghanistan from eyewitnesses to the shooting incident. The first was the former deputy chief of counterterrorism in Ghazni, Abdul Qadeer, who testified through a translator that he questioned Siddiqui when she was brought to the police headquarters after being arrested near one of the city's mosques on July 17, 2008. The second witness was Qadeer's deputy, who spoke Urdu and said he was called in to assist in the questioning of Siddiqui and her son. Qadeer said Siddiqui had a young boy with her, who would later be identified as her eldest son, Ahmad. He described how he and a number of other police on staff beat Siddiqui because they believed she was a suicide bomber. "The whole scene was like a drama," he said. "The governor came and hit her and the chief of police came and hit her, and the governor's body guard would come and give her a punch." He said Siddiqui did not want to be handed over to the coalition forces and twice tried to escape. The second time she threatened Qadeer with a can she said contained "exploding materials," but he said he knew the can was empty and disregarded the threat. She was bound but later untied and Qadeer was present in the room where Siddiqui was being held behind a curtain when the U.S. team arrived. He said he saw a soldier go behind the curtain and immediately after that he heard shots. He said there was a stampede of people trying to get out of the room and in the chaos he fell from his chair and was trampled.Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday, Feb 1, with Day 10, 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
January 28, 2009 (DAY 8)After days of vowing to boycott her own trial, Siddiqui voluntarily took the stand today and testified in her own defense. Her testimony came over the strenuous objections of her attorneys, who filed an application with Judge Richard Berman asking that he block her from taking the witness stand due to what they say is her mental instability and "diminished capacity." One of the primary concerns was that Siddiqui's rambling answers would give the government an opportunity to introduce incriminating statements she allegedly made to FBI agents while recuperating from gunshot wounds incurred in Ghazni. Prosecutors, meanwhile, urged the judge to permit Siddiqui to exercise her Fifth Amendment right to testify. On the witness stand Siddiqui was lucid and, for the most part, kept to the case at hand, though the judge frequently cut her answers short when she strayed. She appeared eager to tell her story and was at times in good humor, and even giggled at some of the questions she was asked.Although Siddiqui's testimony was the central focus of the day, defense attorneys also played a brief video snippet from a press conference that took place at the Afghan National Police station, in the same room where the shooting Siddiqui is charged with occurred. The video pans across the room and shows a section of the wall where two marks are clearly visible. One of the centerpieces of the prosecution's case has been that these marks are bullet holes from the M-4 rifle that Siddiqui allegedly fired. But the video, which shows the marks on the wall, was taken on the morning of July 18, 2008, several hours before the shooting. (The marks in the video were reportedly brought to the attention of the defense on Thursday morning by prosecutor David Rody, who had himself only noticed them the night before.) The clip was played today without comment and it's unclear if jurors understood why they were watching it, but defense attorneys are expected to assert in their closing arguments that it proves the holes could not have been the result of bullets shot by Siddiqui.Siddiqui testified twice during the day, though only once before the jury. Prior to her direct testimony, she spoke at a preliminary hearing intended to decide whether or not she would be permitted to take the stand during trial. Also at issue during the hearing was whether prosecutors could use statements she made to FBI agents while she was in custody at Bagram Air Base following her arrest in Ghazni. Her defense attorneys argued any such statements would have been while she was in a drug-induced post-operative haze and before she was formally arrested and read her rights. At the hearing the government called two FBI agents, Angela Serser and Bruce Kamerman, who testified they interviewed Siddiqui over a two-week period while she was at Bagram, and who both said Siddiqui spoke willingly, and even solicited conversations with them when they were in her hospital room. Kamerman said Siddiqui "was coherent, she was lucid and she was able to engage in conversation." Serser, who spent the most time with Siddiqui, described how she sat at her bedside for as many as twelve hours a day. "We discussed Ms. Siddiqui's background, her religious beliefs and some of the circumstances for the case being opened in the U.S.," said Serser. The purpose of the interviews, said Serser, was to gather intelligence, not to discuss the shooting incident in Ghazni, which had already been assigned to a separate team of agents. But according to Serser, they did talk about the documents that Siddiqui was allegedly found with in Ghazni. Prosecutors have introduced those documents to show Siddiqui's motives in the shooting incident (the documents include references to specific "cells," and a "mass casualty attack," and name landmarks like the Empire State Building). "She indicated she enjoyed our discussions," said Serser.Defense attorney Charles Swift questioned how voluntary Siddiqui's statements were given that she was held in four-point restraints and dependent on the agent. "If she wanted food she had to ask you," said Swift."Correct," said Serser."If she wanted water she had to ask you," said Swift."Correct," said Serser."If she wanted to go to the bathroom she had to ask you," said Swift."Correct," said Serser.During a break in the proceedings, Siddiqui was heard telling one of her attorneys, "It was just a conversation. I didn't know. She seemed like a nice person." Siddiqui later took the stand and said that during her time at the hospital in Bagram she was on a cocktail of medications that included Percoset and morphine. She said she felt dizzy all the time. She described feeling helpless in the restraints and said she was unable to bring her hand to her mouth to feed herself. She said that with one exception none of the FBI agents or hospital staff identified themselves and they covered their name tags when they were in her hospital room. She said that she had been well cared for by the medical staff and had nothing negative to say about Serser, but that she had asked that Kamerman not be permitted in her room because he stared at her while her wounds were being dressed and when she went to the bathroom, which she found "very immodest." She said she felt intimidated and was told "if you don't talk to us it's a transfer to the bad guys. I had been with a group of bad guys and I didn't want to go back." She was asked about the statements she made to the agents. "I thought it was an exercise to retain false information in my head," she said. "I thought it was a continuation of my history in a secret prison." During questioning at the preliminary hearing, Siddiqui was asked about her three children, Ahmad, Mariam and Suleiman. Ahmad was found with Siddiqui in Ghazni, but Mariam and Suleiman remain missing. Kamerman testified that she had told him alternately that the children were dead and that they were with her sister. Siddiqui said she told Kamerman no such thing and that she had no idea where the children are.Judge Richard Berman ruled that Siddiqui could testify. "I have erred on the side of her full participation," said Berman, who has throughout the trial required Siddiqui be present in the courthouse even if she chooses not to be in the courtroom during proceedings. He also ruled that her statements to the FBI in Bagram were "voluntary and knowing," and could thus be used to impeach her testimony before the jury. As testimony resumed with the jury present, Siddiqui took the stand, wearing the same tan outfit and canvas sneakers she has worn throughout the trial. She wore a cream colored hijab on her head that covered all but her eyes. On direct examination by defense attorney Elaine Sharpe, she talked about her childhood and her education at MIT and Brandeis Universities. She said she was born in Karachi but spent much of her childhood in Zambia, where her father worked as a physician. She said she came from a family of doctors and that she'd been academically inclined towards the social sciences but that she'd studied science due to family pressure. She received a doctorate in neuroscience and said her doctoral thesis dealt with how children learn.When the questions turned to the events in Ghazni, Siddiqui was initially reluctant to continue, saying that speaking about the accusations against her would violate her vow to boycott the trial. "That will mean I'm participating in something I don't morally agree with," she said. She eventually did recount the events of that day, telling jurors that when the U.S. team arrived to interview her she was in the room on the second floor of the Afghan National Police headquarters. The room, which has been sketched countless times for jurors over the past week, was divided by a gold curtain. On one side of the curtain was Siddiqui, who had initially been bound by the Afghans after an escape attempt, but who was untied by the time the U.S team arrived. On the other side of the curtain was a group of Afghans soldiers, police and Ministry of Interior officials who had arrived that morning from Kabul. Siddiqui said she heard American voices talking but did not see who was in the room. "I understood they wanted to take me away," she said. "I didn't want to go back to the secret prison. I wanted to get out." She said she went to peek through the curtain to see if she could slip past the people in the room and make an escape. "The next thing I knew somebody saw me and said something and shot me and then another shot me and then I just passed out," she said. When she regained consciousness she heard one of the members of the U.S. team say, "We're taking this bitch with us."Asked by Sharpe whether she had picked up the M-4, Siddiqui said, "This is the biggest joke. I've been forced to smile under my scarf sometimes. Of course not."On cross examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenna Dabbs asked Siddiqui about a number of the documents she was allegedly found with in Ghazni at the time of her arrest. "I didn't check my bags. I didn't prepare them," said Siddiqui. She said that some of the materials had been "copied from a magazine in the secret prison. I didn't write this stuff." The prosecution posted a number of the documents on an overhead projector in the courtroom earlier in the trial, but the writing was not legible from the spectator gallery. The judge has sealed the documents with a protective order that prevents them from being made public, saying that certain parts should not be disseminated because they contain chemical formulas. So far only fragments of the text have been revealed in various court documents filed by prosecutors. During cross examination Siddiqui asked that one of the documents which depicted sketches of guns be taken off the overhead projector, saying that she had not authored it. "You can't build a case on hate, you should build it on fact," she told Dabbs.At one point during the cross examination, Dabbs asked Siddiqui whether she told FBI agents in Bagram that she had been in hiding. Defense attorneys immediately called for a mistrial, saying that information about where Siddiqui was during her five missing years is classified. The judge denied the request. Dabbs asked whether Siddiqui knew she'd been wanted for questioning by the FBI and brought up a 2002 interview that the FBI conducted with Siddiqui and her then husband Amjad Khan. She asked why Siddiqui left the U.S. for Pakistan shortly after the meeting with the agents. Siddiqui said the trip to Pakistan was pre-planned and insisted that her ex-husband, not she, was the focus of the interview. Later Sharp asked whether Siddiqui was prevented from leaving the country. "No, I wasn't in trouble," said Siddiqui."No one ever tried to stop you from leaving?" asked Sharpe."No," said Siddiqui.The trial continues Friday, Jan 29, with Day 9, 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
January 27, 2009 (DAY 7)The Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, arrived at the courthouse this morning to monitor the progress of the trial. "You are very welcome in this courtroom, your Excellency," said Judge Richard Berman, who had a brief private meeting with the ambassador before jurors were brought into the courtroom. Siddiqui's defense attorneys have received a reported $2 million from the government of Pakistan for the case, and greeted the ambassador as the day's proceedings began. Haqqani sat in a special chair brought into the spectator gallery and observed about an hour and a half of the testimony before leaving. Siddiqui, who yesterday was ejected from the courtroom after once again announcing her boycott of the trial, did not attend the proceedings today.The prosecution rested their case this morning with no additional witnesses, and defense attorneys began to present their case. Key testimony came from expert witness William Tobin, a forensic metallurgical consultant who worked at the FBI for 24 years and investigated high profile cases such as the JFK assassination and the crash of TWA flight 800. Tobin, who said he has testified in some 225 trials, almost every one of those for the prosecution, examined photos and videotape of the room in Ghazni where the shooting occurred, with a particular focus on what the government has alleged are two bullet holes from rounds shot by the M-4 automatic rifle that Siddiqui is accused of seizing from a U.S. Army warrant officer. Tobin told jurors that he could say with "scientific certainty" that the two holes in the wall were not made by SS109 rounds used in an M-4 automatic rifle, adding that he did not believe the holes were the result of any bullets at all. Tobin described one of the tests he performed, which involved firing an SS109 round into a surface similar to the wall in the Ghazni police station. The test surface was left with cracks and significant damage around the bullet hole, which he described as "spalling damage" that was the resulted of energy transfered from the bullet to the surface of impact. The photos and video of the wall in the Ghazni police station, he said, demonstrated no such "spalling damage." Tobin also described how the angle from which the gun was shot would have had a significant impact on the amount of damage to the wall, with the least amount of damage resulting from a bullet that would hit the wall at a perpendicular angle. But such a scenario is unlikely given that the marks are located near the ceiling level in the room. Tobin also said that he did not see the kind of shrapnel damage he would have expected on the ceiling itself.Tobin said SS109 rounds are designed to shatter but that the part of the projectile known as the "penetrator" should remain intact. No bullets or bullet fragments were found inside the wall by the FBI investigators who were on the scene in Ghazni. Asked whether the penetrator could have bounced back into the room, as prosecutors suggested in earlier testimony, Tobin said that was unlikely. "If the laws of physics in Afghanistan are the same as here, it would just fall to the base of the wall," he said. Tobin also described the difference one could expect from the impact of an SS109 round versus a 9mm round from a handgun like the one that the chief warrant officer used to shoot Siddiqui. "It's apples and oranges," said Tobin. "The 9mm is a slow and stodgy round, while the SS109 is going at almost three times the velocity." The impact from a 9mm bullet would cause far less damage than the impact from an SS109 round, said Tobin, yet the room at the Ghazni police station showed significant damage to the wall at the spot where the 9mm bullet was confirmed to have hit but none where the SS109 round supposedly hit. "You'd expect to see substantially more damage than shown in the photo," said Tobin of the marks where the government has alleged the rounds from the M-4 rifle hit."You have no scientific doubt that these were not from an M-4?" asked defense attorney Charles Swift."That's correct," said Tobin.On cross examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rody, Tobin said he didn't find it credible that two rounds from an M-4 could be fired in an enclosed space and not leave any forensic evidence. When asked about the eyewitness accounts, Tobin said he did not rely on witness information, citing the TWA flight 800 investigation he participated in, where the testimony of over 200 witnesses "totally contradicted the laws of physics." Witnesses reported seeing a fireball that appeared to be moving towards the plane just before the explosion, which was interpreted by many as a missile. The cause of the explosion was eventually proven to be the result of a short circuit that set off one of the plane's fuel tanks. "I don't rely on witness testimony," said Tobin. "I just don't."The question of whether or not Siddiqui will take the stand in her own defense will likely be resolved tomorrow, when Judge Richard Berman is expected to rule on a request from defense attorneys that she be barred from testifying. In a seven page letter sent to the judge yesterday, her attorneys cited her mental instability and frequent outbursts during the trial, and said they have an ethical obligation to "safeguard her interests." The attorneys requested that the judge confer with Siddiqui himself before making a final determination, but said if she is permitted to testify that statements she made while recovering from the gunshot wounds she incurred in Ghazni should not be admissible. At the time Siddiqui was in Bagram Hospital and "under the influence of various medications, in duress from being separated from her child and family and physically restrained in a hospital bed by four-point restraints," they wrote. The attorneys said they believe that if Siddiqui does take the stand she is unlikely to remain focused on the criminal case at hand. "To the extent that Dr. Siddiqui has conferred with defense counsel about what issues she intends to address should she testify," her attorneys wrote, "her ability to bring world peace, especially between the United States and the Taliban, appears to be the primary, if not sole, topic."Prosecutors asked the judge uphold Siddiqui's Fifth Amendment right to testify and argued that any statements she made while at Bagram should be admissible. "Defense counsel recognize, as they must, that the decision to testify is a 'personal right' that is waivable only by the defendant," prosecutors wrote. "Nonetheless, they claim that the Court should take what they acknowledge to be the 'unprecedented' step of preventing the defendant from testifying on her own behalf." Prosecutors also argued that the issue of Siddiqui's diminished mental capacity should not come into play since the court deemed Siddiqui competent to stand trial after a lengthy court-ordered psychiatric evaluation last year. They agreed with the defense, however, that the judge should speak with Siddiqui before he makes a final decision. That meeting may take place tomorrow morning before jurors return to hear the case.The trial continues Thursday, Jan 28, with Day 8, 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
January 26, 2009 (DAY 6)Defense attorneys for Siddiqui asked the judge today that she be prohibited from taking the stand in her own defense, citing her mental instability. In recent weeks Siddiqui has said alternately that she is boycotting the trial and that she is being prevented from being allowed to testify. During court proceedings today Siddiqui once again signaled to the spectator gallery that she does not recognize her legal team, two of whom are court appointed attorneys and three of whom have been retained on her behalf by the government of Pakistan. Waving her hands towards the attorneys and shaking her head, she then essentially ejected herself from the proceedings, saying, "That's it, I'm going to boycott. I'm not going to come again. Bye everybody." She was escorted out by U.S. Marshals.Since the beginning of the trial last week Siddiqui has made several outburst in the courtroom, saying, among other things, that she "can bring peace with Afghanistan and the Taliban in one day, God willing." The defense team's request came in open court but not in the presence of the jurors. In a letter submitted earlier today to Judge Berman, the attorneys argued that Siddiqui "suffers from diminished capacity," and that if she is permitted to "continue her irrational and bewildering insistence that she has the power to influence the Taliban, she will invite jurors to infer that she has terrorist associations."Jurors heard testimony from FBI Special Agent Eric Negron, who flew to Ghazni on July 18, 2008, along with Special Agent John Jefferson and Staff Sergeant Lamont Williams. Negron recounted how he and Jefferson were initially told by the Afghans that they would not be permitted to interview Siddiqui, and that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was personally enroute to Ghazni "to attend to the matter." Negron said he called his supervising agent who told Negron to try to interview Siddiqui anyway, and to fingerprint her and obtain hair and DNA samples. It was during their second attempt to interview Siddiqui that the team went to the Afghan National Police headquarters in Ghazni where they encountered her. Negron testified that within seconds after the U.S. team entered the room where Siddiqui was being held, he saw the warrant officer's rifle raised near the edge of the curtain that divided the room. He testified he did not see Siddiqui's face from behind the curtain, but only the rifle, held "by two hands sticking from behind the curtain into the room. One hand was on the barrel and the other hand on the trigger." Negron said that after Siddiqui was shot by the warrant officer he helped restrain her, but she fought back. "I had to strike her several times with a closed fist across the face," he said. After she was subdued Siddiqui "either fainted or faked that she had fainted," and was handcuffed.Once outside the Afghan National Police headquarters, Negron said the Americans encountered what he estimated were 50-70 armed Afghans in aggressive postures. He noticed one Afghan walking nearby with a handgun and told his interpreter to tell the man "to holster his weapon or I will kill him." The man turned and laughed, recalled Negron, but obeyed the order.Under cross examination by defense attorney Linda Moreno, Negron was asked why he didn't do a crime scene investigation in the room where the shooting occurred. Negron said he didn't see the room as a crime scene and that the warrant officer "fired back in the defense of all in the room. At the time I saw it as a firefight with an enemy combatant."Negron also spoke of how he felt the Americans might have been "set up" by the Afghans because they had been caught by surprise when Siddiqui emerged from behind the curtain. "We were told that the woman was in Afghan National Police custody, not free to roam around as she did into that room." Moreno questioned why Negron did not share this belief with the FBI agents who later interviewed him about the incident. Negron did not have an answer.Jurors also heard from Sergeant Kenneth Cook, who was part of the U.S. team at the Afghan National Police Station. Cook recalled that when they arrived at the compound they encountered some 150-200 armed Afghans. "The were all pretty excited," said Cook. "They were huddled in little groups, talking amongst themselves and pointing at us." Cook, who was stationed outside the police station while the rest of the team went in to locate Siddiqui, said he told one of the other members of the team that "something bad is going to happen." Just after that he heard shots from the second floor.Two final eyewitnesses to the shooting also testified. Ahmad Jawidami, a 25-year-old Afghan interpreter known by colleagues as "Dave," said he ran from the room as soon as he heard the first shot fired. Staff Sergeant Lamont Williams testified that he was posted outside the door to the room where the shooting took place. On cross examination by defense attorney Charles Swift, Williams said that just after he heard shots fired a number of individuals in the room came running out. But Williams said he did not recall that the U.S. Army medic, Dawn Card, was among them. Williams' testimony was in sharp contrast to Card's own testimony in court yesterday, when she said she was present in the room but ran out as soon as the shooting started. Williams, who stood at the only exit to the room, said he did not remember seeing Card enter the room before the incident or exit after."You're sure of that?" asked Swift."Yeah," said Williams.On further questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher LaVigne, Williams was firm in his recollection. "No, she wasn't in the room," he said. "I was right outside the door."The government is expected to call its final witnesses tomorrow morning, after which the defense will present its case. Attorneys for Siddiqui told Judge Richard Berman today they anticipate calling two witnesses and will possibly show a videotaped deposition taken in Afghanistan.Testimony continues Wednesday, Jan 27, with Day 7, 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
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
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
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