Aafia Siddiqui, who is serving an 86-year prison sentence for allegedly shooting at American interrogators in Afghanistan, received no relief from a US appeals court as it turned down on Monday an appeal filed by her court-appoint lawyer against the Pakistani neuroscientist’s conviction.
The US Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected several arguments by Ms Aafia’s lawyer, 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 said a lower court judge had not erred in allowing Aafia Siddiqui, 40, to testify in her own defence at trial and in allowing certain evidence against her.
“Even were we to discern any daylight between the standards governing a defendant’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 court’s implicit determination that Aafia did in fact have the requisite capacity to make the latter decision here,” US Circuit Judge Richard W Wesley wrote in a 42-page opinion.
“That Aafia’s choice to testify—like many defendants’ decisions to testify—was a poor one, does not alter our analysis.”
Aafia, whose conviction was widely criticised in Pakistan and by some human rights organisations, was sentenced by US District Judge Richard Berman in September 2010. She was convicted by a New York federal jury of attempted murder, armed assault and other charges.
She was arrested in July 2008 by Afghan police, who said she had in her possession some crumpled notes referring to mass casualty attacks and New York landmarks.
The day after her arrest, she grabbed an M-4 rifle in her interrogation room and started shooting while shouting “death to America,” the trial jury heard. Aafia forcefully denied the change during her trial.
No US agents or soldiers were hit, but Aafia was shot and wounded in response, according to US prosecutors.
On appeal, her lawyer Dawn Cardi challenged Aafia’s conviction and sentence on many grounds. She said the judge improperly allowed jurors to consider the crumpled notes, and that the judge should never have allowed Aafia to decide whether to take the stand.
But the opinion said, “The district court went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that Aafia understood the implications of testifying and had the capacity to testify.”
The appeals court also sided with judge Berman in finding that Aafia had likely premeditated the attack, and that terrorism sentencing requirements were applicable because of her willingness to harm Americans.
In February, Ms Cardi, Ms Aafia’s court-appointed lawyer, questioned the evidence collected from Dr Siddiqui by two FBI agents at the US 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 also said that during the trial, experts had provided concrete evidence that the M-4 rifle which she allegedly picked up had not been fired and that no spent bullets or casings were found.
She also since Dr Aafia 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 Aafia was competent to stand trial. Prosecution lawyers also said that Dr Aafia was not “interrogated” but was “interviewed”.
Prosecutors alleged that Ms Aafia 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.
Ms Aafia received graduate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University in biology and neuroscience while living in the US between 1991 and June 2002.