Aafia's lawyers blowing holes in prosecution's case

The Nation

NEW YORK – The trial of Aafia Siddiqui has made progress over the past four days, with FBI experts confirming that the M-4 rifle the Pakistani neuroscientist allegedly used to shoot at US investigators in Afghanistan does not have her fingerprints, the casing of the two fired bullets were not found, nor their projectiles or fragments discovered from the wall of the room where the incident took place. In addition, Carlo Rosati, an FBI firearms expert said on Friday, the fourth day of the trial in a Manhattan federal court before it adjourned for the weekend, he wasn’t sure the rifle was ever fired at the crime scene. The three-member defence team retained by the Pakistan government to defend Ms Siddiqui also brought out contradictions in the testimonies given by government witness put on the stand since Tuesday, when the trial began.

For instance, a former Afghani interpreter hired by US Special Forces contradicted the version of the incident in Ghazni given by a US Army captain about the position of Ms Siddiqui while allegedly aiming the rifle. While interpreter Ahmad Gul told the court that the Pakistani neuroscientist was standing with the gun in her hand, Capt Robert Snyder had said that she was in kneeling position. But the prosecution continues to insist that Ms Siddiqui had fired the gun. In his testimony on Friday, Rosati, the firearms expert, said he had thoroughly examined the weapon, the curtain from a room of Ghazni police station where the shooting incident took place and the debris of its wall where two bullets reportedly hit, but found no evidence that gunshots leave behind.

Ms Siddiqui is charged with snatching a US warrant officer’s rifle in mid-2008 while she was detained for questioning in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province and firing it at FBI agents and military personnel. None of them were hit. Pointedly asked by Charles Swift, the lead defence lawyer, if he was certain the M-4 rifle was ever fired at the crime scene, he said he could not say that with absolute certainty. An FBI forensic expert has already confirmed he found no fingerprints of Ms Siddiqui on the M-4 rifle when the weapon was produced in the court Thursday. Rosati, the firearm expert, said there was no gunshot residue on the curtain behind which Ms Siddiqui was stated to be sitting, nor he found any projectiles or fragments from the part of the bullet-hit wall built with stones and hard mud.

Based on the texture and content of the debris, Rosati said a bullet fired from an M-4 rifle into that kind of wall might get shattered or fragmented. However, under cross examination by defence lawyer Swift, the FBI expert conceded that a key element of the bullet - a steel tip that penetrates hard surfaces and never fragments - should have remained intact. Rosati did confirm that the 9-mm pistol that the US Army chief warrant officer used to shoot Ms Siddiqui, along with its two recovered, cases recovered at the crime scene, were fired. Swift, one of three lawyers retained by the Pakistan government who previously worked for the US Navy in the area of criminal defence, retained his reputation as a sharp trial attorney. He has been quick in identifying inconsistencies in the witnesses’ testimonies.

Meanwhile, Ms Siddiqui was again escorted out of the courtroom after saying she could help bring peace to Afghanistan, but that her lawyers’ don’t let her testify. “If you follow the mercy of mankind...they want to take away my right to testify. I’ve asked for it,” Ms Siddiqui told spectators during a break in the case. Please, I know you’ll take me out,” she told US marshals as they motioned to move her to a holding cell outside the courtroom. “I am not an enemy. I didn’t shoot anyone. I can bring peace with Afghanistan and the Taliban in one day, God willing,” she said. “There is no use for revenge and forgiveness is necessary”. Before Friday’s session ended, Judge Richard Berman reminded jurors that Ms Siddiqui’s trial was limited to attempted murder, not on charges of terrorism or involvement in any chemical or biological project. A section of the American press has consistently been portraying her as a terrorist, with headlines like: “Lady al-Qaeda”.

He also said that the trial was proceeding according to the schedule, and expects testimonies to conclude by the end of next week after which the jurors would begin consultations. At that stage, Swift, the lead lawyer, told judge Berman that the extra security measures, about which he had protested on Thursday, were still in place on Friday. He asked him to order the withdrawal of the additional measures that included the production of personal identification by visitors to the trial. He said the tougher measures violated the right of his client to a free and open trial.
Judge Berman said he would discuss the issue with the building security management, but asked the defence lawyer to submit his complaint in writing. Swift said the security people were saying that orders for the additional measures, in fact, came from the judge Berman. The judge did not respond to that comment. The trial of Ms Siddiqui is taking place under heavier-than-usual security. On Wednesday, a metal detector was put in place outside the 21st-floor courtroom, in addition to the ones already on the ground floor. Shahid Comrade, general secretary of the Pakistan-USA Freedom Forum, also protested the tough security measures in a statement issued on Friday.

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