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The Bizarre Terror Conviction of Pakistani Scientist Aafia Siddiqui, And Why There's a Good Chance She's Innocent

Human rights groups say that Siddiqui, who has been found guilty of attempted murder, was forcibly disappeared by Pakistani officials in 2003 and tortured at the behest of the U.S.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin today with one of the most baffling cases in the so-called war on terror, the story of thirty-seven-year-old Aafia Siddiqui.

On Wednesday, a New York court convicted the American-educated Pakistani neuroscientist of attempted murder for shooting at US soldiers and FBI agents while detained in Afghanistan in 2008.

Back in 2003, Aafia Siddiqui was wanted by law enforcement and the FBI and suspected of links to al-Qaeda leadership. But the MIT-trained scientist had mysteriously disappeared along with her three children, two of whom are U.S. citizens. She reappeared five years later in Afghanistan with her oldest son and was arrested on suspicion of carrying chemicals and notes referring to "mass-casualty attacks" in New York.

Aafia Siddiqui was not tried on terrorism charges or for her alleged ties to al-Qaeda. The case against her rested on events that took place the day after she was arrested in Afghanistan in July of 2008. The prosecution said she grabbed an unattended rifle and opened fire on a group of U.S. soldiers and FBI agents who were questioning her. None of the Americans was injured, but Siddiqui was shot and wounded while in US custody.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on Wednesday, the jury reached a unanimous verdict, finding Siddiqui guilty of attempted murder, armed assault, and using and carrying a firearm. She faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Defense lawyers argued there was no physical evidence that Siddiqui had touched the rifle.

    ELAINE SHARP: I disagree with the jury’s verdict. In my opinion, it is wrong. There was no forensic evidence, and the witness testimony was divergent, to say the least. This is not a just and right verdict. It is a just and right system, but the jury -- juries do make mistakes. Juries do go wrong. And my opinion is that this was a verdict that was based on fear and not fact.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, human rights groups have long alleged that Siddiqui was forcibly disappeared by Pakistani authorities in 2003 and interrogated and tortured at the behest of the United States. In her testimony last week, Siddiqui claimed to have been held in a secret prison by the Americans.

For more on the case of Aafia Siddiqui, we’re joined here by two guests. Tina Foster is the executive director of the International Justice Network. She's a spokesperson for Aafia Siddiqui’s family. Petra Bartosiewicz is an independent journalist who has been closely following this story. She wrote about Aafia Siddiqui in the November issue of Harper's Magazine , the piece called “The Intelligence Factory: How America Makes Its Enemies Disappear.” She’s working on a book called The Best Terrorists We Could Find , an investigation of terrorism trials in the US since 9/11.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Tina, let’s begin with you. Your response to the verdict?

TINA FOSTER: Well, the family's response obviously is one of great disappointment, but I can't say a great deal of shock, because from the beginning of this trial, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was portrayed as a terrorist, and instead of assuming the presumption of innocence, which most criminal defendants get when they come into a courtroom, Dr. Aafia had already been painted very much as a dangerous woman before she was even brought into the courtroom. And so, I think we saw during the course of the trial that she suffered the prejudice that was -- that had already been laid as a foundation.

So, the family is going to obviously be calling for an appeal. We're obviously most concerned about Aafia's mental state, because during the trial, she clearly was not herself. She made a number of outbursts during the trial, and we think that is directly related to the trauma that she suffered while in secret prisons and while tortured for those five years while she was missing. In addition, she's been in solitary confinement for a year and a half while in U.S. custody. That has also contributed to her deteriorating mental state.