(CN) – A Pakistani neuroscientist accused of trying to kill U.S. soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan is competent to stand trial, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman agreed with two government psychiatrists, who determined that Aafia Siddiqui was “malingering,” or faking her symptoms of mental illness.
Judge Berman decided that she “has a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against her” and a “sufficient present ability to consult with her lawyers with a reasonable degree of understanding.”
Siddiqui claimed to have hallucinations involving flying infants, dark angels, a dog in her cell and children visiting her at night. She initially refused to meet with her court-appointed lawyers or open any legal mail. A psychiatrist who evaluated her said Siddiqui “believes the process is irrelevant,” because she claimed her arrest and prosecution were a result of a “conspiracy.”
Her former attorney claimed Siddiqui had been the victim of torture, and that the mandatory strip searches performed in jail “exacerbate an acute psychological disorder.” Siddiqui is now represented by Dawn M. Cardi.
U.S. officials have accused Siddiqui, 37, of having ties to al-Qaida. The Press Trust of India reported that she was arrested in 2003 in Pakistan, and was allegedly “in the hands of the FBI.” Her whereabouts for the next five years are unknown. The defense said the U.S. government secretly held her for years.
The MIT-trained mother of three was taken into custody last July in Afghanistan after being caught outside a provincial governor’s compound with a backpack filled with chemicals, maps and a thumb drive containing documents on explosives, according to the indictment. The documents allegedly contained correspondence that referred to specific “cells” and “attacks” that were to be carried out.
A handwritten note in her possession referred to a “mass casualty attack” in the United States, and listed the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge and Plum Island, Mass., as potential targets, prosecutors said.
While waiting to be interrogated by a team of FBI agents at a police compound in Ghazni, Siddiqui allegedly grabbed an Army officer’s M-4 rifle and fired shots toward Army personnel and federal agents. Nobody was hit. She pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other charges.
She was transferred to a medical center in Fort Worth that specializes in mental health services for female inmates.
Experts disagreed about whether she suffers from genuine mental illness or is faking symptoms.
A psychiatrist for the defense said Siddiqui suffers from a delusional disorder, hallucinations and severe depression, and is not fit to stand trial. She “cannot be weaned from her belief that the Court and everyone associated with it – her attorneys, the Bureau of Prison, psychologists retained by both parties – are part and parcel of the anti-Muslim, Zionist conspiracy that she so fears,” the defense expert said. The defense said this shows she couldn’t have a “rational understanding of the proceedings.”
A psychiatrist for the government said that although Siddiqui’s statements appear delusional – including her speaking at length about conspiracies by the Jews, Israel, India and the United States – they are consistent with radical political ideology of “Muslim militants dedicated to Jihad.”
The prosecutors’ expert said the visions that Siddiqui described appear to be “hypnogogic experiences” and not true visual hallucinations.
During a competency hearing July 6, the judge noted that Siddiqui’s demeanor was “polite and appropriate,” but “changed almost instantaneously” after a prosecutor commented that there had been no outbursts from her.
After that, “Dr. Siddiqui became much more loquacious, outspoken and difficult in the courtroom,” the judge said.