Refusing Strip Searches, Siddiqui Denied Visitors and Calls, Misses Her Indictment

The MIT alumna arrested mid-July in Afghanistan failed to appear for her indictment in federal court in Manhattan yesterday. Aafia Siddiqui ’95, refuses to be strip-searched, so she cannot make court appearances, receive visitors, or use the telephone. She has had minimal contact with her lawyers since mid-August.

On July 16, Siddiqui allegedly fired on U.S. personnel while being held in Afghan custody. According to the indictment, Siddiqui grabbed and fired an Army Officer’s assault rifle from behind a curtain in an interview room. The U.S. personnel were unaware of her presence, the indictment said; they fired back and injured her.

The grand jury indictment was filed on Tuesday, and largely resembles the criminal complaint released on Aug. 5. The indictment includes seven counts against Siddiqui: two counts of attempted murder, four counts of assault, and one count of discharge of a firearm.

Siddiqui’s lawyers have been unable to meet with her since early August, according to a letter to Judge Richard M. Berman from Elizabeth M. Fink, her New York court-appointed defender. The letter, dated Wednesday, states that Siddiqui, who is recovering from gunshot wounds, was “handcuffed behind her back, made to walk from the old building to the new building without her wheelchair, strip-searched, and placed in a cell” when visited by Pakistani diplomats on Aug. 8.

According to the letter, Siddiqui has refused all further strip searches, and has thus been denied visitations and phone calls to her family. “Siddiqui is completely isolated from counsel, psychological help and her family,” Fink writes.

Fink says that she believes Siddiqui “is a victim of torture, and that the strip searches exacerbate an existing acute psychological disorder.”

“I do not believe that Dr. Siddiqui is competent to participate in her own defense … Dr. Siddiqui requires further evaluation including examinations by medical professionals specializing in the treatment of torture victims,” Fink wrote.

Siddiqui’s Boston-area lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, says that she met with Siddiqui on Aug. 11 and spoke to her by phone on Aug. 14, Sharp continues to be very concerned about Siddiqui’s health, and says that the strip searches are particularly uncomfortable for her client because of her injuries, as well as her Muslim beliefs.

Siddiqui’s lawyers and the court-appointed psychologist have requested she be transferred to a “less restrictive setting where she would not be subjected to strip searches and where she could receive more extensive care.” Judge Berman set a deadline of Friday, Sept. 12 for the defense to brief this issue, Wednesday Sept. 17 for the prosecution, with the next court appearance on Monday, Sept. 22.

The text of the indictment carried additional details about Siddiqui’s arrest on July 17. It claims Siddiqui carried handwritten notes that referred to a “mass casualty attack” and mentioned U.S. locations like the Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge. The indictment also alleges Siddiqui carried notes on “destroying reconnaissance drones,” and use of gliders and underwater bombs.

When Siddiqui was arrested on July 17, an eleven-year-old boy was arrested with her, but his identity was unclear. On Aug. 22, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia wrote to Siddiqui’s lawyer indicating that preliminary DNA analysis of the boy was consistent with him being her son.

Fink’s letter from Wednesday continues to support the claim that Siddiqui was held by the United States following her 2003 disappearance. Fink wrote that The Washington Post told her of “reliable sources in both the American and Pakistani government who have verified” that Siddiqui was held, first by Pakistani intelligence in 2003, and subsequently by the CIA. The Post declined to comment.