A U.S.-educated Pakistani scientist accused of shooting at FBI agents and helping al-Qaida turned a hearing to decide if she's competent for trial into a pulpit for telling anyone who would listen that she doesn't hate America but doesn't trust its courts.
Aafia Siddiqui repeatedly spoke Monday to spectators, a U.S. marshal's deputy sitting behind her, her lawyers and even a team of five prosecutors and aides in front of her at the start of the afternoon session of the daylong proceeding. They were her first public comments since she was brought to the United States from Afghanistan 11 months ago.
"I want to make peace with the United States of America," Siddiqui said to the backs of those at the prosecution table. "I'm not an enemy. I never was."
Siddiqui is accused of having ties to al-Qaida and grabbing a U.S. Army officer's rifle in Afghanistan in July 2008 and firing at U.S. soldiers and FBI agents. She was shot in the abdomen in the encounter and was brought to the United States weeks later to face charges of attempted murder and assault.
A defense attorney has disputed the U.S. government's account of what happened in Afghanistan, and a not guilty plea has been entered for Siddiqui. In court Monday, she said: "I did not shoot anybody. I didn't fire any bullets."
If convicted of the charges, Siddiqui, 37, would face a minimum of 30 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Throughout Monday's hearing, Siddiqui rubbed her wrists, reddened by what she said was rough treatment by jailhouse guards who forced her to court in observance of the judge's order that she appear.
Siddiqui, a specialist in neuroscience who trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, had appeared in court twice after she was brought to the U.S. last August but had refused to attend proceedings since then. On Monday, she pulled a white scarf over her face so only her eyes were seen.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said he will rule later if she's competent to stand trial in October. Psychologists say she's had delusions that include seeing her three children in her cell and being visited by flying infants and dark angels.
L. Thomas Kucharski, a psychologist for the defense, testified Siddiqui suffers from delusional disorder and depression and is unfit for trial. Two mental health experts for the government, Gregory B. Saathoff and Sally C. Johnson, testified she's fit for trial because her behavior reflects malingering or grossly exaggerated psychological symptoms aimed at getting a result, such as avoiding trial.
When Johnson testified that Siddiqui had said the judge is a pawn of a Zionist conspiracy and only wants to kill her, Siddiqui turned toward spectators and nodded her head enthusiastically in apparent agreement.
Johnson said Siddiqui's descriptions of seeing her children in her cell and other events had subsided over the months and an analysis of her recorded conversations with her brother and others had shown that she understood the charges against her and the legal process.
Kucharski testified that her prospects might be worse if she were found incompetent because it could trigger a court order of forced medication to treat symptoms so that she could become competent for trial. And, if her symptoms are not treatable, she could remain institutionalized for life, he said.
Before she left court, Siddiqui insisted she's not paranoid or psychotic and described her fears that her statements Monday might be her last.
"It's probably the last opportunity I'm going to get," she said, noting the possibility she will be subjected to forced medication. "I've seen people on the drugs. They can't talk."
At least twice during the hearing she indicated she will not cooperate with her court-appointed lawyer, Dawn M. Cardi.
Cardi said outside court that her client's behavior supported her argument that she's unfit for trial.
"She's not making any sense," Cardi said.
The lawyer noted that Siddiqui had shouted to spectators that she could bring peace to Pakistan and Afghanistan if she were permitted to speak with President Barack Obama. It was an example of grandiose behavior that supports conclusions that she is delusional, Cardi said.
In court, Siddiqui told spectators: "The American president wants to make peace. I want to help him. Am I making sense? I'm sincere."