By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
NEW YORK, Aug. 11 -- A judge has ordered the government to provide a doctor for a Pakistani neuroscientist and mother of three who is charged with assaulting and trying to kill her American interrogators in Afghanistan.
Aafia Siddiqui, 36, who was educated in the United States and who mysteriously disappeared in Pakistan five years ago around the time American officials said they wanted to question her on suspicion of ties to al-Qaeda, sat in a wheelchair in court Monday, appearing fragile, with a white veil covering her hair.
Her lawyers said that she has not seen a doctor since arriving in the United States a week ago and that her health is worsening since she sustained bullet wounds July 18 during the encounter with FBI agents and U.S. troops. They also listed other potential health problems including brain damage and loss of a kidney and said she lacked painkillers and antibiotics.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry B. Pitman agreed to postpone her bail hearing until September.
Siddiqui's case is being closely watched by legal and security analysts, who say her unusual removal to New York from Afghanistan for a criminal trial could signal a departure from the government's practice of naming terrorism suspects "enemy combatants" and trying them in military proceedings abroad. There is no mention of terrorism charges in the complaint against her.
The government has realized it is much easier to make a criminal case than a terrorism case, which involves conspiracy and sensitive materials, said Bruce Hoffman, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University. Until recently, Siddiqui might have "disappeared into the enemy combatant protocols," he said.
According to the U.S. criminal complaint, Siddiqui was taken into custody last month in Afghanistan after she was found lingering outside the house of the governor of Ghazni province.
Afghan police and the governor's security forces searched Siddiqui, who was accompanied by a 13-year-old boy, and found recipes for explosives and chemical substances, according to Ismail Jahangir, the spokesman for the governor.
According to the complaint, Siddiqui also had documents describing New York City and various U.S. landmarks.
The complaint says that the day after she was detained, when a team of at least six FBI and American military personnel arrived to question her, Siddiqui, sitting unsecured and hidden behind a curtain, snatched a gun from the floor where one of the men had left it.
According to the complaint, she fired several shots from the M-4 rifle. One of the officers fired back and hit her at least once.
"An 85-pound woman going after six guys with an M-4 rifle?" said her lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp. "The story just doesn't pass the sniff test."
In any case, news of the July confrontation does little to clear up the mystery of Siddiqui's whereabouts for the past five years. She had disappeared with her three young children while visiting her parents in Karachi, Pakistan, in March 2003, around the time the FBI announced it wanted to question her about al-Qaeda.
For five years, authorities denied knowing her whereabouts, while rumors circulated that she was being held by either Pakistani or U.S. officials.
Siddiqui told her lawyers that she had been held for years by Americans and "tortured mentally and physically," Sharp said.
In Pakistan, her case has raised anger about the hundreds of people who have disappeared since Sept. 11, 2001, and in recent days it has sparked demonstrations in Islamabad and Karachi.
Pakistani demonstrators yelled, "She is one of the missing persons!" to Saqib Rauf, a vice consul for Pakistan in New York, as he was standing outside the court talking to reporters.
Siddiqui's family has said that she is innocent and that she has been in U.S. custody all these years.
"I don't know what's happening. I'm going out of my mind. I can't understand what is happening now," said her mother, Ismad Siddiqui, in Karachi.
Correspondent Candace Rondeaux in Islamabad and special correspondent Javed Hamdard in Kabul contributed to this report.