In a hot summer morning 18 months ago a team of four Americans – two FBI agents and two army officers – rolled into Ghazni, a dusty town 50 miles south of Kabul. They had come to interview two unusual prisoners: a woman in a burka and her 11-year-old son, arrested the day before.
Afghan police accused the mysterious pair of being suicide bombers. What interested the Americans, though, was what they were carrying: notes about a “mass casualty attack” in the US on targets including the Statue of Liberty and a collection of jars and bottles containing “chemical and gel substances”.
At the town police station the Americans were directed into a room where, unknown to them, the woman was waiting behind a long yellow curtain. One soldier sat down, laying his M-4 rifle by his foot, next to the curtain. Moments later it twitched back.
The woman was standing there, pointing the officer’s gun at his head. A translator lunged at her, but too late. She fired twice, shouting “Get the fuck out of here!” and “Allahu Akbar!” Nobody was hit. As the translator wrestled with the woman, the second soldier drew his pistol and fired, hitting her in the abdomen. She went down, still kicking and shouting that she wanted “to kill Americans”. Then she passed out.
Whether this extraordinary scene is fiction or reality will soon be decided thousands of miles from Ghazni in a Manhattan courtroom. The woman is Dr Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist and mother of three. The description of the shooting, in July 2008, comes from the prosecution case, which Siddiqui disputes. What isn’t in doubt is that there was an incident, and that she was shot, after which she was helicoptered to Bagram air field where medics cut her open from breastplate to bellybutton, searching for bullets. Medical records show she barely survived. Seventeen days later, still recovering, she was bundled on to an FBI jet and flown to New York where she now faces seven counts of assault and attempted murder. If convicted, the maximum sentence is life in prison. [continued…]