NEW YORK: A US-trained scientist accused of being an Al Qaeda operative was living freely in Pakistan and Afghanistan for portions of the five years before her arrest last year, a psychologist says, disputing claims that the scientist had spent those years in the custody of foreign authorities.
New public court documents contain reports by psychologists who treated Aafia Siddiqui after she was arrested in Afghanistan in July 2008 and was charged with taking a gun and shooting at US soldiers and FBI agents. She was shot in the abdomen in the encounter.
The testimony of the mental health experts will be at issue on Monday at a hearing in US District Court in Manhattan to determine whether the 37-year-old Pakistani is competent to stand trial.
Defence lawyers for Ms Siddiqui are challenging her competency for trial, citing the conclusions of an expert who found she is suffering from delusional disorder and depression.
Prosecutors cite reports by psychologists who say her behaviour reflects malingering, the intentional production of grossly exaggerated psychological symptoms aimed at getting a result, such as avoiding trial.
Leslie Powers, a forensic psychologist, wrote in a document dated May 4 and put in the court’s public file on Thursday that new information helps show Ms Siddiqui was living freely in Pakistan and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2008.
Some of her supporters and her former lawyers had argued she had likely been taken into custody by foreign military intelligence authorities during those years and was subjected to torture, sexual abuse and beatings.
Ms Siddiqui earned an undergraduate degree in biology from MIT in 1995 and a doctorate in neuroscience from Brandeis University in 2001. She left the United States in June 2002 with her three children.
Ms Powers wrote that Ms Siddiqui has told the FBI that she worked at the Karachi Institute of Technology in 2005, that she tried to look for her husband in Afghanistan in the winter of 2007 and that she stayed for a time in Quetta.
The psychologist also wrote that Ms Siddiqui’s ex-husband, Mohammad Amjad Khan, reported seeing either her or their children on several occasions in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
“While her accounts of her time are incomplete, her statements and other facts gathered seem to corroborate that she was not held captive from 2003 until 2008,” Ms Powers said.
She said Ms Siddiqui was interviewed at length by the FBI for several days after her arrest on July 18, 2008.
She said FBI agents who accompanied Ms Siddiqui on her 20-hour flight to the United States last Aug. 4 reported that she showed no signs of psychosis or psychological distress and that she was fully oriented and talkative throughout the trip.
Ms Powers and two other experts have concluded Ms Siddiqui is competent for trial.
In a defence exhibit, psychologist L. Thomas Kucharski, chairman of the Department of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, concluded that Ms Siddiqui suffers from delusional disorder and is depressed.