US ‘dark side’ raised in Pakistani scientist case

NEW YORK - The ‘dark side’ of US counter-terrorism took center stage Wednesday in the case of a mentally ill Pakistani woman accused of attacking US officers in Afghanistan.

A New York federal judge referred to allegations that the accused, Aafia Siddiqui, was abducted and tortured by US or allied forces prior to her extradition from Afghanistan in August.

Siddiqui, 36, is undergoing psychiatric treatment at a government center in Texas and, according to her lawyer, suffers hallucinations featuring her dead, or missing children.

Judge Richard Berman on Monday said the preliminary evaluation showed Siddiqui unfit to stand trial.

On Wednesday, he called for more information about allegations that the accused, once a high-flying, US-trained neuroscientist, was held in secret captivity for five years.

The torture and abduction claims, which the US government rejects, are not part of the court case, but still need to be addressed, Berman said.

‘Certainly it has a bearing on the clinical treatment ... and the issue of competence,’ he said.

Supporters of Siddiqui believe that in 2003 she was abducted in Karachi, along with her three young children, and held secretly until her arrest in Afghanistan in July 2008.

The US government says Siddiqui had Al Qaeda links and was hiding during those years.

Prosecutors allege she was picked up this July by Afghan police and that shortly after, while in custody, she grabbed a rifle and shot at visiting US officers.

Defense lawyer Elizabeth Fink said that Siddiqui’s mental illness is likely the result of five horrific years in custody.

She quoted a 2001 statement by Vice President Dick Cheney in which he acknowledged that US anti-terrorism bodies use ‘the dark side,’ working ‘quietly, without any discussion.’

Obtaining the truth is almost impossible, Fink told the court, although with Barack Obama’s election as president, ‘God knows what’s going to happen to this ‘dark side’ stuff.’

Prosecutor David Raskin said there was ‘not a shred of evidence’ that Siddiqui had been in the hands of US or allied forces prior to her July arrest.

‘I can say to the court we have found zero evidence that Ms Siddiqui was abducted, tortured-any of the things we hear repeated.’

Siddiqui and her children were ‘certainly not in US custody, certainly not kidnapped by US forces, the ‘dark side,’‘ he told the court.

Raskin said that Siddiqui’s unexplained disappearance suggested she was an Al Qaeda associate who went underground.

‘A more plausible inference is that she went into hiding because people around her started to get arrested and at least two of those people ended up at Guantanamo Bay,’ Raskin said.

However, both Raskin and Fink admitted they had little hard evidence to prove Siddiqui’s whereabouts.

With Siddiqui apparently in mental distress, and not attending her court hearings, she is unlikely to shed much light in the near future.

According to the preliminary medical report, as quoted by Fink, she suffers visual hallucinations of one child, who is believed to be dead, and another, who is missing.

‘She believes she lives with two of the children,’ Fink said.

The next court session, in December, will merely provide an update on Siddiqui’s medical condition.

Meanwhile, Siddiqui’s 12-year-old son, who was with her at the time of her arrest, was released by the Afghans in September, and lives with his extended family in Karachi.

However, Fink said the boy is also suffering mental illness. ‘He is heavily medicated, he is seriously disturbed. He is under psychiatric care.’

Siddiqui’s sister in Karachi ‘probably knows more about Mrs Siddiqui than anybody,’ Fink said, but ‘I can only speak to her on the phone, which is tapped.’

Fink said she was considering a meeting with the sister in Europe.

Despite repeated allegations and media reports linking Siddiqui to Al Qaeda, the accusations have failed to stick. She is not charged with terrorism but attempted murder of army and Federal Bureau of Investigation officers.

She faces 20 years prison if convicted.

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