A U.S.-trained Pakistani scientist accused of helping al-Qaida and shooting at FBI agents in Afghanistan repeatedly shouted toward spectators during her competency hearing Monday, at one point telling them: "I'm really not against America, I never was!"
The hearing in federal court in Manhattan included testimony by psychologists who have interviewed 37-year-old Aafia Siddiqui over the last year, read police reports and studied transcripts of her telephone conversations and interactions with others in prison.
Siddiqui, covered in cloth from head to toe except for her eyes, repeatedly spun around to address courtroom spectators, sometimes reacting to testimony.
"I am not psychotic. I can assure you I am not," she said. "I'm very distressed by all the wars going on. Give me a chance. I'm definitely good at making peace."
She added: "The wars, wouldn't it be nice to end them?"
Siddiqui is charged with attempted murder and assault. She 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 several weeks later to face charges.
During one of her outbursts Monday, she called out: "I did not shoot anybody."
Just before a lunch break, Siddiqui turned toward the spectators again and called out: "I'm really not against America. I never was! America as a nation has been framed to look bad."
For most of the last year, Siddiqui has undergone psychiatric evaluations despite her general refusal to cooperate with testing by psychologists and psychiatrists.
Fit for trial?
The hearing Monday featured three witnesses.
One, psychologist L. Thomas Kucharski, concluded that Siddiqui suffers from delusional disorder and depression and is not fit for trial. He was called by Siddiqui's defense lawyers.
Two other witnesses sent to evaluate Siddiqui have concluded that she is exaggerating her psychological symptoms, possibly to avoid trial. They were hired by the government.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said he will not rule Monday. He said at the start of the proceeding that Siddiqui is presumed innocent, a comment that caused her to shake her head in apparent disagreement.
She appeared in court against her will and repeatedly noted that in her statements to spectators.
"I don't like being cuffed and stripped and made to attend these proceedings," she said.
Berman signed an order last week requiring her appearance.
"I'm all injured, aching all over," she said. "I do not want to be here."
October trial date
The statements sometimes were made even as lawyers or witnesses were speaking.
She was sternly reprimanded once by Berman, who told her that it was her lawyer's turn to speak and added tersely, "if you don't mind."
Psychologists for both prosecutors and the defense said Siddiqui has claimed she saw some of her children in her cell and seemed particularly disturbed by strip searches required before court appearances. The psychologists wrote in court documents put in the public court record late last week that Siddiqui repeatedly stated she was dead after one strip search and that she said she was convinced video of the search was distributed on the Internet.
Siddiqui, a specialist in neuroscience who trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, appeared in court twice after she was brought to the U.S. last August but had refused to attend proceedings since then.
A trial is set for Oct. 19.