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Trial of Pakistani Scientist Begins in US

  • Larry Freund

A Pakistani woman went to trial on Tuesday, accused by the U.S. government of attempted murder in an attack on U.S. troops and federal agents in Afghanistan.

Aafia Siddiqui is accused of being a supporter of al-Qaida. Prosecutors say she used an American soldier's assault rifle to attack U.S. officers and federal agents during a confrontation in 2008 at an Afghan police outpost.

Siddiqui disrupted the first day of her trial by shouting that the first witness against her was lying. As a result of her outburst, attendants removed Siddiqui from the courtroom.

Legal specialists say that judges have a lot of discretion in how they deal with disruptive defendants.

John Galvin is an attorney in New York who handles federal cases.

"You have to balance in this case an accused's right to confront the people who are testifying against them, the witnesses, you have to balance against that the state's right, or in this case, the federal government's right, to bring a prosecution and to have an orderly proceeding," said John Galvin. "Essentially, if you have got an accused defendant in a criminal proceeding, the standard operating procedure would be to scream, yell and make such a ruckus as to essentially stop the proceeding. That way you'll never have a proceeding, you'll never have a conviction will you?"

The first witness in the trial, U.S. Army Captain Robert Snyder, told the court that documents found in Siddiqui's purse included a list of alleged targets for attack in New York, including the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge.

In opening arguments, a prosecutor told the jury that during the struggle with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Siddiqui screamed, "Death to America." Her defense attorney argued that there is no conclusive evidence that Siddiqui had picked up a rifle.

Attorney John Galvin, who is not connected with the Siddiqui case, says the presiding judge - Federal District Judge Richard Berman - must weigh the interests of the defendant and the prosecution.

"And in weighing the interests of the state, of the people, in not only being able to bring a proceeding, a prosecution, but also the decorum of the court, the respect for the court and all that against an individual's right to confront the witnesses against him," he said.

Siddiqui is a neuroscientist who was trained at American universities. She has denied all the charges against her.

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