US judge approves new defence lawyers over Aafia’s objections
NEW YORK – Over her vociferous objections, a US judge on Wednesday cleared the way for a new team of lawyers to defend Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuro-scientist, who is accused of trying to kill US officials in Afghanistan last year.
The lawyers, hired by the govt of Pakistan, are Ms Linda Moreno, Ms Elaine Sharp and Charles Swift. Another lawyer Chad Hadgar will assist the team as will be the court-appointed defence attorney Dawn Cardi. Judge Richard Berman described the new team of lawyers as a ‘strong defence panel’ while allowing them to represent Ms. Siddiqui when her trial begins on Nov 2.
Her trial was originally scheduled to begin on Oct 19.
Ahead of Ms. Siddiqui’s trial, a pre-trial conference will take place on Sept 17 involving Judge Berman, the prosecuters and defence lawyers at which they will go over the procedures to be followed.
Siddiqui, who was in blue prison clothes with a white shawl covering her head and part of her face, spoke out repeatedly during the procee-dings objecting to the appoint-ment of her new lawyers on the ground that she has no confi-dence in the system of justice.
‘I am out of this, I never gave any permission to anybody’, she declared, waving a yellow pad paper inscribed with the word ‘no’. She said that she wanted to make peace and that would help everybody, without explaining how.
Judge Berman said she would be making a ‘big mistake’ if she does not have a defence lawyer. He assured her that she is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by the court.
Aafia vigorously protested against her aggressive strip searches before coming to the court, saying the humiliating treatment adversely affects her state of mind. Her defence lawyers also reinforced her arugment against strip searches, saying it violates her religious and personal sensibilities.
Judge Berman agreed with Aafia’s objections and directed that the matter should be taken up with the US Bureau of Prisons. Why was a strip search necessary when she is all alone in a high security prison and her cell monitored, he asked. Also, if she could meet people in a Texas medical facility, why couldn’t it be done here?
The judge directed that the matter be resolved as soon as possible. At one point, Siddiqui said she would like to meet FBI people, to which the judge said that won’t be good for you.
Afterwards, lawyer Swift pledged to put up a strong defence for Ms. Sidduiqui. He said he full understood that she does not have confidence in the justice system.
‘Our job will be to defend her within this system’.