NEW YORK – A U.S.-trained scientist from Pakistan who was convicted of trying to murder U.S. agents and military officers in Afghanistan should be sent to prison for 12 years rather than life because she is mentally ill, her lawyers said in court papers Wednesday.
Lawyers for Aafia Siddiqui, 38, made the request in a filing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where she was convicted in February of two counts of attempted murder in the July 2008 attack on U.S. authorities while she was detained in an Afghan police station.
The lawyers said Siddiqui was "driven" to her crime by mental illness.
"While the degree and extent of Dr. Siddiqui's mental illness has been the subject of much discussion in this case, one thing stands perfectly clear: the victim of Dr. Siddiqui's irrational behavior is — first and foremost — none other than herself," the lawyers wrote.
They described her behavior in Ghazni, Afghanistan, as "bizarre," saying Siddiqui was "cut off from any form of rational thought" by her knowledge that U.S. authorities had engaged in the torture of detainees overseas.
"Cornered in the Afghan National Police compound, and left to her own devices, Dr. Siddiqui tried, by any means available, to escape what she viewed as a horrific fate," the lawyers said.
During Siddiqui's three-week trial, FBI agents and U.S. soldiers testified that when they went to interrogate her at an Afghan police station, she snatched an unattended assault rifle and shot at them while yelling, "Death to Americans!" She was wounded by return fire but recovered and was brought to the United States to face trial.
Siddiqui is scheduled to be sentenced in mid-August but the date is expected to be moved to September or later.
Her jury conviction set off protests in Pakistan, where there is a widespread belief that the charges against her were fabricated.
Siddiqui, trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University in the early 1990s, left the United States and returned to Pakistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Testifying in her own defense at trial, Siddiqui claimed she was tortured at a "secret prison" before her detention. Charges that she attacked U.S. personnel who wanted to interrogate her were "crazy," she said. "It's just ridiculous."
Her lawyers said her behavior at trial demonstrated her mental illness. They noted that she declared she was boycotting the trial, rejected her lawyers' advice and subjected the court "to frequent, nonsensical outbursts."
After trial, she refused to meet with the probation officer or her lawyers, they said.
The lawyers urged the sentencing judge to reject the probation office's recommendation that she be sentenced to life in prison, especially since she was never charged with any crimes of terrorism.
A message left with the federal prosecutors' office seeking comment was not immediately returned.