Siddiqui earned an undergraduate degree in biology from MIT in 1995 and a doctorate in neuroscience from Brandeis University in 2001. She left the United States in June 2002 with her three children. —AP/File photo

NEW YORK Reports prepared by Dr Aafia Siddiqui's psychologists claim that she was living freely in Pakistan and Afghanistan for portions of the five years before her arrest last year, disputing claims that the scientist had spent those years in the custody of foreign authorities.

Newly public court documents contain reports by psychologists who treated Aafia Siddiqui after she was arrested in Afghanistan in July 2008 and was charged with taking a gun and shooting at US soldiers and FBI agents. She was shot in the abdomen in the encounter.

The testimony of the mental health experts will be at issue beginning on Monday at a hearing in US District Court in Manhattan to determine whether the 37-year-old Pakistani is competent to stand trial.

Defence lawyers for Siddiqui are challenging her competency for trial, citing the conclusions of an expert who found she is suffering from delusional disorder and depression.

Prosecutors cite reports by psychologists who say Siddiqui's behavior reflects malingering, the intentional production of grossly exaggerated psychological symptoms aimed at getting a result, such as avoiding trial.

Leslie Powers, a forensic psychologist, wrote in a document dated May 4 and put in the court's public file late Thursday that new information helps show Siddiqui was living freely in Pakistan and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2008.

Siddiqui's supporters and former lawyers maintain she had likely been taken into custody by foreign military intelligence authorities during those years and was subjected to torture, sexual abuse and beatings.

Siddiqui earned an undergraduate degree in biology from MIT in 1995 and a doctorate in neuroscience from Brandeis University in 2001. She left the United States in June 2002 with her three children.

Powers wrote that Siddiqui has told the FBI that she worked at the Karachi Institute of Technology in 2005, that she tried to look for her husband in Afghanistan in the winter of 2007 and that she stayed for a time in Quetta, Pakistan.

The psychologist also wrote that Siddiqui's ex-husband, Mohammad Amjad Khan, reported seeing either her or their children on several occasions in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

'While her accounts of her time are incomplete, her statements and other facts gathered seem to corroborate that she was not held captive from 2003 until 2008,' Powers said.

Powers said Siddiqui was interviewed at length by the FBI for several days after her arrest on July 18, 2008.

She said FBI agents who accompanied Siddiqui on her 20-hour flight to the United States last Aug. 4 reported that she showed no signs of psychosis or psychological distress and that she was fully oriented and talkative throughout the trip.

Powers and two other experts have concluded Siddiqui is competent for trial.

In a defence exhibit, psychologist L. Thomas Kucharski, chairman of the Department of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, concluded that Siddiqui suffers from delusional disorder and is depressed.

He said her delusions 'include the belief that the court is part of a conspiracy to have her killed, tortured and/or have her witness the torture of her children.'

He added 'She believes that the outcome of her trial is predetermined; that she will get the death penalty and has stated to this evaluator that there is no need to go to trial or work with her attorneys in her defence because of this predetermination. She required that I inform the court to just impose the death penalty or whatever penalty it chooses and to not bother her with the formality of proceedings.'

Gregory B. Saathoff, an associate professor in psychiatric medicine at the University Of Virginia School Of Medicine, said delusions Siddiqui had had involving flying infants, dark angels, a dog in her cell and children visiting her in her room were largely resolved after she believed she was found incompetent to stand trial.

Sally C. Johnson, a professor in the psychiatry department at the University of North Carolina, wrote in a March 16 report that Siddiqui's medical problems have been treated and stabilized.

Johnson said Siddiqui has given vague accounts of her whereabouts from 2003 to 2008, saying she was given shelter by different people.

Johnson said Siddiqui has also given varying accounts of where her children were during those years but told one agent that sometimes one has to take up a cause that is more important than one's children.

Johnson left a warning at the end of her report, saying that in spite of Siddiqui's frail and timid appearance - she has weighed as little as 90 pounds - 'her potential for aggression towards herself or others might be underestimated.'

She cited reports that Siddiqui had taken actions to try to escape from custody before she was transferred to the United States. Johnson recommended that adequate care be taken to protect Siddiqui.

'Given her expressed degree of devotion to her belief system,' she wrote, 'it is possible that she could perceive herself as a martyr for a cause.' —AP

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