A Seattle jury, deliberating for two and one-half days, found Naveed Haq guilty on all counts of aggravated first-degree murder. In 2006, this Pakistani-American with a delusional personality who’d been treated for 10 years for mental illness, kidnapped his way into the Seattle federation building where he proceeded to kill one employee and wound five others, some very seriously. The Jewish community, including a few, but not all the victims, breathed a sigh of relief at the verdict (since his first trial ended in a mistrial). But I didn’t. Here’s why:
The American justice system has an entirely loopy definition of mental illness and mental competency to stand trial. The defense in this case pleaded insanity. The prosecution conceded he was mentally ill. Yet the jury still found him sane. Go figure:
The prosecution throughout the trial had acknowledged Haq had suffered from mental illness. Symptoms appeared mostly in the form of paranoia and paranoid delusions, Raz said…
“No one ever asserted that paranoia had anything to do with his attack on the Jewish Federation,” Raz said.
Juror John Bennett said the defense was simply unable to convince he and his fellow jurors of Haq’s insanity at the time of the shooting.
“We were waiting with an open mind – waiting for someone to tell us that he was not sane. But there was just never anything to convince us,” he said.
So if you can follow that: he’s mentally ill, paranoid and delusional. In fact, during the shootings he shouts out nasty comments about Jews hurting Muslims and this is the reason for his actions. But somehow the paranoid, delusional beliefs that motivate his crime do not constitute insanity. This is a guy who’s under doctor’s care and taking anti-psychotic medication who goes postal, yet nothing convinced the jury of his being totally loopy.
And what convinced the jury in particular of his sanity? Jailhouse phone conversations with the killer’s mother in which she tells him his illness made him commit the crime. He firmly rejects her view and declares his sanity. That’s it. He says he’s sane in a convincing manner and that clinches it. Anyone out there who has a family member or friend who’s battled mental illness can tell you that there are almost no victims of this sickness who readily acknowledge they have it. In fact, I’ve had almost the same exact conversation with someone close to me that Haq’s mother had with him. That person swore up and down that there was nothing wrong with him. That’s part of the illness–to deny it. It’s the same with addiction. Who in their right, or even wrong mind would publicly concede that there’s something terribly wrong with them? Furthermore, many mentally ill individuals can put on a very convincing show proving they are sane. No doubt Haq was doing precisely this when he spoke to his mother.
Telling a jury to believe a mentally ill man when he says he is not mentally ill is, well, crazy.
And so Naveed Haq will go into the state prison system and vegetate there for the rest of his life (no possibility of parole) because a Seattle jury couldn’t concede that a mentally ill individual who was guilty of a horrible crime should be treated as if he were mentally ill (the defense advocated that Haq be committed to a state mental hospital rather than prison).
Besides the tragedy of the murder and shooting victims whose lives were torn asunder and Naveed Haq, who will never see freedom again, there is the tragedy of Haq’s mother, who inadvertently provided evidence against her son that clinched the guilty verdict. In attempting to get him to see the horror of what he had done, she sealed his fate. Imagine being a parent and having the live with that guilt.
As for the Islam-haters out there who are circulating this verdict with glee because you believe it proves there is a Muslim hate machine, think again. All this verdict proves is that one terribly ill individual fell victim to his personal demons and acted out in a horribly violent fashion. The motivation for his acting out happened to be hatred of Israeli violence against Palestinians. But he was no more capable of understanding the full implications of what he was doing than any seriously-ill paranoid schizophrenic is.
Cheryl Stumbo, one of the victims in the shooting, wrote the following at my blog shortly after the shooting. Anyone who wishes to indict Islam for this act should remember this:
…The man who shot me and five of my colleagues…was raised Muslim, yes, but by peace-loving parents, from all accounts. His problem was long-term, very serious mental illness. Let’s not attribute blame to ethnicity/religion when there are documentable medical explanations. Rationality and reason should prevail…
I don’t think his religion…had anything to do with his decision to break into, assault and kill, but I do think it helped his agitated mind select a target for his frustration.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.