Pakistan sentences doctor to 33 years for helping U.S. track down Osama bin Laden
Dr. Shakil Afridi, the man who helped the U.S. tracked down Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was sentenced to 33 years in prison by a Pakistani court last week.
Afridi was charged with treason for running a fake vaccination program to collect DNA samples that helped U.S. intelligence officials confirm Bin Laden’s whereabouts in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bin Laden, who lived in the northeastern Pakistani city for years, was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs last May, nearly a decade after the Al Qaeda leader took credit for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Afridi’s sentence was widely condemned by U.S. officials, who praised Afridi’s role in capturing one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.
“It is shocking and outrageous that Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who assisted the United States in the search for Osama bin Laden, has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for the crime of treason. What Dr. Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason. It was a courageous, heroic, and patriotic act, which helped to locate the most wanted terrorist in the world – a mass murderer who had the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) in a joint statement. “Dr. Afridi’s actions were completely consistent with the multiple, legally-binding resolutions passed over many years by the United Nations Security Council, which required member-states to assist in bringing Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network to justice. Dr. Afridi set an example that we wish others in Pakistan had followed long ago. He should be praised and rewarded for his actions, not punished and slandered.”
McCain and Levin have called for the immediate “pardon and release” of Afridi. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that the U.S. has and will continue “take up this matter” with the Pakistani government.
In response to U.S. criticisms, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry simply stated that “we need to respect each other’s legal processes and the judgements by the courts.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted on Thursday to cut another $33 million in foreign aid to Pakistan to protest Afridi’s sentence.
Pakistan’s decision to pursue charges against Afridi prompted U.S. lawmakers to question whether Pakistan is a true ally in the global War on Terrorism.
“We need Pakistan, Pakistan needs us, but we don’t need Pakistan double-dealing and not seeing the justice in bringing Osama bin Laden to an end,” explained Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who called Pakistan “a schizophrenic ally”.
Pakistan has received billions in military and foreign aid from the U.S. as an “ally” in the War on Terrorism. But the arrest, conviction, and imprisonment of Afridi has reinforced American’s perception that Pakistan long harbored anti-American terrorist networks, including those affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban – a charge frequently denied by the Pakistani government.
“I don’t know which side of this war Pakistan is on,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This makes me seriously question our financial support to Pakistan…If this is how Pakistan is going to treat a friend and hero like Dr. Afridi, I don’t know about these funds.”
During an interview on ABC News “This Week”, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Afridi’s sentence “does not help in the effort to try to re-establish a relationship between the United States and Pakistan.”
The Bin Laden raid strained bilateral relations, and Pakistan cut off critical supply routes into Afghanistan after U.S.-NATO airstrikes in November killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border in northwest Pakistan.
At the NATO conference in Chicago, President Barack Obama raised the supply route issue with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.
“We didn’t anticipate that the supply line issue was going to be resolved by this summit. We knew that before we arrived in Chicago,” Obama acknowledged. “There is no doubt that there have been tensions between ISAF and Pakistan, the United States and Pakistan over the last several months. I think they are being worked through both military and diplomatic channels.”
- Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Transcript of press briefing on May 24, 2012
- U.S. State Department: Transcript of press briefing on May 23, 2012
- U.S. Defense Department: Transcript of press briefing on May 29, 2012
- ABC News: Video of interview with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on May 27, 2012
- McCain.Senate.gov: Statement by Senators McCain and Levin on sentencing of Pakistani doctor who assisted in Bin Laden search
- Senate Appropriations Committee: Summary: State, Foreign Operations Subcommittee
- Full Committee Markup on May 24, 2012
- Feinstein.Senate.gov: Feinstein Statement on Prison Sentence for Pakistani Doctor Shakil Afridi
- WhiteHouse.gov: Remarks by the President at the NATO Conference on May 21, 2012
- Dawn.com: Appeal over Shakeel Afridi’s conviction
- Associated Press: Senate committee cuts Pakistan aid over conviction