The Spectacle Blog

33 Years in Prison For Helping the CIA Find Bin Laden

By on 5.23.12 | 11:07PM

From the Wall Street Journal:

LAHORE—A Pakistani doctor who helped the Central Intelligence Agency track down Osama bin Laden was sentenced to 33 years in prison, officials said, a decision that will further strain relations with the U.S.

The doctor, Shakil Afridi, established a vaccination program at the CIA's request in Abbottabad, a Pakistan garrison town where bin Laden was living. The plan was to collect DNA from residents of the compound where the U.S. suspected bin Laden was hiding.

Pakistani authorities arrested Dr. Afridi shortly after U.S. forces killed the al Qaeda leader in a raid on his compound a year ago. Leon Panetta, who was CIA director at the time, appealed to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari for the release of Dr. Afridi on a visit to Pakistan after the raid. CIA officials also worked intensively with Pakistan's then-ambassador to the U.S. to gain the doctor's release.

U.S. officials had expected that Dr. Afridi would be set free after questioning. But Pakistan instead launched an investigation and continued to hold him.

"The doctor was never asked to spy on Pakistan. He was asked only to help locate al Qaeda terrorists, who threaten Pakistan and the U.S.," said a senior U.S. official with knowledge of counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda in Pakistan. "He helped save Pakistani and American lives. His activities weren't treasonous, they were heroic and patriotic. "

Dr. Afridi was convicted in a secretive sentencing in the Khyber tribal region near the border with Afghanistan, where the case could be kept out of the public eye.

Pakistan's tribal regions are governed under a special set of laws that date to the British colonial era and give wide-ranging powers to a government-appointed political agent, including the right to sentence people to time in jail...

An official with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate military spy agency contested the U.S. view that Dr. Afridi was a patriot. "He wasn't serving Pakistan. He was serving Americans," the official said.

No surprise that an ISI official would talk as if Pakistan and the US aren't allies; as Eli Lake explained in a New Republic feature on the Pakistani "deep state" last year, elements of the ISI are allied with al Qaeda and the Taliban, and those same elements have helped support a terrorist safe haven the tribal regions where Afridi was sentenced. One of Eli's sources put it this way: "Imagine if the CIA was supporting the drug cartels of Mexico over the wishes of the Congress and the White House... That’s what we have in Pakistan."

But in that situation, it would be incumbent on the government to arrest those rogue pro-cartel agents. If the Pakistani government can't or won't curtail its anti-American security apparatus -- if it doesn't even protect someone like Dr. Afridi -- at what point is the government itself, for all intents and purposes, our enemy?

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