Pakistan: Fate of Jailed Doctor Who Helped Find Bin Laden Up to the Courts

Posted May 24th, 2012 at 2:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Pakistan on Thursday rejected U.S. criticism of the jailing of a Pakistani doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden, while a U.S. congressional panel cut aid to protest his imprisonment.

A court in Pakistan's Khyber tribal region Wednesday sentenced Shakil Afridi to 33 years in prison for treason. He was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign to help the CIA obtain DNA samples of the al-Qaida leader and family members to confirm his presence at a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. U.S. special forces killed bin Laden during a covert raid in the garrison city last May.

A Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters Thursday the Afridi case “will be decided in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts.” He added that the U.S. and Pakistan need to “respect each other's legal processes and the judgements by the courts.”

Under Pakistan's tribal system, Afridi did not have access to a lawyer. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday that the United States continues to see no basis for the charges against the doctor or his incarceration.

Earlier this year, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Afridi had been very helpful in tracking down bin Laden and called on Pakistani authorities to release him. Panetta called his arrest a “real mistake.”

In Washington Thursday, a U.S. Senate subcommittee voted to cut aid to Pakistan by $33 million – $1 million for every year of Afridi's 33-year prison sentence.

Senators Carl Levin and John McCain called Thursday for an immediate pardon for Afridi, saying in a joint statement that his sentence was “shocking and outrageous” while his help in tracking down bin Laden was “a courageous, heroic and patriotic act.”

Afridi's conviction comes amid deteriorating relations between the United States and Pakistan, which are in talks to reopen NATO supply lines to troops in Afghanistan that Pakistan shut down last November after U.S. airstrikes mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops.

Pakistan has demanded an apology for the cross-border attack and an end U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil.

On Tuesday, the Senate subcommittee voted to cut aid to Pakistan in President Barack Obama's budget proposal for next year by more than half, and threatened to withhold even more money unless the NATO supply routes are reopened.

The panel voted $1 billion in aid to Pakistan – a 58 percent cut in the level proposed by Mr. Obama.