He Helped Find bin Laden, Now Languishes in Jail

The AP takes a look at Shakil Afridi's ordeal
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 22, 2018 10:20 AM CST
The Doctor Who Helped Find bin Laden Is Stuck in Jail
In this July 9, 2010, file photo, Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi is photographed in the Khyber region of Pakistan.   (AP Photo/Qazi Rauf, File)

Shakil Afridi has languished in jail for years—since 2011, when the Pakistani doctor used a vaccination scam in an attempt to get DNA samples from bin Laden's family as a means of pinpointing his location, aiding US Navy SEALs who tracked and killed the al-Qaeda leader. Afridi hasn't seen his lawyer since 2012, and his wife and children are his only visitors. For two years his file "disappeared," delaying a court appeal of his 33-year sentence that still hasn't proceeded. The courts now say a prosecutor is unavailable, his lawyer, Qamar Nadeem Afridi, tells the AP. Shakil Afridi spends his days alone, isolated from a general prison population filled with militants who've vowed to kill him for his role in locating bin Laden, says Nadeem. But Afridi hasn't been charged in connection with the bin Laden operation. The AP dives deep into his case and the "larger puzzle."

  • The charges: He was accused under tribal law of aiding militants in the nearby Khyber tribal region, says Nadeem. Even the Taliban scoffed at the charge that was filed to make use of Pakistan's antiquated tribal system, which allows closed courts and limits the number of appeals, he says. If charged with treason—which Pakistani authorities say he committed—Afridi would have the right to public hearings and numerous appeals all the way to the Supreme Court, where the details of the bin Laden raid could be laid bare, something neither the civilian nor military establishments want, his lawyer says.
  • Perspective: Americans might wonder how Pakistan could imprison a man who helped track down the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Pakistanis are apt to ask a different question: How could the United States betray its trust and cheapen its sovereignty with a secret nighttime raid that shamed the military and its intelligence agencies? The US believes its financial support entitles it to Pakistan's backing in its efforts to defeat the Taliban—as a candidate, Donald Trump pledged to free Afridi, telling Fox News in April 2016 he would get him out of prison in "two minutes. ... Because we give a lot of aid to Pakistan." But Pakistan is resentful of what it sees as US interference in its affairs.
  • And since Trump has become president... Tensions have grown between Pakistan and the US since Trump's New Year's Day tweet in which he accused Pakistan of taking $33 billion in aid and giving only "lies and deceit" in return while harboring Afghan insurgents who attack American soldiers in neighboring Afghanistan. Days later, the US suspended military aid to Pakistan, which could amount to $2 billion. Infuriated by Trump's tweet, Pakistan accused Washington of making it a scapegoat for its failure to bring peace to Afghanistan.
  • Next steps: There was no indication whether US Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells brought Afridi's case up in recent meetings in Pakistan. But in a statement, the US State Department told the AP that Afridi has not been forgotten. "We ... have clearly communicated our position to Pakistan on Dr. Afridi's case, both in public and in private," it said. The director of the independent Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad said Pakistan and the US need to revise their expectations of each other, recognize their divergent security concerns, and plot an Afghan war strategy, other than the current one, which is to both kill and talk to the Taliban. "Shakil Afridi [is] part of the larger puzzle," he said.
(More Osama bin Laden stories.)

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