- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden was convicted of treason Wednesday by a Pakistani tribal court that sentenced him to 33 years in prison and fined him $3,500.

In Washington, key members of Congress denounced the court’s decision, which added another layer of tension to the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, already strained by Islamabad’s reluctance to reopen ground routes used by NATO to supply troops in Afghanistan.

Dr. Shakil Afridi ran a vaccination program and gathered DNA samples in an effort that helped confirm the al Qaeda leader’s presence at a mansion in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad.

Dr. Afridi was sentenced by a court in Pakistan’s Khyber area and transferred to a jail in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

“The doctor was never asked to spy on Pakistan,” a senior U.S. official with knowledge of counterterrorism operations in Pakistan told The Washington Times on background.

“He was asked only to help locate al Qaeda terrorists, who threaten Pakistan and the U.S. He helped save Pakistani and American lives. His activities were not treasonous. They were heroic and patriotic.”

In addition to the bin Laden raid, the downward spiral of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship also was marked last year by the arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Davis for killing two Pakistanis, and a NATO attack on two border posts killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan shut the supply routes to protest the NATO attack.

U.S. and Pakistani officials are in talks on reopening the routes. Negotiations have been hampered by a disagreement over the fee the U.S. will pay Pakistan for use of the routes.

A Pakistani parliamentary committee has demanded an apology for the NATO attack. The Obama administration expressed its regret for the incident but stopped short of issuing an apology. The committee also has demanded an end to U.S. drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials were angered by the bin Laden raid, which they saw as an infringement of their country’s sovereignty because the U.S. failed to notify them in advance.

Two weeks after bin Laden’s death, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency detained Dr. Afridi in Peshawar.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers responded with anger to the verdict.

Sens. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, chairman and ranking member respectively of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the prison sentence “shocking and outrageous.”

In a joint statement, they called on the Pakistani government to pardon and release Dr. Afridi.

“What Dr. Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason,” the senators said.

“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,” they added.

Mr. Levin and Mr. McCain said 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,” they added.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs oversight and investigations subcommittee, said Dr. Afridi’s sentencing is “decisive proof Pakistan sees itself as being at war with us.”

Dr. Afridi came through for the American people; now it is our time to come through for him,” said the California Republican, who has led efforts to cut off U.S. aid to Pakistan.