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.
“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.
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.
“He should be praised and rewarded for his actions, not punished and slandered,” they added.