- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A CIA contractor accused of murdering two Pakistani men walked out of a Lahore prison Wednesday after the families of the dead men “pardoned” him after receiving more than $2 million in blood money, officials said.

The release of Raymond Allen Davis capped weeks of intense negotiations between CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and his counterpart in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Ahmad Shuja Pasha.

“The agency and our Pakistani counterparts have had a strong relationship for years,” CIA spokesman George Little said. “When issues arise, it’s our standing practice to work through them. That’s the sign of a healthy partnership - one that’s vital to both countries, especially as we face a common set of terrorist enemies.”

Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan became strained when Islamabad refused to recognize Mr. Davis‘ diplomatic immunity as a member of the U.S. Embassy. Mr. Davis shot two armed men Jan. 27 at a traffic stop in Lahore and said they had tried to rob him.

Pakistanis, already outraged over U.S. drone attacks against suspected Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in the northwestern part of the country, demanded that Mr. Davis be tried and hanged, while officials held the American.

“We expect the [U.S.-Pakistan] relationship to return to normal now that this is over,” a Pakistani diplomat told The Washington Times.

The Raymond Davis affair shed light on the often secret counterterrorism partnership between the United States and Pakistan.

Mr. Davis was in Lahore as part of a security detail to protect CIA officers collecting intelligence on terrorist groups in the city. U.S. officials have been loath to discuss CIA activities in Pakistan, fearing the U.S. operations could spark a public backlash against the weak government in Islamabad.

The incident also exposed the limits of traditional diplomacy in some cases. U.S. officials say Pakistani authorities paid three Pakistani families more than $700,000 each. In exchange, the families pardoned Mr. Davis.

The decision to pay the blood money, or diyat, was made after initial diplomatic discussions for the release of Mr. Davis hit a dead end.

The U.S. Embassy argued that because Mr. Davis was registered as a diplomat, the Pakistani authorities had an obligation under international law to grant him diplomatic immunity.

Pakistani authorities, however, said his immunity was a matter for the courts, and a court in Lahore ruled that Mr. Davis would have to stand trial for murder. His release occurred just before his double murder trial was set to start.

“This was decided in Pakistan, according the Pakistani law and the Pakistani courts,” the Pakistani diplomat told The Washington Times. “There is a provision in Pakistani law for compensating the families of someone who has been murdered.” This is also a feature of regional Islamic, or Shariah, law.

Speaking in Cairo on Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States did not pay the blood money to the Pakistani families. When asked who did, Mrs. Clinton replied, “You will have to ask the families.”

A U.S. official also told The Times that the Pakistani government arranged for the payment of the blood money. However, this official allowed that Islamabad could ask for compensation at a later time.

This official also said there was no proposed prisoner swap to release Mr. Davis. “There was no formal quid pro quo,” this official said.

A second U.S. official close to the case said there were serious concerns Mr. Davis would be killed while in detention and added that he left Pakistan Wednesday on a jet.

The Washington Times reported last month that a former CIA senior officer, Duane Clarridge, had recommended the payment of blood money to obtain the release of Mr. Davis.

Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was disappointed that Pakistan had arrested Mr. Davis in the first place.

“As a U.S. diplomat, Mr. Davis is protected by the Vienna Convention and should never have been arrested or detained,” he said. “If Pakistan wants to be taken seriously as a state based on the rule of law, it must respect its international obligations.

Pakistan and the U.S. cooperate on many levels because it is in our mutual interest. Irresponsible behavior like this jeopardizes everything our two nations have built together,” Mr. Rogers said.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also criticized Pakistan’s decision to detain Mr. Davis.

Raymond Davis should not have been imprisoned,” he said. “It is shocking the Pakistanis would so aggressively defy the U.S. and pursue this case against Mr. Davis, considering how dependent their government is on the billions of dollars in U.S. aid we provide to them.”

Mr. Rohrabacher recently introduced a resolution calling for an end to financial assistance to Pakistan as long as Mr. Davis remained imprisoned.

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