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Friday, May 25, 2012 - Page updated at 02:00 p.m.

Pakistan convicts doctor who helped CIA find bin Laden

By Peter Finn
The Washington Post

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistani court imposed a 33-year sentence Wednesday on a doctor who assisted the CIA hunt for Osama bin Laden, prompting dismay among U.S. officials and warnings that the punishment could lead to cuts in aid.

Shakil Afridi, 48, a government surgeon in the semiautonomous Khyber Agency along the border with Afghanistan, was convicted of treason for using a vaccination drive to try to gather DNA samples at the compound where bin Laden was in hiding.

Afridi failed to obtain the samples and didn't know the target of the program, but U.S. officials said he contributed to an intelligence operation that culminated in the May 2, 2011, killing of bin Laden by a Navy SEALs team.

U.S. officials depicted Afridi as a patriot and said his actions saved Pakistani and American lives. But in Pakistan, where the U.S. raid led to national hand-wringing and anger, Afridi was widely excoriated as a traitor.

The CIA declined to comment Wednesday on Afridi's sentence. But a senior U.S. official said the surgeon "was never asked to spy on Pakistan."

"He was asked only to help locate al-Qaida terrorists, who threaten Pakistan and the U.S.," the official said. "His activities were not treasonous; they were heroic and patriotic."

Pentagon spokesman George Little said, "Anyone who helped the United States find bin Laden was working against al-Qaida and not against Pakistan."

In a joint statement, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the committee, called the sentence "shocking and outrageous" and urged Pakistan to pardon and release Afridi.

They warned that "Dr. Afridi's continuing imprisonment and treatment as a criminal will only do further harm to U.S.-Pakistani relations.

Afridi was arrested several weeks after the killing of bin Laden. The doctor was tried under a tribal-judicial system that denies the accused the right to an attorney or to present evidence.

Under a recent change to Pakistan's criminal codes, Afridi has the right to appeal to an agency tribunal.

Afridi was remanded to a jail in Peshawar and ordered to pay a fine amounting to about $3,500, Khyber Agency officials said.

Afridi could have received the death penalty if tried under normal Pakistani law, but even so, the harsh sentence has added to tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan over issues that include CIA drone strikes and deadly exchanges between U.S. and Pakistani forces on the border with Afghanistan.

For six months, Pakistan has blocked NATO supply convoys from crossing its territory into Afghanistan in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two border outposts in November.

On Tuesday in Washington, a Senate panel approved a foreign-aid budget that would cut U.S. assistance to Pakistan by more than half and allow deeper reductions if Pakistan does not reopen the supply routes.

Muhammad Nasir Khan, an assistant political agent in the Khyber Agency, said Afridi was convicted of helping a foreign country after a three-month trial. The formal charges included cooperation in war against the state and interference in state affairs.

A Pakistan government commission charged with reviewing intelligence failures related to the Abbottabad raid had recommended trying Afridi for treason. The government has fired 17 other health workers who aided the vaccination program.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., has championed Afridi's case, submitting a bill to grant him U.S. citizenship. "This bill shows the world that America does not abandon its friends," he said.

The bill went nowhere, but Rohrabacher's calls for Congress to cut off all aid to Pakistan, including $2.2 billion already authorized, are resonating more widely.

Pakistan suspects

drone in 10 deaths

Pakistani intelligence officials say a suspected U.S. drone fired two missiles that killed 10 alleged militants in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border.

The two officials say Thursday's attack took place in a militant hideout in Khassokhel village near Mir Ali in the North Waziristan tribal area. It was the second such attack in 24 hours in the region. The officials say most of those killed were Uzbek insurgents.

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