Government officials say the Pakistani doctor who helped the United States track down Osama bin Laden has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason.
Shakeel Afridi was accused of running a fake vaccination campaign to help the CIA obtain DNA samples of the al-Qaida leader and members of his family to confirm his presence at a compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. U.S. special forces killed bin Laden during a covert raid in the garrison city last May.
Local officials said Wednesday that a tribal court in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber district convicted Afridi of treason. Aside from jail time, the doctor must also pay a $3,500 fine.
Officials say that under the tribal system, Afridi was not given the right to defend himself, present evidence, or have access to a lawyer.
Earlier this year, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Afridi had been very helpful in tracking down bin Laden and called on Pakistani authorities to release him, calling his arrest a “real mistake.”
In March, a ranking member of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, expressed concern about Afridi’s arrest during an interview with VOA’s Urdu Service.
Congressman Ruppersberger said Afridi could have left Pakistan before being arrested, but chose to stay because he was patriotic.
The U.S. lawmaker said that from what he knew, Afridi felt “that he was helping his country in dealing with terrorism – he didn’t know who was in the area, he was a doctor.”
Asked Wednesday about Afridi’s sentencing, Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters: “Without commenting on specific individuals, let me make the following point very clear: anyone who supported the United States in finding Osama bin Laden was not working against Pakistan. They were working against al-Qaida.”
Afridi’s conviction comes at a time of tense relations between the United States and Pakistan, which are in talks to reopen NATO supply lines to troops in Afghanistan that Pakistan shut down last November after U.S. airstrikes mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops.
Pakistan has demanded an apology for the cross-border attack and an end U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil. The U.S. says the strikes targeting militants are crucial to defeating al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Also Wednesday, Pakistani intelligence officials said a U.S. missile strike killed four suspected militants Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal region.
The officials say two missiles hit a compound Wednesday near Miran Shah, near the Afghan border.
A U.S. Senate subcommittee voted Tuesday to cut proposed aid to Pakistan by more than half, and threatened to withhold even more money unless the NATO supply routes are reopened.
The aid is part of President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for next year.
The panel voted $1 billion in aid to Pakistan – a 58 percent cut in the level proposed by Mr. Obama. The amount includes $50 million for counterinsurgency that is contingent on the NATO supply line being opened.
Panel leaders said they do not want to invest in an uncooperative nation.
The spending plan is far from final. The full Senate committee, both houses of Congress and Mr. Obama must approve the budget.
The U.S. withdrew as much as $3 billion of promised military aid as relations with Pakistan deteriorated following the November airstrikes.