Just when you thought Pakistan's shady legal system couldn't get any shadier, the treason case against Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden, takes a wild turn. On Wednesday, court documents obtained by Pakistan's Dawn newspaper revealed that Afridi was not convicted for his links to the CIA, contrary to what the entire world believed, but for his alleged ties to a local warlord. The Associated Press' Riaz Khan summarizes the newly-released verdict:
The verdict said Afridi was guilty of conspiring with a militant group led by commander Mangal Bagh. It said he gave money to the group and treated its leaders at a hospital in Khyber when he was stationed there. According to unnamed witnesses, he did this because of his "deep affiliation with the group." Others, also unnamed, said the group planned terrorist attacks in Afridi's office.
While the court documents acknowledge Afridi "acted" with foreign intelligence agencies, it says those charges couldn't be considered because the court doesn't have the proper jurisdiction. If this doesn't sound incredibly fishy to you, get your head checked.
The first red flag in this verdict is how obviously self-serving it is to the Pakistani government. Now Islamabad can deflect criticisms from the White House and Congress
that it's jailing the hero who helped find bin Laden with the excuse that this has nothing to do with his ties to the CIA—it's about his support for the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Islam, which amount to waging war against the state of Pakistan. Pretty convenient.
The second red flag is the Pakistani government's deafening silence during top-level complaints from the U.S. about the nature of the charges against him. For almost a year, U.S. officials like Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have been decrying the prosecution. "It is so difficult to understand, and it's so disturbing that they would sentence this doctor to 33 years for helping in the search for the most notorious terrorist of our times," Panetta said Sunday
. Pakistan had a million opportunities to quash those criticisms with a simple statement saying he was being charged for allying with a rogue militant group. Instead, they had only one response to the U.S.: "I think as far as the case of Mr. Afridi is concerned, it was in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts, and we need to respect each other’s legal processes," Foreign Ministry spokesman Moazzam Ali Khan repeatedly said.
The third red flag is the timing of Afridi's arrest. As Dawn
notes: "Dr Afridi had been handed over to a joint interrogation team on May 24, 2011 for five days." Hmmm. May 24, 2011. What happened around that time? Oh yeah, it was 22 days after the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound
Finally, the fourth red flag is the appearance of trumped up charges. As Dawn notes, these types of prosecutions are highly irregular. "In a militancy infested tribal region it’s rare to see a member of an outlawed group or terrorist organisation being tried or convicted." Of course, this may all be one enormous coincidence but consider us highly skeptical. As for Washington, we would expect this will not lessen calls for Afridi's release one bit.