Bin Laden doctor languishes in jail
PESHAWAR — Five years after his fake vaccination programme helped the CIA track and kill Osama bin Laden, Pakistani doctor Shakeel Afridi languishes in jail, abandoned by the US, say supporters, in its bid to smooth troubled relations with Islamabad.
Afridi, believed to be in his mid-50s, has no access to a lawyer and his appeal against a 23-year prison sentence has stalled.
“I have no hope of meeting him...no expectation for justice,” said his elder brother Jamil.
The former senior surgeon lives in solitary confinement in a small room, according to his lawyer, able to see his immediate family no more than six times a year.
Afridi’s role in one of the most famous assassinations of recent decades is murky.
Details of how he was found by the Central Intelligence Agency are unclear...pakistani reports suggest officials at Save the Children acted as go-betweens, though the charity denies involvement.
What is known is that Afridi’s job was to run a fake Hepatitis C vaccination programme with the aim of obtaining genetic samples from Abbottabad, a garrison city and home to the Pakistan military academy, the country’s answer to West Point.
It was there that al-qaeda chief bin Laden and his family had set up home in the mid-2000s, under the noses — and some say protection — of senior Pakistani military officers.
In the darkness of 2 May 2011, two helicopters full of elite Navy Seals touched down inside the compound.
In a dramatic raid just 1km from the military academy, they fought their way in and surprised the terror mastermind.
They shot him in the head and fled with his body, abandoning a damaged Black Hawk helicopter.
The killing was a huge success for US President Barack Obama, whose country was profoundly scarred by the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001.
It decapitated al-qaeda, badly hampering the organisation’s ability to carry out further atrocities.
But it drove a wedge between Islamabad and Washington, with lingering suspicions that the Pakistanis had for years been covering up the whereabouts of one the world’s most wanted men.
Weeks after the raid, Afridi was arrested and thrown in jail, accused of having ties to militants...a charge he has always denied.
Commentators believe Pakistan opted to punish Afridi in this way, rather than try him for treason — aiding a foreign power — because that would have entailed a public trial that would have thrown the spotlight on Islamabad’s role in harbouring bin Laden.
A furious US senate committee voted to cut aid to Islamabad by $33m — $1m for each year of his original sentence. The sentence was later cut by 10 years. Meanwhile, President Obama says he hopes that in his last moments, bin Laden realised Americans had not forgotten about 9/11.
In an interview with CNN broadcast on Monday, Obama marked the anniversary of what many see as one of his presidency’s greatest achievements: ending the long hunt for the illusive Saudi-born Al-qaeda boss.
“Hopefully, at that moment, he understood that the American people hadn’t forgotten some 3 000 people he killed,” Obama said.
Obama discussed his decision to carry out the raid despite imperfect intelligence.
“It was clear to me that this was going to be our best chance to get bin Laden,” Obama said.
“If in fact we did not take the action, that he might slip away and [it] might be years before he resurfaced.
“We knew it was going to cause some significant blowback within Pakistan and if it wasn’t bin Laden, the costs would outweigh the benefits,” the president continued.
“Having weighed all that, I thought about the 9/11 families and their continuing pain and sense that it was important for us to bring him to justice.”
Obama leaves office in January 2017, with Al-qaeda significantly diminished by drone strikes and somewhat eclipsed by its offshoot, the so-called Islamic State group. — AFP
Osama bin Laden.