Bin Laden doc­tor lan­guishes in jail

Lesotho Times - - International -

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.

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