(WASHINGTON) — Pakistan is re-examining the fate of the Pakistani doctor who allegedly helped the CIA gather information on the hideout of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden through a fake vaccination program after a top U.S. official publicly confirmed his secret spy operation.
Officials with the commission investigating the May 2 Navy SEAL raid that took the life of America’s most wanted terrorist in Abbottabad, Pakistan, told Pakistan’s The News they’ve ordered Dr. Shakeel Afridi to face trial for treason and said he will not be turned over to the U.S. Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Gilani, also said Sunday Afridi would be tried.
Another senior Pakistani official, however, said that the commission does not give the final say on Afridi’s fate and that the Pakistani government has yet to decide whether to try him.
Pakistani officials have called for a treason trial previously, but the commission’s new order comes just days after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta publicly confirmed Afridi’s key role in the Bin Laden mission.
In a Friday preview of an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes, Panetta said he was “very concerned” for Afridi.
“This was an individual who in fact helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regards to this operation,” said Panetta who was head of the CIA at the time of the operation. “He was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan, he was not doing anything that would in any way undermine Pakistan… Pakistan and the United States have a common cause against terrorism.”
“For them to take this kind of action against someone who was helping to go after terrorism I just think is a real mistake on their part,” he added.
The New York Times first reported Afridi’s alleged role in the CIA’s intelligence gathering gambit in July. Afridi allegedly set up a fake polio vaccination program, going door-to-door in Abbottabad in hopes of collecting DNA samples from bin Laden family members. After he was arrested outside his home just weeks after the deadly raid, local media reported Afridi admitted to his role, but said he was unable to get access to bin Laden’s compound or his children.
In his 60 Minutes interview, Panetta also said he “personally felt” that the Pakistani government must have known something about the Abbottabad compound, perhaps that a high value target could be there.
“I don’t have any hard evidence, so I can’t say it for a fact. There’s nothing that proves the case. But as I said, my personal view is that somebody somewhere probably had that knowledge,” he said.
By all official accounts, no Pakistani officials told the U.S. government bin Laden could be in the compound, but Panetta was the only one to recommend with certainty that the raid should take place, according to a new account of high-level decision making provided by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
“[Obama] said, ‘I have to make this decision — what is your opinion?’ He started with the National Security advisor, the Secretary of State and he ended with me,” Biden said at a recent gathering of Democrat leaders in Maryland. “Every single person in that roomed hedged their bet, except Leon Panetta. He said, ‘Go.'”
For his part, Biden said he advised the president not to launch the operation.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN
Andreas Preuss, CNN