Doctor who helped CIA find bin Laden sentenced to prison

Ismail Khan / New York Times News Service /

Published May 24, 2012 at 05:00AM

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA pin down Osama bin Laden’s location under the cover of a vaccination drive was convicted Wednesday of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison, a senior official in Pakistan said.

A tribal court here in northwest Pakistan found the doctor, Shakil Afridi, guilty of acting against the state, said Mutahir Zeb Khan, the administrator for the Khyber tribal region. The court also imposed a fine of $3,500. Afridi, who may appeal the verdict, was then sent to Central Prison in Peshawar.

He had been charged under a British-era regulation for frontier crimes that unlike the national criminal code does not carry the death penalty for treason. Under Pakistani penal law, Afridi almost certainly would have received the death penalty, a Pakistani lawyer said.

Afridi’s fate has been an added source of tension between Pakistan and the United States, at a time when the countries remain at loggerheads over reopening supply lines through Pakistan to Afghanistan.

In Washington, Obama administration officials expressed anger and frustration at the tribal court’s decision but indicated that U.S. officials were working quietly behind the scenes to shorten the sentence or appeal it altogether.

In January, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta confirmed that the United States had been working with Afridi while trying to verify the location of bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad in the months before the raid. U.S. officials previously said that the doctor had been running a hepatitis B vaccination program as a ruse to obtain DNA evidence from members of bin Laden’s family, who were thought to be hiding in the city. U.S. officials say Afridi did not know the identity of his target.

According to Pakistani security officials, Afridi admitted to helping the CIA before the raid by Navy SEALs that killed bin Laden in May 2011. That operation angered Pakistani officials, who had not been informed ahead of time.

Afridi, 48, was detained by Pakistan’s military intelligence agency near Peshawar in the weeks after bin Laden’s death.