Bipartisan outrage over physician's sentencing by Pakistani court

Lawmakers of both parties reacted angrily to news Wednesday that a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for “high treason.”

The decision on Dr. Shakil Afridi by a tribal court is “decisive proof Pakistan sees itself as being at war with us,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said in a statement. The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee released a joint statement calling the decision “shocking and outrageous.”

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“What Dr. Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason,” Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) said. “It was a courageous, heroic, and patriotic act, which helped to locate the most wanted terrorist in the world — a mass murderer who had the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands.”

The senators called on the Pakistani government to “pardon and release Dr. Afridi immediately.”

The State Department is also urging Pakistan to reconsider, albeit in more muted terms.

“We continue to see no basis for Dr. Afridi to be held,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday. “We have regularly taken up this matter with Pakistan. I would expect we will continue to.”

She added that the United States has “said that we don’t see any basis for what’s happened here, and so we will continue to make those representations to the Government of Pakistan.”

Afridi helped gather the DNA of bin Laden family members under the guise of a hepatitis B vaccination program, U.S. officials have said.

Wednesday's news comes at a low point for U.S.-Pakistani relations following the killing of bin Laden a year ago and an accidental air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. President Obama snubbed his counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, by refusing to meet with him at the NATO summit in Chicago last weekend after Pakistan failed to reopen supply routes to Afghanistan that have been closed to NATO forces since the airstrike.

The tensions have boiled over in Congress, where lawmakers in both chambers have proposed cutting off a proposed $2.2 billion in foreign aid for Pakistan in the spending bills for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Pakistan for its part has demanded a formal apology for the death of its soldiers, which the United States has refused to deliver.

“Advocates of aid argue we should draw a distinction between the civilian government and the military-intelligence cabal who are supporting terrorist groups that murder Americans,” Rohrabacher said. “But President Zadari's behavior at the NATO summit in Chicago indicates that he is either in league with the military or under their domination. Any money that goes to Islamabad will continue to end up in the pockets of people actively and deadly hostile to America.”

Rohrabacher has also introduced two bills drawing attention to Afridi's situation. One would award him the Congressional Gold Medal while the other would grant him U.S. citizenship.

“I am very dismayed that neither of these bills has been brought to the House floor for a vote,” Rohrabacher said Wednesday. “Dr. Afridi came through for the American people, now it is our time to come through for him.”

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