Published February 15, 2012
Dr. Shakeel Afridi is the unsung hero of the war on terror. He risked his life to help American commandos take down Usama bin Laden; and now he may lose his life because the Obama administration has done little to rescue him from a Pakistani prison where our alleged “ally” has put him for helping us.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama proclaimed, “For the first time in two decades, Usama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.” Putting aside the question of why, in the decade before the 9/11 attacks in the United States, no decisive action was taken to head off the rise of Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network despite attacks on Americans overseas, it still took the second decade to find and terminate Bin Laden after September 11, 2001.
Afridi is the Pakistani medical doctor who helped provide that information. Acting at great personal danger, he used the cover of conducting a vaccination program in Abbottabad to gain access to Bin Laden’s compound and identify who was living there. If discovered, he and his family would have undoubtedly been killed by the terrorists or their Pakistani state protectors.
Afridi’s contribution to the raid on Bin Laden’s compound was confirmed recently by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who said that Afridiis “an individual who in fact helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regards to this operation [to kill or capture Bin Laden].”
Afridi’s help to the United States was extremely valiant and daring.
All Americans owe him our most sincere gratitude for helping to kill the terrorist leader who murdered thousands of innocent Americans.
Alarmingly, since the May raid, Afridi has been arrested and held by the Pakistani government and may be tried for treason for helping the United States.
Pakistan’s Inquiry Commission on the Abbottabad Operation has called him a “national criminal.” Having faced death at the hands of Al Qaeda, he could now be executed by the Islamabad government.
To raise Afridi’s case in the public eye and to put pressure on the U.S. State Department to do more to pressure the Islamabad government to release him, I first considered offering legislation to declare the good doctor an American citizen. His wife is already an American citizen. Her whereabouts are unknown. Hopefully she is in a safe place, but she could have also disappeared into the Pakistan police state. We should not forget her plight, either.
The process of granting Afridi citizenship may be too slow to be effective in the time he may have left if he stays in a Pakistani prison. Accordingly, I have also introduced legislation to award Afridi the Congressional Gold Medal befitting his status as a genuine hero who faced—and still faces -- lethal danger for helping the United States achieve a major victory.
A medal is not the same as a key. If Afridi’s prison cell door is to open, the Obama administration will have to bring great pressure to bear on Islamabad.
The 2013 State Department budget released this week includes $800 million for the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund, which supposedly goes to help Islamabad fight terrorism. This is the same amount as last year and more than doubles the 2011 figure.
It is only part of the foreign aid the U.S. gives Pakistan each year. Pakistan is still treated as an ally, when Islamabad is a huge part of the terrorist problem in South Asia, not part of the solution.
Holding Afridi as a traitor after harboring Bin Laden in luxury accommodations for years is a perfect snapshot of the larger confrontation between Islamabad and Washington in regional strategy.
Last September, Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency of supporting a Taliban attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
In his recent “60 Minutes” interview, Panetta said that Pakistan officials must have known where Bin Laden was living.
It is also clear that Pakistan’s leaders also know where the leaders of the Taliban are in Pakistan, including Mullah Mohammed Omar, who refused to surrender Bin Laden to the United States, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, when he was in control of much of Afghanistan.
His staff travels openly in Pakistan, particularly now that the Obama administration has opened negotiations with Omar and is planning to release some of his top field commanders from Guantanamo. The ISI-Taliban-Al Qaeda connection is undeniable.
Rather than rush to release our enemies, the State Department should place its top priority on gaining the freedom of our friend Afridi. The Gold Medal should not be awarded posthumously.
Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher represents California's 46th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is chairman of the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation.