ISLAMABAD – A Pakistani doctor accused of running a vaccination program for the CIA to help track down Usama bin Laden should be put on trial for high treason, a government commission said Thursday, a move likely to anger U.S. officials pushing for his release.
Dr. Shakil Afridi has been in the custody of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency since soon after the May 2 American raid that killed bin Laden. The agency was humiliated and outraged by the covert American operation and is aggressively investigating the circumstances surrounding it.
Afridi's fate is a complicating issue in relations between the CIA and the ISI that were strained to the breaking point by the bin Laden raid.
U.S. and Pakistani officials have said Arifdi ran a vaccination program in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad where the Al Qaeda leader hid in an effort to obtain a DNA sample from him. Afridi was detained in the days after the U.S. operation. He has no lawyer.
A Pakistani government commission investigating the raid on bin Laden said in a statement that it was of the view that "a case of conspiracy against the state of Pakistan and high treason" should be registered against Afridi on the basis of the evidence it had gathered. It did not elaborate.
Such a charge carries the death penalty.
The commission, which interviewed Afridi and the head of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha this week, has been tasked with investigating how bin Laden managed to hide in the army town of Abbottabad for up to five years, and the circumstances surrounding the U.S. operation. It is headed by a Supreme Court justice, and its members include a retired general, a former diplomat, a former police chief and a civil servant.
It is unclear why the body would make this recommendation public, and whether it will lead to charges being filed against Afridi.
The commission was formed amid intense international pressure for answers over how bin Laden was able to live undetected for so long in Abbottabad, an army town close to the capital. Skeptics will say it is unlikely to achieve that goal, given the power of the ISI and the army, and may well end up a whitewash.
The vaccination ruse has been widely criticized by aid agencies, which have said it could harm legitimate immunization programs in Pakistan. The vaccination team was reported to have gained access bin Laden's house in Abbottabad, but that it didn't confirm bin Laden's presence there.