PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistan’s powerful spy agency regards America as its “worst enemy,” and the government's claims that it is cooperating with the US are a sham to extract billions of dollars in American aid, according to the CIA informant jailed for his role in hunting down Usama bin Laden.
In an exclusive interview with Fox News, Shakil Afridi, the medical doctor who helped pinpoint bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound before last year’s raid by SEAL Team 6, described brutal torture at the hands of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, and said the agency is openly hostile to the U.S.
“They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians,’” Afridi, who spoke from inside Peshawar Central Jail, said as he recalled the brutal interrogation and torture he suffered after he was initially detained.
“I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter – billions and billions of dollars in aid, social and military assistance -- but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies.’”
The ISI, Afridi said, helps fund the Haqqani network, the North Waziristan-based militant group that was last week designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The agency also works against the U.S. by preventing the CIA from interrogating militants captured by Pakistan, who are routinely released to return to Afghanistan to continue attacks on NATO forces there.
“It is now indisputable that militancy in Pakistan is supported by the ISI […] Pakistan’s fight against militancy is bogus. It’s just to extract money from America,” Afridi said, referring to the $23 billion Pakistan has received largely in military aid since 9/11.
Afridi gave unprecedented insight into activity inside the infamous basement prison where he was initially held beneath the ISI’s headquarters at Apbara, in the capital Islamabad. He described how during his own interrogation, in which he was tortured with cigarette burns and electric shocks, ISI officers attacked him for assisting the U.S. Afridi helped pinpoint Bin Laden’s compound in the weeks before the May 2, 2011, raid in Abbottabad.
He described a regime of perpetual torture and interrogation for large numbers of detainees, some of whom include radicalized white Western male converts to Islam who had been apprehended while traveling to Afghanistan to fight NATO troops or to be trained in militant camps in the region’s tribal belt.
One of the officers who interrogated him had also escorted an American official visiting from Washington to an interview with a highly sought militant Abdul Karim Agha, in November 2011.
Agha had told him afterward that an ISI officer had whispered instructions in his ear as he walked into the interrogation room to feign sudden illness so he could not be interviewed.
“They said to him, ‘You tell this person ‘I am very sick, I cannot talk today,’” he related. “The American official protested, saying he’d only been given a week to stay in Pakistan with the expectation of interrogating him two or three times. But the ISI told him that the interrogation was postponed for three weeks, and so he had to leave.
“I was told by others that the ISI advises militants to make things up to tell CIA interrogators, pretend this and that,” Afridi told Fox News.
Afridi’s comments are likely to further complicate relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, which have become strained in the past two years over their joint fight against extremist militants.
Washington has repeatedly pressured Islamabad to eradicate extremist safe havens in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, most recently the Haqqani Network, the fundamentalist group closely allied to the Taliban and the remnants of Al Qaeda’s original leadership.
Afridi said that before he was moved to Peshawar in May, he met Abdul Kayyum, the nephew of a chief of the Wazir tribe, who had been apprehended by the ISI for reasons that are unclear.
Kayyum explained to the doctor that three years earlier, his uncle, Khan Marjakee, had been instructed by the ISI to raise funds from the tribal community for the Haqqanis, which Marjakee then did.
“Without doubt, the Haqqanis are 100 percent supported by the ISI,” said Afridi.
Afridi said there were many militants of different nationalities, often Afghans, held at Apbarra. Arab detainees were given “first-class treatment and first-class food,” while some radicalized Westerners were singled out for abuse.
“The militants were told by the ISI, ‘According to the Americans, we’re supposed to arrest you. We don’t want anything to do with you, but will support you by letting you go. Go back to Afghanistan and steer clear of the Americans.’ And then they would be released.”
Among other detainees at Apbarra were numerous white Westerners, identified as being from the U.S., U.K., Germany and the Netherlands. Afridi would talk to an American, referred to only as Brown, as the doctor was the only person who spoke fluent English there.
Brown was held for four months after he crossed illegally into Pakistan from Iran and was arrested in the southwest city of Quetta, notorious for its links with the Taliban. He had told the ISI he was on his way to Afghanistan.
“He was white skinned, had red hair and tattoos,” Afridi said. “He was a mason by profession and told me he came for jihad. He had converted to Islam five years before and had adopted the Muslim name Ismael.
“When he came back from interrogation, he told me he had been beaten very seriously. I last saw him on May 1. I have no idea what happened to him.”
After holding Afridi for 12 months, the ISI produced a report on his involvement with the CIA and the vaccination drive that was unsuccessfully used as a decoy to obtain DNA samples from those living inside Usama bin Laden’s compound at Abbottabad in northern Pakistan.
He strongly denied confessing anything to the various army majors in the ISI who questioned him during his months of interrogation.
“I was told stories about what to say as statements and forced to write statements,” he said. “When I refused, the major said, ‘When we give you pain, then you will write.’”
Afridi was reluctant to give details about how he become involved with the CIA or the vaccination drive. He said he was never aware the CIA was closing in on the Al Qaeda leader.
“I didn’t know about a specific target apart from the work I was given to do,” he said. “The house was famous for its name, Waziristan House. I was aware that some terrorists were residing in that compound, but I didn’t know whom. I was shocked. I didn’t believe I was associated in his killing.”
His CIA handlers had advised him to flee to Afghanistan, where he and his family would be taken care of. Because he had previously been kidnapped in the unruly Pahstun tribal region that straddles the border with Pakistan, Afridi says he was too scared to travel there and decided to stay.
And because he didn’t view himself as being involved in the bin Laden raid, he didn’t believe it was necessary to escape. However, he was abducted by the ISI at a road checkpoint in Hayatabad on May 23, 2011, and soon found himself in a hellish existence of humiliation at the ISI’s headquarters.
“My clothes were removed and I was forced by a major to wear old dirty torn rags of an army conductor. It was difficult to eat food. I had to bend down on my knees to eat with only my mouth, like a dog. I sat on the floor.”
He was blindfolded for eight months and handcuffed with his hands behind his back for 12 months, he says. His treatment has left a debilitating effect on his eyesight and limbs.
The doctor, who also used to act as a surgeon despite not being clinically qualified to perform procedures, said he forced to work as a general practitioner, treating both staff and detainees in the detention center.
“I was told to treat patients and prescribe medicine. Mostly ISI servicemen came to me for advice and prescriptions. I was told that the ISI doctor had said that anyone or everyone could go to Dr. Shakil for medical purposes.”
Before he was allowed to interact with other detainees, the doctor was held in solitary confinement but was aware of a large other number of prisoners being kept underground.
“I was sometimes brought in to general population inside the building [while still blindfolded]. I could hear that a very large crowd of people was around me. These were all prisoners of the ISI. Later, I realized that many would come in and many would vanish on a daily basis. I eventually learned there were some who were in the basement for four or five years.”
Afridi told Fox News he helped the CIA out of love for the U.S., and swore that he would help America again despite suffering crippling torture and psychological abuse during the 12 months he was held by Pakistan’s spy agency.
“I have a lot of respect and love for your people,” he said, adding that he was “proud to work with” the CIA.
His living conditions now are vastly improved over those given by the ISI. Guarded at Peshawar, about 120 miles northwest of Islamabad, around the clock by two commandos, he has a large cell with three ceiling fans, a bed and a bathroom. He has a small gas burner for cooking meals and his family is able to bring him food and supplies – though they say they have to bribe prison officials to do it.
Afridi was sentenced in May to 33 years in jail by a tribal court for funding and supporting the Lashkar-e-Islam militant group. But it is privately acknowledged by the Pakistani authorities that he is being punished for helping the CIA. Laskar-e-Islam denies involvement with him and, together with the Taliban, has sworn to kill him.
“The actual story is that ISI, unconstitutionally, inhumanly and unethically abducted me and kept me unlawfully in their custody for one year and concocted these fabricated allegations,” he said. “The ISI couldn’t find anything and had to concoct a story to hide their illegal actions.”
Fox News was passed copies of the court file against him. It is filled with dozens of dubious witness statements often made in the same handwriting. It also contains glaring factual inaccuracies and apparent falsification of circumstantial evidence.
Afridi denies knowing most of the witnesses who purportedly made statements against him and says some statements are made people who do not exist.
Last week, the case was adjourned until the end of the month, which his lawyers see as a stalling tactic by the ISI. The protracted legal battle complicates matters for Afridi’s family, which was financially dependent on the doctor. He appealed to his supporters on the U.S. for immediate help.
“My bank account was looted [by the ISI while being held], making me bankrupt. I need financial, legal and diplomatic help,” Afridi said. “My situation is very grim. I earned millions of rupees (tens of thousands of dollars) a year and supported my family and that of my brother. All of that is lost.”
Since Afridi’s arrest, the family collectively has suffered $160,000 in lost income, legal fees and living costs, an entire life’s fortune by Pakistani standards, he estimated.
Sib Kaifee also contributed to this report.