Published March 14, 2013
A Pakistani court reinstated 17 health workers who had been fired for their roles in a CIA-planned hepatitis vaccination program that secretly was used to verify the presence of Usama Bin Laden at his compound.
The health workers lost their jobs on Feb. 21, 2012, nearly nine months after Dr. Shakil Afridi, who led the vaccination program, was abducted by Pakistani security officials on May 23, 2011 on suspicions that he had aided the CIA. Afridi remains behind bars.
Javed Awan, lawyer for the 16 female and one male health workers told the Associated Press that they were suspended from their jobs for failing to inform authorities about Afridi’s vaccination drive, but the health workers have denied having knowledge of his affiliation with CIA.
"I am happy that I got my job back," one of the workers, Amraiza Bibi, told the AP after the ruling by the court, in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Senior health officials had directed the health workers to participate in the vaccination campaign, which launched Feb. 15, 2011, according to Awan, "The court has done justice to them," he said, adding that they were innocent of wrongdoing.
Afridi ran the campaign with assistance from 22 health workers in the northern town of Abbottabad to collect DNA samples from bin Laden's family for the CIA to confirm that the elusive co-founder and chief of Al Qaeda was present at the large compound.
Bin Laden was killed in a Navy SEALs Team 6 operation on May 1, 2011, a few weeks after Afridi concluded his campaign. Pakistan, embarrassed by the fact that the 9/11 architect was found just a stone’s throw away from Pakistan’s notable Military Academy, protested -- calling the raid a violation of its sovereignty.
In an exclusive phone interview with Fox News last September from inside his cell at Peshawar Prison, Afridi said: “I didn’t know about a specific target apart from the work I was given to do. 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 with his killing.”
Lawyers fighting Afridi’s imprisonment say the tribal court has heard his case only once, adjourning it nine times since his sentencing. His family and lawyers have both been denied access to him, and relatives are questioning authorities for word of his well-being without a response. A petition filed to grant access two months ago hasn’t been forwarded to the higher authorities by the court registrar, his family has told Fox News.
Afridi is serving a 33-year sentence after being convicted of colluding with terrorist group Lashkar-e-Islam, though it generally is accepted he is being punished for aiding the CIA in setting up the bin Laden raid.
The CIA continues to stress that Afridi was unsuccessful in collecting blood samples, downplaying his role in the success of the raid.