What Did We Think Would Happen To The Doctor Who Helped Us Find Bin Ladin?

Dr. Shakil Afridi

The Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, who helped the CIA find Osama Bin Ladin has been convicted in Pakistan of “providing support and medical treatment to members of the militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam… [T]here is also evidence that he was involved with foreign intelligence agencies, and this should now be considered by other courts” according to papers released Wednesday. (source)

However, many still believe (as the judgment somewhat implies), Dr. Afridi was tried and convicted for helping the United States. The CIA hired him to create a fake vaccine program to get DNA from Bin Ladin to confirm his whereabouts before SEAL Team 6 went into the compound to capture or kill him.

In response to the verdict, Congress removed 33 million from U.S. aid to Pakistan — 1 million for every year he was sentenced. And my first thought was: Exactly! He helped us catch the man who planned the 9-11 attacked that killed thousands of Americans. What’s wrong with Pakistan?

But when I thought of this happening on U.S. soil, I wondered. What if say Israel conspired with an American doctor to create a false vaccine program to catch a Nazi war criminal without the consent of the US government? Would we just be happy the criminal was caught? What if Israel sent in operatives to take him out?

Everyone can agree that the Nazi needed to be caught. But would we, as a sovereign nation, accept HOW he was caught? Foreign governments using American citizens and sending troops to sneak into the U.S. to do good still feels wrong. Or if not wrong, at least uncomfortable. A slippery slope? A judgment on our ability to do the right thing?

Even without the hypotheticals, our relationship with Pakistan has been strained, and the drone attacks only worsened it. What did the CIA think was going to happen to Shakil Afridi? Why didn’t we protect him? What is going to happen to his family? We paid someone to risk his life for our country and leave him in the aftermath. (Note: There are rumors the US offered to resettle his family a year ago and he refused for unclear reasons. The White House has not confirmed this.)

I’ll admit that I’ve never been a CIA operative and don’t know the ins-and-outs of secretly working for a foreign government to do good, but our decisions around Bin Ladin seem to be based on the idea that American plans and designs are always right, and our willingness to go to any length to make them happen regardless of individuals and nations, ideals and autonomy, leaves me feeling unsettled.

I cannot abide by the sentiment — the U.S.A. is always right — even though I love my country and am glad Bin Ladin is no longer a threat. Perhaps, if Bin Ladin had been our only divergences from upholding Pakistani government autonomy, there wouldn’t be a fallout, but it was not.  Too often we twist our ideals around popular sentiment, and many suffer the consequences of our national hubris. I do not know if America decided Pakistan wouldn’t help or wouldn’t help quickly enough. If the former is true, would it better for Osama Bin Ladin to live and Pakistan’s sovereignty to be preserved? For most, it depends on which country they are from. For the doctor, it didn’t and he will be imprisoned for 33 years. We respond with outraged, but isn’t it America that paved his way?

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

14 thoughts to “What Did We Think Would Happen To The Doctor Who Helped Us Find Bin Ladin?”

  1. Pakistan is like a pet snake. Cool to have but not really your friend. Did I mention a nuclear weaponed snake? Many people make the mistake t hat countries should act like people. Not nation states. The US was acting in its best interest during the raid

    1. What an interesting point about nations and people not being the same. We clearly make that distinction when it comes to war crimes. Why not here? Hmm… I need to ponder that some more. Thanks.

  2. There is always going to be so much more to a story like this than what is reported that it’s almost impossible to know how to feel about it. If we offered him extraction and he refused it, then the US did its due process in helping an asset and his fate is in his own hands. As far as who is operating in whose country, that’s also laden with assumptions that make the topic super-slippery to grasp. I find it difficult to conceive that OBL wasn’t being sheltered by some part of Pakistan’s military or government, but I couldn’t say that it was an actual state secret that he was resident in their nation for all that time. But I’m sure not concerned about us being fair.

    1. I agree that we are often missing parts of the story. It’s frustrating to me because I want to form opinions but I have to look and relook in so many places to verify anything and even then, it’s still difficult particular if one Associate Press story is just being copied everywhere. I think the Pakistani involvement in OBL living there is a great point.

  3. That is an excellent analogy. And yes, a slippery slope.
    There are several folks that worked with the Canadian Armed Forces working to immigrate to Canada. Despite it being part of their contract the Canadian government isn’t cooperating. I don’t like that much.

  4. I had not even heard about this man nor his subsequent trial. Thank you for the information. Is there any possibility for appeal? Is there any organized support for his family? Can he receive care packages in prison?

    I would guess that any support for him or his family would have to be routed through international organizations as otherwise it would simply confirm the Pakistani perception that he is a tool of the United States. I agree with you that there is no moral justification for leaving him after we have gotten what we needed from him. Is Amnesty International supporting him as a prisoner of conscience?

    1. I heard his family is trying to work with the US embassy, but none of that is confirmed yet. I don’t think groups like Amnesty International will get involved since he was paid by the CIA to find Bin Ladin who we subsequently killed rather than someone fighting for human rights or free speech within their country who is imprisoned. This story has so much complexity. I’m glad you can to read about it!

  5. I wish I could understand these matters more fully – sometimes I feel like I have a veil over my brain where politics (and economics) are concerned. However, I do agree with you in the danger of thinking America is always right, as much as I love and adore my country.

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