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U.S.-Pakistani Relations Roiled Again With Punishment of Man Who Helped CIA

May 24, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, new strains in the already troubled relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, as Islamabad punishes a man who helped Americans last year find the leader of al-Qaida.

Margaret Warner has our story.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s been a year since the U.S. raid on this compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killed Osama bin Laden and roiled relations between the two countries.

Yesterday, there was fresh fallout, when a Pakistani court sentenced this man, Dr. Shakil Afridi, to 33 years in prison. Afridi, seen here highlighted in red, was convicted of treason for trying to help the CIA track down bin Laden. He was arrested after word leaked that he set up a vaccination program in Abbottabad to try to collect DNA samples from bin Laden’s compound.

In Washington today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there was no basis for Afridi’s conviction or sentence.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: His help, after all, was instrumental in taking down one of the world’s most notorious murderers. That was clearly in Pakistan’s interests, as well as ours and the rest of world. This action by Dr. Afridi to help bring about the end of the reign of terror designed and executed by bin Laden wasn’t in any way a betrayal of Pakistan.

MARGARET WARNER: The trial took place in Pakistan’s Khyber tribal region, a semiautonomous zone where Afridi was raised.

There, courts are governed by a separate set of laws, which human rights groups have criticized for failing to observe basic rights. The case also prompted the Pakistanis to impose new curbs on humanitarian organizations. Afridi had told investigators that one such group, Save the Children, introduced him to the CIA.

News of the doctor’s sentence came just days after disappointment at the NATO summit added to tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan. The two sides failed to reach agreement on reopening NATO supply routes into Afghanistan. They have been closed since a U.S. airstrike killed two dozen Pakistani troops last fall.

Meanwhile, back in Washington today, a U.S. Senate committee voted to cut aid to Pakistan by $33 million, $1 million for every year of Dr. Afridi’s sentence.