The mythology surrounding Dr.
Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani physician who may have helped the CIA find Osama
bin Laden, reached new heights Wednesday with a bipartisan
declaring Afridi an "American hero."
"All Americans owe Dr.
Afridi a debt of gratitude for what he did to help us find Osama bin Laden and bring
him to justice," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), the sponsor of the
resolution. "He risked his life to provide the intel our forces needed to
locate and eliminate Osama bin Laden and he now languishes in a Pakistani
matter-of-fact way in which the resolution describes Afridi's actions suggests
his efforts to assist the CIA are well-known. In reality, however, the nature in which
Afridi aided the United States remains shrouded in mystery.
known is that Afridi agreed to run a phony vaccination campaign for the CIA with the hope
of confirming the location of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. The plan was to
collect DNA samples of bin Laden's family members surreptitiously, but,
according to multiple reports, the plan failed. "Dr. Afridi never
gained DNA samples from the compound," reported The New York Times. U.S. officials such as former CIA
director Leon Panetta have since claimed Afridi assisted in other ways, but
have never offered specifics. "This was an individual who in fact helped provide
intelligence that was very helpful with regards to this operation," Panetta
told 60 Minutes last year.
When FP asked Rohrabacher if he could list specific ways Afridi helped the CIA, he leaned back on the Panetta quote. "He provided information American officials, including former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, have confirmed was very important in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice," he told FP.
of details has not deterred Afridi's advocates.
September, for instance, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) threatened to hold up the Senate until his colleagues froze aid to
Pakistan for sentencing Afridi to 33 years in prison. The United States "should not
give foreign aid to a country whose government is torturing the man who helped
us kill Osama bin Laden," he said.
before the 2012 presidential election, Afridi's role in the bin Laden raid was immortalized in Harvey Weinstein's film SEAL Team Six. But the film
erroneously depicted Afridi as cognizant of his role in helping the CIA find
bin Laden from beginning to end. In fact, both U.S. officials and the real-life Afridi acknowledge he was not informed that bin Laden
was the target. (The CIA did not trust him with that information.)
"I stand by my characterization of Dr. Afridi as a hero who willingly worked secretly for the CIA at great risk to his life and his family's safety," Rohrabacher insisted. "Even if he didn't know who the target was."
But if Afridi risked and achieved so much, where is his bounty for bin Laden's capture? In one of
the most detailed reports following the May 2011 bin Laden raid, ABC News journalist Matthew Cole noted that no one
would receive the government's $25 million reward for information leading to
the capture of bin Laden because it was the result of "electronic intelligence,
not human informants." A U.S. official told Cole, "We do not expect a reward to
be paid." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated that point during a press briefing back in May 2011.
sense of how difficult it has been to pin down Afridi's tradecraft, consider this: GQ magazine spent 6,700 words on the question last month but wound up with little more than
speculation and rumor. "No one has been able to determine what exactly he
accomplished," wrote Matthieu Aikins.
article was not without intrigue, however. It turns out, Dr. Afridi may not be
the type of "American hero" members of Congress think he is.
interviews with Pakistanis who knew Afridi, Aikins describes a womanizing
doctor who solicited prostitutes and carried out medical malpractice.
"He liked the ‘taxi girls,' " said
Abdul Karim Mehsud, a lawyer in Peshawar, using a local term for prostitutes.
"I saw many going into his room, down the hall from mine." He smirked
in recollection. "Fresh Afghan-Persian girls, from the refugee camps."
There were persistent accusations that the
self-trained Afridi performed unnecessary operations in order to make money and
that his patients sometimes suffered grievously as a result.... [I]n Peshawar, I
spoke to Ahmed Saeed, a student living in Bara, who told me that in 2007 he
took his father to see Afridi after his father complained of chest and
abdominal pains. Saeed left to buy some medicine next door, and when he came
back he found that his father and Afridi had disappeared. "They went to his
clinic," one of the nurses told him. When Saeed finally arrived at
Afridi's private practice, he found his father unconscious. "I operated on
his kidney," the doctor told him. Afridi charged them about $200. After
the surgery, his father's condition worsened, and Saeed took him to a
government hospital in Peshawar. The doctors there diagnosed his problem as a
heart condition and, according to Saeed, said his kidneys had been damaged in a
sloppy and unnecessary operation. Less than a month after being operated on by
Afridi, Saeed's father died at home. His family blamed the doctor. "He was
a cheater, and he betrayed his profession," Saeed said.
A Reuters report published last May painted a similarly negative picture of Afridi. In it, reporter Michael
Georgy spoke with a man who had fired Afridi when he was working at a hospital in Pakistan's Khyber
tribal region. Here the allegations ranged from sexual harassment to theft of medical supplies.
[Tariq] Hayat said he met him twice to question him
over allegations that he had sexually assaulted a nurse at his hospital and had
stolen its electrocardiograph machines for his private practice.
"I made him stand ... I told him you are a
characterless person, you have no principles," said Hayat, adding he had
Afridi fired and expelled him from Khyber. "I said 'you are a thief,
A senior health official who said he saw a
record of the case said a nurse had complained about sexual harassment to the
regional health director. That account was confirmed by a senior police
official who investigated Afridi.
officials have dismissed these claims as a smear campaign by Pakistani
officials. When FP asked Rohrabacher whether the doctor's
alleged personal indiscretions were befitting an "American hero," he rejected the
notion that any of the allegations were true.
charges against his personal and professional conduct are from Pakistani
officials, members of the same regime who sentenced him to 33 years in prison
on trumped up charges strictly because he helped the United States." he said.
"They have every reason to lie about Dr. Afridi and smear his reputation to
head off pressure to have him released."
the fact that Aikens's GQ report makes no mention of undue influence by Pakistani
officials, Rohrabacher held firm.
Afridi took a risk for us and we cannot abandon him," he told FP. "If we leave him out
in the cold, what message does that send to other people who are considering
working with our government to help protect our homeland and American interests
overseas from acts of terror?"
Rohrabacher hits an important note. Clearly, Afridi was a CIA asset regardless
of how helpful he was. If the United States were to abandon him, it would send a damaging message to other CIA assets around the world. The simple fact that Afridi agreed to help the CIA may be enough to compel U.S. officials to now do all they can to protect him.