Fears for medic who helped find Bin Laden
Dr Shikal Afridi is accused of working with the CIA in Abbottabad where the al-Qaeda leader was killed by US special forces on 2 May last year. Pakistan judges say he should face trial for treason.
But Panetta has told US media the arrest had been “a real mistake”.
He said Afridi provided “very helpful” information for the raid. Afridi was arrested shortly after the operation, carried out by US special forces. Pakistan was deeply embarrassed by the raid – which was the climax of a ten-year search for Bin Laden following the 11 September 2001 attacks on America – and condemned it as a violation of sovereignty.
In an interview with the CBS programme 60 Minutes that will be aired in the US today, Panetta said: “I’m very concerned about what the Pakistanis did with this individual.”
He said the doctor’s co-operation “was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan”.
“As a matter of fact Pakistan and the United States have a common cause here against terrorism and for them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think is a real mistake on their part,” Panetta said.
Last October, a Pakistani commission investigating the raid recommended that Afridi should be tried for high treason. In the aftermath of the operation, reports emerged that the CIA had recruited the doctor to organise a fake vaccination programme in the city north of the Pakistan capital Islamabad. The aim of the programme was allegedly to confirm Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad by obtaining a DNA sample from residents.
It is not clear if any DNA from Bin Laden or his family was ever obtained.
Washington has been arguing Afridi should be freed and allowed to live in the US.
Panetta repeated US claims someone in authority in Pakistan must have known where Bin Laden was hiding, close to Pakistan’s top military academy. “I have always felt somebody must have had some sense of what was happening at this compound,” he said.