The Pakistani doctor who was jailed after trying to help the CIA locate Osama Bin Laden has claimed he was tortured repeatedly by security operatives after he was detained.
He also said Pakistan’s notorious spy agency considers the US its “worst enemy” and that officers actively undermine the intelligence relationship with Washington.
In an interview with Fox News, the US broadcaster, Shakil Afridi, said of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI): “They said ‘The Americans are our worst enemies, worse than the Indians. I tried to argue that America was Pakistan’s biggest supporter… but all they said was, ‘These are our worst enemies. You helped our enemies’.”
Mr Afridi was detained less than a month after the operation in May 2011 by US special forces in which the al-Qa’ida leader was shot dead. The physician was convicted and sentenced to 33 years in jail earlier this year after being accused of setting up a fake vaccination programme in the town of Abbottabad, where Bin Laden was suspected of living, and trying to obtain a DNA sample from members of his family that could have proved conclusively that he was there. As it was, the ruse failed.
In an interview conducted by telephone from Peshawar Central Jail, Mr Afridi told Fox that after he was detained by the ISI he was held in a basement prison beneath the organisation’s headquarters in Islamabad. There he was tortured with cigarette burns and electric shocks, he said. He added that a number of other prisoners, including radicalised Westerners, were also held in the basement jail.
It was reported that one of the Pakistani officers who interrogated him had also escorted an American official to an interview with the militant Abdul Karim Agha, in November 2011. The militant apparently later told Mr Afridi that the ISI officer had whispered instructions in his ear as he walked into the interrogation room to feign sudden illness in order for him to avoid being questioned by the American operative. “They said to him, ‘You tell this person ‘I am very sick, I cannot talk today,’” said Mr Afridi.
Mr Afridi is seeking to overturn his conviction, an event that triggered widespread condemnation from US politicians who said the doctor had helped Pakistan and had not acted in a treasonous manner.
His recruitment by the CIA and his use in the operation to locate and kill Bin Laden has had wide-ranging ramifications. Among the most damaging impacts has been to intensify opposition among some communities to vaccination schemes being offered by genuine organisations. Pakistan remains one of the world’s last outposts of polio.
Last week it was revealed that the Pakistani government had ordered all foreign employees of the British charity Save the Children to leave the country, even though the organisation has adamantly denied some reports that it had employed Mr Afridi. It was subsequently reported the ban has been suspended under pressure from the UK and US authorities.