The title for this blog is set to the tune of the Thompson Twins’ song, “Doctor, Doctor.” For those familiar with the song, you are welcome for the complimentary implant of the tune in your head today.
Let’s talk treason. More specifically, let’s talk about the recent sentencing in Pakistan of the doctor who assisted the CIA in their efforts to track down one Osama bin Laden. Dr. Shakil Afridi was sentenced to 30 years (+3 unless he pays a $3500 fine) for his participation in a false Hepatitis B vaccination program designed to collect a DNA sample from the Abottabad compound where bin Laden was believed to reside. The DNA would be tested to determine whether the inmates of the compound were related to bin Laden by comparing it to DNA samples already on file.
The US has been vocal in its condemnation of Pakistan’s actions against the doctor. And why not? He helped track down the world’s most wanted terrorist. In fact, a US Senate panel voted this week (30-0) to withhold aid from Pakistan over this decision. $1 million for each year of sentencing for a total of $33 million dollars to be withheld. That will show them, won’t it? Except when you consider the billions in aid we give annually to Pakistan. Then it just seems like a measly political gesture designed to grab some headlines. Winning!
But how about this to think about? What if the roles were switched around a bit? What if I, Stubbs, were approached by one of our allies’ intelligence services in order to help them accomplish a mission? Pick an ally, any ally – Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand – they are all friendly enough, right? If foreign intelligence services approached me, and I agreed to work for them (and didn’t disclose my activities to the United States government), do you know what that makes me, according to United States law? I’ll give you a hint… it doesn’t make me a hero. Because my hypothetical handlers are allies rather than enemies of the United States, by U.S. law my actions would not fall under “treason” like Dr. Afridi in Pakistan; however, I would likely be charged with espionage or spying depending on my specific actions. Spying, by the way, carries a mandatory death sentence upon conviction. Nice, huh?
But Stubbs, you say, this is different! This was Osama bin Laden! He was public enemy number one to the entire world! You are correct. He was. Which is exactly what my incredible team of attorneys would argue in court. And what my faithful Stubby Thumb followers would declare boldly to the media as loudly as possible. And I only had the very best of intentions to ultimately protect the world against evil. That has to count for something, right? Except that I still broke U.S. laws to do it.
I am not for a minute suggesting that I disagree with the CIA’s decision to seek Dr. Afridi’s help. Nor am I faulting Dr. Afridi and calling him treasonous. In fact, without his help, we might have lost the opportunity permanently. And there is good reason to believe that if he’d played by his own nation’s laws and reported the activities, bin Laden would have been tipped off, aided and abetted right out of the region to set up shop elsewhere.
I am pointing out the hypocrisy in our reaction.
Dr. Afridi’s actions probably make him a hero to the United States. So we express outrage at the action Pakistan, our greatest frenemy in the war in Afghanistan, has taken against him, when the reality is they did precisely what their laws mandate. And we would likely have done the same in similar circumstances. If the U.S. genuinely cared about the fate of Dr. Afridi, he would have been whisked from the country and offered sanctuary for his services. But we didn’t need to protect him. His work was finished, and we no longer required his services. He was a pawn and played his role brilliantly. He agreed to work for our intelligence agency without the knowledge or consent of his government. He is not the first to do so. He won’t be the last.
Nor is he the first (or last) to be left to his own devices.
Anybody remember the story of John Dillinger? The FBI used information provided by Ana Cumpănaş to track him down, and then claimed they were unable to do anything to help her in her deportation proceedings. She believed that by helping the United States to track down the original Public Enemy Number One, she could obtain permanent U.S. residence. Instead she received partial payment for her assistance and was shown the proverbial door.
I applaud Dr. Afridi for his willingness to act. I only wish our government knew better how to show gratitude for a job well done.