Two Senate committees today took the first legislative steps to cut aid to Pakistan after that country's conviction of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who aided American intelligence in its mission to kill Osama bin Laden.
The Pakistani doctor was convicted of high treason in his home country and sentenced to 33 years in prison plus a fine, Pakistani officials said Wednesday.
Afridi ran a vaccination program on behalf of the CIA near the al Qaeda leader's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in an attempt to collect DNA from bin Laden's relatives and verify that America's most-wanted terrorist was indeed in the compound.
On May 2, 2011, a team of U.S. Navy SEALs raided the compound and killed bin Laden.
The Senate Appropriations Committee cut Pakistan's assistance by the symbolic amount of $33 million - $1 million for each year Afridi's sentence.
"It is 'Alice in Wonderland' at best, but it is outrageous in itself. And if this is cooperation, I would hate like heck to see opposition," said the committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "It goes beyond schizophrenic to have them suggest that, somehow, it was wrongdoing going after Osama bin Laden when they have publicly stated that they were opposed to Osama bin Laden - and you can't have it both ways. And basically, this amendment says that we take this seriously."
The committee approved the amendment, offered by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., by a unanimous 30-0 vote. The funds would continue to be withheld until Afridi gets released from prison and cleared of all charges relating to his assistance in locating bin Laden.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she is "baffled" how Afridi can be labeled as a traitor.
"I don't know which side of this war Pakistan is on," Feinstein said. "If this is how Pakistan is going to treat a friend and hero like Dr. Afridi, I don't know about these funds."
The amendment, within the FY13 "State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations" bill will now be sent to the full Senate for full consideration before final passage.
In addition, the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed its anger over the conviction during the markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 today. Within the defense budget there is a restriction of military assistance to Pakistan unless the supply routes are opened.
"To somehow allege that under any country's law that this doctor violated any law is, of course, just beyond ludicrous; it's outrageous," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters. "This is a human being."
The full Senate is expected to consider this bill in June for final passage.
McCain said beyond just Senate action, senators would like "to have the administration weigh in on this," as there is a general sense of "frustration" on Capitol Hill over the conviction.