NEW YORK -


A confidential Pakistani report that a major American television network claimed to have seen has blamed the United States for divulging key details about Dr Shakil Afridi's involvement in the hunt for Osama bin Laden that led to his arrest and subsequent sentencing to 33 years in prison.
"When former Secretary of Defence and ex-CIA Director Leon Panetta publicly acknowledged Afridi's role in the ruse which helped the CIA pinpoint Bin Laden's presence in an Abbottabad compound, any chance that Pakistani authorities could help him get out of the country vanished," Fox News said Friday, quoting a 357-page report from an independent body set up to probe the aftermath of the 2011 raid by Navy SEALs in which the Al-Qaeda leader was killed.
“The statement by the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who was the CIA Director when May 2 happened, confirming the role of Dr Afridi in making the US assassination mission a success, rendered much of what Afridi told the Commission very questionable if not outright lies,” FOX News quoted the report, which has not been released, as saying.
In comments, Fox News said, "Indeed, Panetta and others in the Obama administration were sharply criticised domestically for discussing the raid and efforts involving Afridi to obtain DNA from the compound's occupants by posing as a medical team offering vaccinations. Nearly five months before Afridi’s sentencing, while the doctor was being held and interrogated by Pakistan’s shadowy intelligence agency, Panetta spoke on record in an interview to CBS '60 Minutes' confirming Afridi's role in late January 2012. The statements came after Afridi had testified to the commission, and sharply contradicted his story."
“This was an individual, in fact that helped provide intelligence, that was very helpful in regards to this operation and he was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan,” Panetta told the news programme in January, 2012, in the first acknowledgement of Afridi's role, Fox News pointed out.
"That," Fox News said, "prompted the Pakistani commission to conclude in its report that 'Dr Afridi had been cultivated by the CIA and ultimately used in its project to assassinate Osama bin Laden'.”
Panetta did not respond to multiple requests for comment, according to Fox News. His spokesman, Jeremy Bash, had earlier told a Fox News Channel correspondent that Panetta wasn’t willing to talk to the media.
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who is Afridi’s most vocal supporter in Congress, has been critical of the Obama administration's handling of Afridi's case, Fox News pointed out. But he said he is skeptical of the report placing all the blame for his imprisonment on the US.
“It doesn’t take genius to figure out that the Pakistanis have been betraying us all along and Dr Afridi is being used as a pawn in their game with the United States,” Rohrabacher, who has made several anti-Pakistan statements in the past, was quoted as saying.
The Commission Report itself recommends a retrial for Afridi, who is now appealing his case, according to Fox News. His family is holding out hope that American pressure can win his freedom, while his US supporters have been critical of the Obama administration and State Department for its muted approach to the matter, it said.
“We need to continue to put pressure on the Obama administration and the State Department to advocate for the immediate release of Dr Afridi, not just a retrial,” Rohrabacher was further quoted as saying.
Fox News said Afridi's lawyer has argued that Panetta’s statement further complicated an already convoluted matter concocted on trumped up charges without laying blame on US or Pakistan. Afridi is serving a 33-year term in Peshawar Central Jail after being convicted by a tribal council of colluding with local militant group Lashkar-e-Islam.
“The lesson from the Afridi episode is, if it suits the political purpose of the Obama administration, you’ll be exposed and placed in jeopardy,” Thomas Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a think-tank, was quoted as saying.
Panetta’s disclosure robbed Afridi of “plausible deniability” of a role in the episode. Even if Pakistani officials did not believe Afridi's account, his story may have provided cover for a diplomatic solution had Panetta not undermined it, he said.
The US intelligence community was alarmed at the Obama administration's loose-lipped attitude toward the raid, according to New York Times reporter David Sanger’s book ‘Confront and Conceal’, which claimed leaks prompted then-Secretary of Defence Robert Gates to angrily confront Obama’s National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon.
In addition to Panetta's interview, Kathryn Bigelow, director of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ the Hollywood movie which depicts ‘Operation Neptune’ that killed Bin Laden, was given exclusive access to classified information.