Pakistan court acquits CIA contractor after “blood money” deal

Pakistan court acquits CIA contractor after “blood money” deal
# 16 March 2011 22:32 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. A CIA contractor was acquitted of two murder charges and released by a Pakistani court on Wednesday after a deal to pay "blood money" to the victims’ families was reached, Pakistani and U.S. officials said, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
The deal, reached just hours after the American contractor had been indicted, ends a long-simmering diplomatic standoff between Pakistan and the United States.
"The court first indicted him but the families later told court that they have accepted the blood money and they have pardoned him," Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told Reuters.
"The court acquitted him in the murder case."
Raymond Davis, 36, shot dead two Pakistanis in the eastern Punjab city of Lahore on January 27 after what he described as an attempted armed robbery. He said he acted in self-defense and the United States says he had diplomatic immunity and should have been immediately repatriated.
"The families of the victims of the January 27 incident in Lahore have pardoned Raymond Davis. I am grateful for their generosity. I wish to express, once again, my regret for the incident," U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter said in a statement released by the State Department.
A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said Davis was flown out of Pakistan on Wednesday and there had been "no quid pro quo."
The case became a major test of ties between the United States and Pakistan, a vital ally in the U.S.-led campaign against Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
After Davis’ acquittal, the case could become even more contentious in Pakistan. The country’s powerful religious parties had tried to block such a deal, calling for Davis to be hanged, and the families’ lawyer suggested they had been forced to sign the papers.
"We were put in detention for four hours and not allowed to meet our clients who were called by authorities to the court," Asad Manzoor Butt, a lawyer for the family of one of the slain men told Reuters.
Media reports said Davis was immediately flown out of the country, but it was impossible to verify that. The U.S. embassy had no immediate comment.
Religious parties condemned the release.
Amir-ul-Azeem, a senior leader of hardline Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, denounced the acquittal and repeated the claim that the victims’ lawyers were detained, and the families were forced to sign a deal pardoning Davis.
"We will protest against this. This is shameful and unfortunate," he said.
As the news broke, small protests were being planned in the capital Islamabad and Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub, but no large demonstrations outbreaks were reported.
Analysts said there was a risk of a backlash against the government. Talat Masood, a defense analyst and retired general, said some groups could use the case to their advantage.
"Some elements will take advantage of it (such as) opposition parties, even if it’s only for rhetoric to gain points. With the religious parties and militant groups, they might use it to expand their reach."
There had been speculation that a deal was in the works between the United States and the families of the dead men, including a third killed when a U.S. consulate vehicle struck him while en route to extract Davis from the scene.
Such payments are sanctioned by Islamic law and are common in some parts of rural Pakistan as a way to settle disputes.
The identity of the victims has been questioned from the outset, with some media reports saying the men worked for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and that they might have been known to Davis.
Other reports have suggested they attempted to rob Davis, tailing him on motorbikes along a congested city road.
The case also strained ties between the CIA and Pakistan’s main Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which said it was unaware Davis was working in Pakistan.
Masood said that Pakistan’s military, its intelligence agencies and the government would have had to act in rare unison to reach a settlement in the case, because of concerns about a possible public backlash from a population that overwhelmingly disapproves of Pakistan’s relationship with the United States.
"This obviously places the government in a very tight corner although in a way it has taken a bold step," Masood said. "This must have been taken in a way that involved the military intelligence and the political leadership, so that they know what the reaction would be, and should have anticipated that."