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03.16.11

Blood Money Buys CIA Contractor’s Freedom

Pakistan surprise release of Raymond Davis on Wednesday seems to have been done according to Islamic law. By Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai

Pakistan's surprise release of Raymond Davis on Wednesday seems to have been done according to Islamic law. By Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai

In a surprising move today, Pakistan officials released an imprisoned CIA contractor charged with shooting two would-be robbers to death at a crowded intersection in the eastern city of Lahore at the end of January.

The American, Raymond Davis, seems to have been freed after the payment of “blood money.” Under Sharia, victims’ relatives can pardon the accused after the payment of money or goods in kind. According to Pakistani media reports, more than a dozen relatives of the two dead men appeared in court on Tuesday to pardon Davis. Lawyers familiar with the case said the families received more than $2 million in compensation.

A senior Pakistani official said that the country’s premier intelligence agency, known as the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, played a key role in securing Davis’s release by helping “convince the family [to accept the] blood money," he said. "Once the U.S. stopped using strong language and got a cooler head, we suggested that there were other ways to deal with Davis. No one else dared to touch the case, and the family was willing to listen to our advice."

If the ISI did indeed engineer the solution to what seemed to be an intractable problem, it would mean American spooks are now indebted to the Pakistani intelligence agency. And surely the Pakistanis will be asking the CIA for some big favors in return.

Davis seems to have been freed under what is basically Sharia: the payment of 'blood money.'

On Tuesday, the makeshift court inside the Lahore prison where Davis has been held indicted him for double murder. Then the court did an abrupt about-face, acquitting him of the charges and turning him over to the custody of U.S. officials, who quickly spirited him out of the country on a flight to the U.S. airbase at Bagram, Afghanistan.

Most Pakistanis, who saw Davis as a hated symbol of American arrogance and an anything-goes-mentality, were shocked by the sudden release. Many wanted the Special Forces commando to be tried by the Pakistani justice system. Extreme Islamist parties even launched street protests after the shootings, calling for his hanging. “Davis may be free,” said one Pakistani who was attending an art exhibition when he heard the news. “Now the government has to deal with the people.”

Many in Pakistan have compared the killing of the two men to the American drone strikes that the CIA is carrying out against Islamic militants in the tribal area along the Afghan border. The drone attacks have cost civilian lives and fueled anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, even though it’s clear that the Pakistani government and military condone the attacks and provide intelligence to guide the drones.

The Davis case has also caused serious friction between the ISI and the CIA, with Pakistani officials criticizing what they said was the CIA’s unilateral intelligence operation inside Pakistan and demanding that the CIA clear and coordinate their efforts with the ISI.

According to published reports, Davis was on a mission to scout and secure a meeting point between a Pakistani informant and a CIA officer on Jan. 27 when he saw two men brandishing a pistol. In close traffic, he fired at them through the car’s closed windows. According to Pakistani police reports, using his Glock, Davis shot one of the men several times in the back as he tried to run away.

Washington argued that as soon as Pakistan stamped an entry visa in the diplomatic passport Davis carried, he was covered under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, even if he was only a member of the U.S. Embassy’s “administrative and technical staff,” and not a diplomat in wingtips and a three-piece suit. American lawmakers threatened to freeze at least some of the $1.5 billion in annual American aid to Pakistan until Davis’s release.

Although Davis appears to have left Pakistan, he may not be off the hook just yet, as the U.S. Department of Justice has promised to investigate the shootings.

CORRECTION: This article incorrectly reported Davis flew from Pakistan to London.

Ron Moreau is Newsweek’s Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent and has been covering the region for the magazine the past 10 years. Since he first joined Newsweek during the Vietnam War, he has reported extensively from Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.

Sami Yousafzai is Newsweek's correspondent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he has covered militancy, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban for the magazine since 9/11. He was born in Afghanistan but moved to Pakistan with his family after the Russian invasion in 1979. He began his career as a sports journalist but switched to war reporting in 1997.