Alex Rodriguez – Los Angeles Times March 16, 2011
A CIA contractor charged with murdering two Pakistani men was freed Wednesday after the victims’ families pardoned him and accepted financial compensation, a resolution viewed by many analysts as the best option to soothe strained relations between the U.S. and Pakistan while minimizing the potential for a volatile reaction from Pakistanis who wanted the American tried and convicted.
Just hours after a trial court judge in Lahore announced Davis’ formal indictment on murder charges, Raymond Davis, a 36-year-old American, was on a plane headed for London. Rana Sanaullah, a Punjab provincial law minister, said Davis’ release was triggered by the decision of the families of the two Pakistani men to accept diyat, an Islamic tradition included in Pakistani law that permits the heirs of a murder victim to accept financial compensation in exchange for pardoning the accused.
Sanaullah said members of the families of the victims, Faizan Haider and Faheem Shamshad, appeared in court after the indictment was handed down and said they had agreed to pardon Davis. With that decision, the trial court announced his acquittal and paved the way for his swift release.
“They confirmed in court that they forgave Davis after receiving diyat,” Sanaullah said. “This right to forgive is given to them by Sharia and Pakistani law, and neither you nor I nor the court can snatch this right from them. They used their right, and the court released him.”
The terms of the compensation received by the families had not been announced as of early Wednesday evening. Officials with the U.S. Consulate in Lahore were present at Wednesday’s court hearing and left with Davis after he was released, Sanaullah said. Officials with the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad could not be reached for comment early Wednesday evening.
The case caused a deep rift in relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, an ally that Washington relies on heavily in the battle against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in the country’s volatile northwest, as well as in efforts to bring an end to the nine-year conflict against insurgents in Afghanistan.
Davis said he was in his car at a busy Lahore intersection Jan. 27 when two men on a motorcycle approached, one of them brandishing a handgun. Davis claimed he fired at both men in self-defense. Police, however, said the shooting was unjustified, pointing out that both men had bullet wounds in their backs. Another U.S. government vehicle rushing to Davis’ aid struck and killed a third Pakistani motorcyclist. Pakistani authorities believe the driver of that car has since returned to the U.S.
The U.S. had urged Pakistani officials repeatedly to release Davis on the grounds that he had immunity from criminal prosecution, given to all diplomats through the Vienna Convention of 1961. But fearing a popular backlash, the Pakistani government was reluctant to take a position on whether Davis had diplomatic immunity. Most Pakistanis wanted Davis tried on the murder charges, a feeling that intensified with the recent revelation that the American had been assigned to Pakistan as a contractor for the CIA.