Lawyer suggests 'blood money' to free US man

AP News
Posted: Mar 05, 2011 5:32 AM
Lawyer suggests 'blood money' to free US man

Since his brother was shot and killed by an American CIA contractor last month, scores of Islamist politicians have met with Waseem Shamzad in his bare sitting room to bring sympathy, offers of help and a stark message: if U.S. envoys come offering "blood money" to get their man out of jail, tell them to go away.

Shamzad and two other families mourning a dead relative because of the shooting say America has not offered compensation yet, but Pakistani officials have suggested such payments could help end a crisis that has exposed the fragility of ties between the two nations.

While the United States insists Raymond Allen Davis, the detained CIA contractor, has immunity from prosecution, his lawyer said Friday that "bloody money" was "not just a good way, but the best way" to resolve the issue. The United States has not commented on whether it intends to try that approach, either formally or as a way of cooling popular anger if Davis is freed on other grounds.

The families, meanwhile, say they want justice, not money.

Davis was driving on a busy street in this eastern city when he says two men, at least one of whom was armed, tried to rob him. He shot them dead. Minutes later, an American vehicle speeding to the scene on the wrong side of the road ran into a motorcyclist, killing him.

The United States is demanding the 36-year-old Virginia native, currently on trial for murder, be released.

The Islamabad government has yet to say whether Davis has immunity, apparently paralyzed in the face of media outrage and protests by Islamist parties. So far, all it's said is that the matter was up for the Lahore High Court, which may rule on the immunity issue this month.

In the meantime, the families have found themselves at the center of a drive by right-wing and Islamist politicians who are relishing heaping pressures on America and its allied government in Islamabad and spreading conspiracy theories blaming Davis _ not the Taliban and al-Qaida _ for the violence roiling the country.

Shamzad, the brother of one of the shooting victims, said he needed help, but not from United States.

"Look at the state of this house," he said, pointing to the concrete floor, whitewashed walls and muddy lane outside the door where cows chewed on piles of grass. "People from all over Pakistan have come here. They only want to help."

Shamzad and two relatives had just returned from Karachi on the dimes of a student group linked to the Jaamat Islami party, the first time they had been on an aircraft. The purpose of the visit was to meet with relatives of Aafia Siddiqui, another icon of the Pakistani rightwing, and drum up publicity.

Siddiqui, a U.S.-educated mother of three, is serving 86 years in an American jail for attempting to kill U.S. agents in Afghanistan. Like the Davis case, the Siddiqui case is a staple for rightwing propaganda about America's malign intentions in the region.

Police and American officials originally said Shamzad's brother Mohammad Faheem and Davis' other victim, Faizan Haider, were robbers.

Shamzad and Haider's family strongly denied that, but Shamzad admitted his brother was carrying a gun when he was killed.

Pakistani law allows killers to walk free if they admit their crime and pay compensation or "diyat" to the heirs of the victim, who must forgive them. Firmly rooted in Islamic tradition, the practice is quite common but is criticized by human rights groups, which say it encourages impunity.

The United States regularly pays money to the families of innocent people it kills in Afghanistan, but may baulk at doing so in this case, even if the families wanted it. Davis's lawyer, Zahid Bokhari, said any such deal would involve the U.S. consulate directly, and he would draw up the legal papers to certify it.

"When they settle with them, then my domain will start," said Bokhari, who was appointed on Wednesday.

When it was pointed out that the families did not want to deal, he said: "To my mind, they are affected by the pressure of the public and the parties."

The families say no government or American officials have visited them, making the Islamists' efforts stand out.

"They are using us, but at least they are doing something," said Ibad-ur-Rehman, whose brother was killed by the speeding car.

"I'm not anti-American or anything. I have looked up to the American judicial system since I was a child, but I haven't seen anything from them. It's like we have done something wrong and they are angry with us," said Rehman, who recently returned from the United Kingdom where he got a law degree.

Unlike relatives of the other two families, he does not completely dismiss the idea of "blood money".

"I can't straight away accept money, its a question of family honor. There has to be something toward justice first," he said.

But that looks likely to be fruitless _ American officials say the drivers of that vehicle have already left Pakistan.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said it had publicly expressed regret for the incident, but declined to talk in detail about what it was doing to resolve the crisis.

The irony of America possibly resorting to Islamic laws to free a CIA contractor is not lost on the Jaamat Islami, Pakistan's most-organized anti-U.S. political party that has demanded stern punishment for Davis and routinely condemns U.S. drone attacks.

"They ridicule our laws and don't accept them and now they want to use them," said Farid Paracha, a senior party member in Lahore. "The families have made it very clear they do not want to sell their blood."

He said the party may raise funds through its vast national network of mosques for the families, something that would be discussed with them at a meeting at its headquarters on the outskirts of Lahore later this month. "There should be a fund, to overcome U.S. pressure," he said.

The longer the standoff continues, the better it is for the opponents of the government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

The fact that the political party in charge in Punjab province, where Lahore is situated, is locked in an increasingly bitter battle with Zardari does not bode well for a speedy resolution.

Crude effigies of Davis hang from nooses outside shops in the city, and banners from the militant-linked Jamaat-ud-Dawa charity call for him to be put to death.

"There is America on the other side, and there is the pressure of 180 million Pakistanis on the other," said Rana Sanaullah, the law minister in the province who himself been accused of sidling up to Islamist extremists.

"There is no doubt he killed those guys. It seems likely he will be found guilty."