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, Pakistani and US officials said.
The deal, reached just hours after the US contractor had been indicted, ends a long-simmering diplomatic standoff between Pakistan and the US.
“The court first indicted him, but the families later told court that they had accepted the ‘blood money’ and they had pardoned him,” Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said.
“The court acquitted him in the murder case.”
Raymond Davis, 36, shot dead two Pakistanis in the eastern Punjab city of Lahore on Jan. 27 after what he described as an attempted armed robbery.
The US had repeatedly called for his release, saying he had diplomatic immunity.
“The families of the victims of the Jan. 27 incident in Lahore have pardoned Raymond Davis. I am grateful for their generosity,” US Ambassador Cameron Munter said. “I wish to express, once again, my regret for the incident.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking while on a trip to Cairo, said the US government did not pay any compensation to the families of the two Pakistanis.
Asked if the Pakistani -government had paid compensation, Clinton said: “You will have to ask the Pakistani government.”
A US official speaking on condition of anonymity said Davis was quickly flown out of Pakistan. Despite the reported payment of the “blood money,” he insisted there had been “no quid pro quo.”
A US national security official closely monitoring the Davis case and who declined to be identified said that if the Pakistani government paid the compensation it will likely seek reimbursement from the US government.
The case became a major test of relations with Pakistan, a vital ally in the US-led campaign against Taliban militants in Afghanistan.
It is also likely to have a lasting impact on how the US Congress, already suspicious of Pakistan’s commitment to defeating some militants groups in Afghanistan, views a government that is a major recipient of US military and civilian aid.
Republican lawmaker Dana Rohrabacher, a member of the party that controls the US House of Representatives, said the Davis case “should suggest we take a close look at the fundamentals of who we give our aid to and whether or not they are our friends, or whether they are treating us like suckers.”
However, CIA spokesman George Little said the resolution of the case showed that ties between the US and Pakistan are strong.
“That’s the sign of a healthy partnership — one that’s vital to both countries, especially as we face a common set of terrorist enemies,” he said.
The Pakistani -government runs the risk of a backlash.
Talat Masood, a retired general, said some groups in Pakistan 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.”
The country’s powerful religious parties had tried to block the 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 said.