The US government and Congress and media are in a lather about the 33 year prison sentence given to the Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who carried out a fake vaccination program in Pakistan order to aid the CIA in its attempts to find Osama bin Laden. In retaliation, Congress has moved to cut aid to Pakistan, make Afridi a naturalized citizen, and to award him a gold medal.
When the reports of this fake vaccination scheme came out, I was horrified because health workers in those countries already find it hard enough to get people to overcome their distrust of vaccinations, with the result that it is hard to eliminate many diseases. Polio, for example, is still endemic in Pakistan (and in Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Chad) partly as a result of ignorance and fears about vaccinations. When word gets out that a phony vaccination program was carried out not to aid the children of that region but as part of a scheme to aid a foreign government, I could see it setting back the vaccination efforts for years and it appears that the negative consequences have already manifested themselves.
Glenn Greenwald as usual does a masterful job of showing how the reaction in the US to any action, like the Afridi sentencing, is wholly determined by an imperial mindset, judged purely on whether the action serves US interests or not, and not by any objective criteria. He is one of the few people who routinely asks how we would have responded if the roles had been reversed and the US was the target rather than the active agent. What would have been the reaction here if a US physician had put children’s lives at risk by carrying out a phony vaccination program under the instructions of a foreign government in order to serve their military needs?
There is a lot to be concerned about with the Afridi case, as to whether he received a fair trial, whether he had proper legal representation, and whether the sentence was commensurate with the offense. But the US has long ago given up any moral right to weigh in on such matters, given that it routinely violates all of them.