'Blood money' frees CIA contractor in Pakistan

WASHINGTON — Pakistan abruptly freed the CIA contractor who shot and killed two men in a gunfight in Lahore after a deal was sealed Wednesday to pay $2.34 million in "blood money" to the men's families.

The agreement, nearly seven weeks after the shootings, ended a tense showdown with a vital U.S. ally that had threatened to disrupt the war on terrorism.

In what appeared to be a carefully choreographed conclusion to the diplomatic crisis, a U.S. official said Pakistan had paid the families whose pardoning of Raymond Davis, 36, setting the stage for his release. That arrangement allowed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to assert in a news conference the United States didn't pay compensation.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the situation was so sensitive, said the American government expects to receive a bill at some point, the Associated Press reported. The payments to families in Pakistan are roughly 400 times as high as the United States has paid to families of many civilians wrongfully killed by U.S. soldiers in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under negotiations to free Davis, the U.S. Embassy in Lahore said the Justice Department had opened an investigation into the Jan. 27 shootings. In a statement, the embassy thanked the families for their generosity in pardoning Davis but did not mention any money changing hands.

The deal to secure Davis' release had been in the works for some time, with the most intense negotiations over the past three weeks, another U.S. official told the Associated Press.

The arrangement deliberately bypassed the question of whether Davis was immune from prosecution because of diplomatic status, the official said. That had been a central legal issue in the case, but by negotiating Davis' release under Islamic sharia law the issue could be resolved outside the jurisdiction of the police and court system that arrested and held him on suspicion of murder.

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said Davis, 36, was actually charged with murder Wednesday in a court that was convened in a prison in Lahore.

Davis left the country immediately for Kabul in neighboring Afghanistan, where he was expected to be debriefed extensively about his time in custody, Pakistani and American officials said.

'Blood money' frees CIA contractor in Pakistan 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 11:55pm]

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