Main Catch in War on “Virtually a Free Citizen” in Pakistan

New evidence that the Bush Administration’s war on terror is more show than substance.

In a 2004 presidential debate, Bush sought to assure Americans that the war on terror was going well. He presented the case of a Pakistani nuclear scientist named A.Q. Khan who had been caught selling secrets to rogue elements across the world. “We busted the A.Q. Khan network,” Bush said. “This was a proliferator out of Pakistan that was selling secrets to places like North Korea and Libya.”

Scary stuff, right? But according to a new AP article, highlighted by Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly‘s blog, Khan has been living a life of luxury, relaxing at his “villa in the capital” and meeting with friends, family, and associates. An official connected to Pakistan’s nuclear program told the AP, “[Khan] is virtually a free citizen.”

So what’s going on? Turns out, the Bush Administration looked the other way while Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf pardoned Khan and set up the nuclear scientist’s absurd form of house arrest. According to Seymour Hersh, Khan is “revered in Pakistan as the father of the country’s nuclear bomb,” and parts of the Pakistani government have long been suspected as being complicit in the international trade of nuclear secrets. Khan hardly seemed like an appropriate scapegoat, considering all this.

Who knows what Khan is doing with his freedom — all we do know is that he isn’t serving the sentence he deserves. Hersh’s 2004 article in the New Yorker on this topic is well worth a read. It explains why Pakistan is willing to be a major ally in the United States’ war on terror, and why the U.S. makes ridiculous exceptions for Musharraf and his government. Anyone who has read it can’t be surprised by the new reports of A.Q. Khan’s kid-glove “jail time.”

PS — Iraqi nuclear scientists are even more free than Khan, and may be stirring up trouble around the globe. The reason? The American military didn’t give a damn about them after the invasion.

PPS — While we’re on the topic of the Washington Monthly, check out Paul Glastris’ editor’s note from the last issue. Glastris argues that Democrats should be more public about the fact that they make wars like Kosovo (i.e. victories) and Republicans make wars like Iraq (i.e. failures).