When subscribers to Military Times receive their latest issue of the paper this week, they'll see an ad posing a poll with a seemingly obvious answer: "Which would you rather be? Captured and Tortured, or Rescued and Set Free." The ad directs readers to choose their answer online at www.freeafridi.com. Dr. Shakil Afridi, the ad is explains, is the Pakistani doctor who helped lead American forces to the Abbottabad compound where they were able to kill Osama bin Laden two years ago. Afridi has since been jailed in Pakstian, convicted by a tribal court of colluding with terrorists.
Bankrolling the campaign to release him is a Hollywood couple, businessman Robert H. Lorsch and his actress wife Kira Reed Lorsch who so far have spent $70,000 raising awareness of Afridi's plight.
Lorsch first heard about Afridi in February, when he was on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers to discuss converting hospitals to electronic record keeping systems. California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher invited him to listen in on a meeting about Afridi's situation, and Lorsch, who had never heard of Afridi before, was shocked.
"As an American I was horrified. I was horrified. I was markedly shaken," says Lorsch. "There was a tremendous injustice and something had to be done."
He finished up his healthcare business on the Hill and traveled up to New York where he told his wife of Afridi's plight.
"I haven't been able to slow him down since then," says Rohrabacher, who has introduced legislation to withdraw aid from Pakistan until Afridi is released. "It's as if God put the information in front of [Lorsch] to show him that there was something really good he could accomplish."
The Academy Awards being just days away, the couple decided to capitalize on the momentum of "Zero Dark Thirty" — which alluded to Afridi's role in the raid — to draw attention to their cause. They took out an ad in The Hollywood Reporter – Lorsch jokes it was his Valentine's Day present for his wife — urging those involved with the Oscar nominated film to speak out on Afridi's behalf. They achieved some success, with "Zero Dark Thirty's" Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke calling for his release from the red carpet.
The Lorsches are now turning to the military to community for support.
"You talk to people in the military and when they hear about the Dr. Afridi, they're horrified. What if it happened to them?" he says. The "Free Afridi" campaign estimates the Military Times ad will be seen 637,000 readers including its 245,000 active duty and veteran subscribers.
"Once the American people understand we have betrayed a heroic person who risked his life for them, the American people will know what to do and do the right thing even though our leaders are afraid to take a look at that reality," says Rohrabacher.
The second leg of a two part hearing in Pakistan that could overturn Afridi's conviction was initially scheduled for early May but has been postponed until June. Lorsch says those he has talked to involved in the case are optimistic, but if the judge does not rule in Afridi's favor, Lorsch vows he and his wife will keep working.
"We were blessed with financial capability to make it a big deal and continue to make it a big deal until Dr. Afridi is having dinner with us in Los Angeles or in Washington," he says.