By Steve Coll
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 2, 1991 12:00 AM
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN, OCT. 1 -- They were sweethearts at T.C. Williams High School in Northern Virginia. She calls him "Mr. Athlete" because he played defensive lineman and running back on a state champion football team, class of 1986. He smiles easily and dotes on their three small sons, who pull gum between their teeth and amble over their father's lap.
But this morning Daniel Boyd and his wife, Sabrina, also known as Saifullah Abu Laith and Umm Mohammed, are a long way from football games and homecoming dances. They are sitting in the dusty office of the superintendent of the Peshawar Central Jail in this swirling, violent city near the Afghan border. Here Daniel and his brother Charles await the appeal of their conviction on bank robbery charges by a Pakistani Islamic court, which has handed down a stunning sentence -- amputation of their right hands and left feet.
"I guess we're just living in a nightmare come true," said Sabrina Boyd, who appears in public covered from head to toe in strict Islamic dress, her wide brown eyes peering through a slit in her veil. "It's just unfortunate because it's really breaking up my family. I hope this thing is over with very soon, God willing. We were very private people before all this."
For the moment, however, things appear to be going from bad to worse for the Boyds, U.S. citizens who converted to Islam several years ago and moved to Pakistan to do relief work for Afghanistan's mujaheddin rebels. Not only are the brothers waiting to see if an appeals court will sanction the amputation of their limbs, but Sabrina Boyd has fallen ill with what doctors have told her is a potentially fatal kidney ailment, and she is planning to leave soon for the United States with the children to seek medical treatment. Shuffling down a dirt lane toward the prison's iron gates this morning, amid the clank-clank-clank of shackled, marching prisoners, she appeared to be in significant pain.
"I'm not worried about having my hand cut off," said her husband, Daniel Boyd, whose long blond hair, wispy beard and loose, slangy talk give the impression of a guitar player in some suburban American blues band. "I'm just worried about my wife's life."
Sabrina Boyd said she is mostly concerned about her children. "Unfortunately, there's no way to hide that somebody wants to cut off their father's hand and foot," she said. "They ask me, 'Have they taken his hand and foot yet and can he come home?' They don't care if he loses his hand and foot, they just want their father."
There is not much that any of the Boyds are permitted to say publicly about the bank robbery case, although lawyers and diplomats can discuss it. The court found that last June, the brothers entered a bank in suburban Peshawar armed with a pistol, exchanged shots with a bank guard and stole 80,000 rupees ($3,200). The Boyds maintain they are innocent.
Besides the prescribed amputation, the brothers were also sentenced to five years in jail and fined. Daniel Boyd received an additional sentence of seven years for possession of an illegal firearm.
Islamic punishments such as amputation have been legal in Pakistan since 1979, but so far no amputations have been carried out, according to diplomats and Pakistani officials, in part because the government has yet been unable to find a doctor willing to perform them. Other Islamic punishments such as public lashings have been carried out, however.
The special Pakistani Islamic court that convicted the brothers has imposed a gag order on them, and formal interviews are prohibited in the prison. After the sentence was handed down, however, Daniel Boyd reportedly said in the courtroom, "This is not an Islamic court, this is a court of unbelievers."
This week, jail supervisors permitted two informal visits with the brothers, and Sabrina Boyd agreed to speak with a reporter about some matters unrelated to the case. Besides wishing to express his fears about his wife's health, Daniel Boyd had only one other public comment: "Hey," he said incredulously through the prison bars during his first visit with a reporter. "I was sipping a Pepsi and the next thing I knew I was in jail."
Today is his brother's 30th birthday. Dressed in combat fatigues obtained from the prison's stores and sporting a long brown beard, Charles Boyd sat with his wife, Debra, beside the jail superintendent's desk and joked in a whisper that when he realized it was his birthday, he kept thinking about country songs describing the woes of those who turn another year older while in jail.
'I Really Loved It Here'
It has been a long, strange trip from the cultural landscape of American country music to the courtyards of Peshawar Central Jail.
Daniel and Charles Boyd are two of five sons born to Thornton Boyd and his wife, Patricia. Their father was a career U.S. Marine, stationed at one point at Quantico. The parents divorced in 1977 and Pat, a secretary for a Washington lawyer, married William Saddler, an American Muslim whom she described in an interview in Washington as "intellectual and deep and decent."
Although her boys were raised as Episcopalians and Pat Boyd Saddler calls herself "a believer" in Christianity, the boys' stepfather, a lawyer in private practice in Washington, was a gentle but impressive influence. Based on his example, Charles Boyd converted to Islam 10 years ago and Daniel followed shortly after he graduated from T.C. Williams, Pat Boyd said.
Daniel married his high school girlfriend, Sabrina, the daughter of a medical doctor who works for the U.S. government, at a mosque at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She decided to convert to Islam just hours before the wedding and said she has never regretted it. "As much as I was raised as an American, I try to follow Islam strictly," she said. Both Daniel and Charles worked in construction. Just under two years ago, Daniel and Sabrina decided to move to Peshawar to work with a Muslim relief agency aiding some of the estimated 3 million Afghan refugees who have fled to Pakistan because of Afghanistan's 12-year-old civil war.
"I of course had a fit when they said they were going over," recalled Pat Boyd Saddler. "I ricocheted around the walls, but they explained their commitment, and when I realized I could do nothing I said, 'I support you.' "
Later she became proud of their adventure abroad. "Their growth, development, maturity -- I'm so proud of them, and little Sabrina cooking on a one-burner hot plate," she said. "They endured every culture shock, but through their letters I saw what a wonderful thing this was for them."
In Pakistan the Boyds shifted from house to house in Hyatabad, a suburb in the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains beneath the Khyber Pass, which leads to Afghanistan. After a year, Charles Boyd and his second wife, Debra, joined them. With two young sons initially and a third born in Pakistan, there were many adjustments. Money was short, hospitals were inadequate, baby supplies were difficult to find, and all their drinking water had to be boiled. Still, as they became increasingly involved in their new religion, said Sabrina Boyd, the hardships were more than worth it.
"I really loved it here before these things happened," she said. She preferred to bring up her children in the religious and cultural environment of Peshawar rather than "to raise kids in America, where they have movies about people eating people and where you can't go out at night. Allah gave us the whole world to seek out what we need to seek out."
The Boyds' Defense
The adventure went sour in June when a check for $5,000 arrived for the Boyds from the United States. None of the Boyds will discuss what happened next, citing the court's gag order, but court records and interviews with lawyers, diplomats and other sources familiar with the case provide a narrative of the events.
The Boyds customarily paid their bills at a local branch of the state-owned United Bank in Hyatabad, a small office manned by about half a dozen managers. Normally, Daniel Boyd handled the family's financial affairs, but when the check arrived he was busy with other work and asked Sabrina to take it to the bank, deposit it and open a new account.
At the bank, a manager allegedly convinced Sabrina Boyd that she could get a better exchange rate for the $5,000 if she would endorse the check and let him cash it on the black market, according to diplomatic and other sources. Sabrina later said she handed over the check, but that when she returned to claim the money and open the account, the manager told her that she had never given him the check and that he had no money for her.
According to sources familiar with the case, there followed a confrontation between the Boyd brothers and the bank manager over the missing money. There have been allegations that the manager offended Sabrina Boyd's religious beliefs by sitting in a car with her and putting his hand on her leg. In any event, while some sources say the manager paid some money to the Boyds in an effort to clear up the matter, the full amount allegedly was not repaid and the Boyds were dissatisfied, diplomatic and other sources said.
Shortly afterward, two armed men described in court as foreigners dressed as Afghans allegedly entered the bank armed, traded fire with a shotgun-wielding bank guard and made off with 80,000 rupees, of which less than half was later recovered by the police.
Through their lawyers, the Boyds maintain that they did not rob the bank. Their lawyers also say they did not receive a fair trial in the special Islamic courts recently established by Pakistan's government to provide swift justice in cases of "heinous crimes." Among other things, the Boyds' lawyers have contended that police invented evidence against the brothers, obtained a confession from them at gunpoint and arranged witness identifications improperly.
A Western diplomat familiar with the case said that the procedures of Pakistan's Islamic courts do not meet Western standards of impartiality and that intimidation of criminal defendants in Pakistan is commonplace. But referring to the Boyds' defense, the diplomat said, "It's not a winner."
Some of the Boyds have complained that the U.S. government has not done enough to help the brothers. They say U.S. Embassy officials in Pakistan seemed indifferent to the case and made only a few token visits to check on conditions at the Peshawar jail.
Sabrina Boyd said that when an embassy official came to visit her, he tried to shake her hand, in violation of Islamic religious custom. "I have no big complaints," she said. "But if they can do more, why aren't they? And if they can't -- why not?"
A State Department spokesman in Washington said that the acting U.S. ambassador in Islamabad met with unidentified Pakistani officials on Sept. 26 to reiterate U.S. interest in the case and to express concern "at what we regard as a particularly harsh sentence." Western diplomats in Pakistan said they have become especially active in the matter since the sentence was handed down.
In Washington today, Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), chairman of the subcommittee on Asian and Pacific affairs, called the punishment "barbaric" and "utterly unthinkable." He added, "Were Pakistan to carry out such a sentence, it would have an absolutely chilling impact upon U.S.-Pakistani relations."
Unfortunately for the Boyds, the case has arisen at an inopportune political moment. U.S.-Pakistani relations are already at a low ebb after the U.S. government's decision to stop all aid to Pakistan because of Islamabad's efforts to build a nuclear bomb. Domestically, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government is attempting to persuade a crime-battered public that it will enforce strict law and order and adhere to tough Islamic traditions -- even if foreigners are involved.
The special courts in which the Boyd brothers were convicted were created earlier this year under a controversial constitutional amendment pushed through by Sharif's government. The amendment was denounced by opposition leaders as a mechanism for political authoritarianism. Other commentators saw it as partly an effort to appease Pakistan's small but vocal minority of radical Islamic religious leaders.
Under the law, Islamic punishments such as amputations are meted out only to Muslims, but since the Boyds have converted to Islam they are not entitled to foreigners' exemptions. That has left Sabrina Boyd, as she shuttles about smoky Peshawar in motorized rickshaws, toting her three sons and enduring her aching kidneys, to reflect on the justice of a religion that she has embraced with a convert's zeal.
"We are Muslims, so of course we believe one hundred percent in the shariah," she said, referring to Islam's code of crime and punishment. "But the shariah is imposed for justice, not for injustice."
"In Peshawar," she continued, "there are all these Afghan refugees here, and they're going to have to eat or die. If they steal a potato, are you going to cut their hand off? No. There are limits. ... There are always two sides to the mirror.
"We can take God's will," Sabrina Boyd concluded. "But we don't have to take the decision of a man."
Staff writer Phil McCombs in Washington contributed to this report.