Humanitarian Pays With Life for Feeding the Children of
Sunday 13 March 2011
February 26, 2011, marks the eighth anniversary of the imprisonment of Dr. Rafil Dhafir. Dhafir continues to pay the price for feeding the children of
According to the United Nations' own statistics, every month throughout the 1990's, 6,000 children under the age of five in Iraq were dying from lack of food and access to simple medicines. Three senior UN officials resigned because of what they considered a "genocidal" policy of sanctions against
Seven government agencies investigated Dhafir and HTN for many years. They intercepted his mail, email, faxes and telephone calls; bugged his office and hotel rooms; went through his trash; and conducted physical surveillance. They were unable to find any evidence of links to terrorism, and no charges of terrorism were ever brought against Dhafir. Yet he and other HTN associates were subjected to high-profile arrests in the early morning of February 26, 2003, just weeks before the US invasion of Iraq. Simultaneous to the arrests, between the hours of 6 AM and 10 AM, law enforcement agents interrogated 150 predominantly Muslim families because they had donated to HTN. On that day, former attorney general John Ashcroft announced that "funders of terrorism have been arrested."
In light of the demonization of Muslims in the
Dhafir was born in
The trial's proceedings showed Dhafir to be a devout, compassionate man who was highly esteemed by all of his associates; the chilling message his conviction sent to the Muslim community cannot be overstated. Dhafir was convicted on 59 counts of white-collar crime (the government had made a mistake in one of the counts, and the jury was not allowed to deliberate on it) and is currently serving 22 years for a crime he was never convicted of in a court of law
Before attending Dhafir's trial, I spent my entire life secure in the knowledge that my civil rights would always be respected. I no longer believe this to be true.
Saddam Hussein invaded
Before the war, the people of
Several government witnesses of Iraqi descent broke down on the stand when they began to talk about the effects of the sanctions on their families. Each time this happened, the prosecution immediately interrupted the testimony. In fact, throughout Dhafir's trial, the government did its utmost to prevent any discussion of the conditions in
During the Gulf War, more bombs were dropped on
All major bridges and communication systems were bombed, making communications both inside and outside the country extremely difficult. The water purification system was bombed and the UN never allowed it to be repaired; as a result, 15 years' worth of raw sewage piled up in the streets and resulted in widespread disease and death, particularly among the young and the very old. Hospitals and schools were not spared.
As a result of the bombings and sanctions, the health and education systems in
It was in direct response to this humanitarian catastrophe that Dhafir founded HTN. For 13 years, he worked tirelessly to help publicize the plight of the Iraqi people and to raise funds to help them. According to the government, Dhafir donated $1.4 million of his own money over the years. As an oncologist, he was also concerned about
From the outset of Dhafir's case, the government was duplicitous. Using unfair tactics and innuendo and aided by a compliant media, the government transformed Dhafir's community image from that of a compassionate humanitarian into one of a crook and supporter of terrorism.
Just before the start of Dhafir's trial in October 2004, Michael Powell of The
Pataki's description of Dhafir was perfectly timed to reach potential jurors. While national and state figures tarred Dhafir with the terrorist brush, then-district attorney Glenn Suddaby (now a federal judge) and local prosecutors maintained that Dhafir was nothing more than a common thief. The prosecution even successfully petitioned the presiding judge to exclude any mention of terrorism from the proceedings. This meant that throughout the trial, the prosecution could hint at more serious (terrorism) charges, but the defense was prohibited from addressing these inflammatory innuendos head-on. The government's "shadow-boxing" gave a surreal feel to the proceedings; what was happening in the courtroom was not what the trial was really about.
The first indictment against Dhafir contained 14 charges related only to the
Medicare charges usually involve fictitious patients and made-up illnesses; none of these factors were present in Dhafir's case. The government never contested that patients received care and chemotherapy. Its argument for all 25 counts was that, because Dhafir was sometimes not present in his office when patients were treated, the Medicare claim forms were filled out incorrectly, and he was thus not due any reimbursement for treatment or for the expensive chemotherapy his office had administered.
Mrs. Dhafir's cross-examination by the defense also took on a shadow-boxing quality. Mrs. Dhafir was Dr. Dhafir's bookkeeper, and took a plea deal by pleading guilty to one count of lying to a government agent; she had told a government agent that her husband had been present in his medical office on a day that he had not been. On the stand, she answered questions about the intricacies of Medicare reimbursement and identified office staff signatures on Medicare reimbursement forms. While she testified, a large screen opposite the jury featured an excerpt from the Medicare handbook, which said that in the event of a billing error, "a refund would be requested."
This was the backdrop as Mrs. Dhafir described the mayhem at her house on the day of her husband's arrest. (She was not arrested on that day and did not face any charge until later.) Her husband left for work at his usual time, 6
Jennifer Van Bergen, author of "The Twilight of Democracy," wrote a two-part article on Dhafir's case entitled "New American Law: The Case of Dr. Dhafir" and "New American Law: Legal Strategies and Precedents in the Dhafir Case." In these and other writings, Van Bergen warns about the danger of civil liberties being undermined when the government uses parallel legal tracks that were never intended to be mixed. She notes that, as happened in Dhafir's case, conspiracy laws and money-laundering laws used "creatively" with the PATRIOT Act and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) can be used to construct a vastly distorted picture.
"Since 2001, the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Justice Department have incrementally expanded their interpretation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and what is considered prohibited 'material support' of, or 'otherwise associat[ing] with,' designated terrorist organizations or individuals. Originally understood to be direct transfers of funds or goods, 'material support' is now interpreted to include legitimate charitable aid that may 'otherwise cultivate support' for a designated organization. Furthermore, 'other-wise associated with' can include indirect or past relationships, even when there is no claim that the relationship included aiding terrorists or participating in terrorist plots or conspiracies."
Inconsistencies in the government's position were a startling feature of Dhafir's case from its inception and suggested two possibilities
According to the OMB Watch report, "The incremental expansion of what is prohibited activity, coupled with the vague standards defining alleged terrorist associations, makes it increasingly difficult for charities and foundations to predict what constitutes illegal behavior. Consequently, the
Dr. Dhafir's case sets a legal precedent and means that others who provide humanitarian and medical assistance to those in need could end up like him
Katherine Hughes attended nearly every day of the 14-week trial of Muslim Dr. Rafil Dhafir and for the last five years has tried to educate people about Dr. Dhafir's case (www.dhafirtrial.net/case-summary) and the plight of Islamic charities (www.forusa.org/fellowship/nov-dec06/KatherineHughes.html) in the
. She is currently working on a documentary about his case (www.dhafirtrial.net). US
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs