January 22, 2006
Muslims like Dr. Rafil Dhafir should be
celebrated as the outstanding humanitarians they are, not turned into
convenient props in the War on Terror.
October 27, 2005, after being detained 31 months and being denied
access to his own records, Dr. Rafil Dhafir, an oncologist from Upstate
New York, was sentenced to 22 years in Federal prison.  A
man of Iraqi descent and Muslim faith, he lived in the U.S. since 1974
and has been an American citizen for almost 30 years. As a direct
response to the humanitarian catastrophe created by the Gulf War and
U.S. sanctions Dhafir founded the charity Help the Needy (HTN). Despite
many difficulties, including the U.S. embargo and a brutal dictatorship
in Iraq, HTN got food and medicines to millions of starving Iraqis for
13 years.  Without HTN aid
the UN statistic of 5,200 preventable deaths per month of children
under the age of five would undoubtedly have been much higher.
On February 26, 2003, the day that Dhafir was
arrested, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that "supporters of
terrorism had been apprehended." Since that day senior government
officials have continued to paint Dhafir as a terrorist, and Judge
Norman Mordue denied Dhafir bail on four occasions. Yet local
prosecutors successfully lobbied Mordue to prevent the charge of
terrorism from being part of the trial. This ruling turned into a brick
wall that the defense kept hitting during the proceedings: prosecutors
could hint at more serious charges, but the defense was never allowed
to follow this line of questioning. Despite denying Dhafir the right to
address the charge in court, Mordue allowed prosecutors to bring the
charge to his sentencing.
Although the government continues to
characterize Dhafir as a criminal supporting terrorism, the only
context in which this case makes any sense is the overwhelming
humanitarian crisis created by the brutal U.S. sanctions on the country
Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness
(VITW), speaking about mainstream U.S media coverage before the Iraq
War had begun, said, "I try to point out to the mainstream journalists
that they have succeeded enormously in informing the U.S. public about
the horrors committed by the current regime in Iraq while for the most
part neglecting the horrors the United States has committed. That the
regime here has used chemical weapons, engaged in torture, and violated
the political and civil rights of Iraqi civilians is repugnant to all
who cherish human rights. And yet, what the U.S. public doesn’t
understand and will possibly never comprehend is that the greatest
violations of human rights in Iraq since the Gulf War have happened as
a result of U.S.-led UN economic sanctions against Iraq."  Indeed,
three senior UN officials living and working in Iraq resigned because
they considered the sanctions to be a "genocidal" policy. 
Talking about her return to the U.S. after a
1998 visit to Iraq, Kelly said, "Upon our return to the U.S., customs
agents turned my passport over to the State Department, perhaps as
evidence that, according to U.S. law, I’ve committed a criminal act by
traveling to Iraq. I know that our efforts to be voices in the
wilderness aren’t criminal. We’re governed by compassion, not by the
laws that pitilessly murder innocent children. What’s more, Iraqi
children might benefit if we could bring their story into a courtroom,
before a jury of our peers." 
IRAQ UNDER SANCTIONS
During the course of the proceedings the
government did its utmost to prevent any discussion of the state of
Iraq under the sanctions from being part of the trial. Government
employees, including Susan Hutner, of the Office of Foreign Asset
Control (OFAC), testified to having no knowledge of the effects of the
sanctions. As the government attorney addressing the situation in Iraq,
she helped draft the initial legal documentation to implement the
sanctions and then worked on the sanctions for 12 years. When the
defense attempted to question Hutner about the Oil for Food program,
the court ruled the line of questioning irrelevant. 
Several government witnesses of Iraqi descent
broke down on the stand when they began to talk of the effects of the
sanctions on their families.  Each time this happened the prosecution immediately interrupted the testimony. 
The only newspaper reporting on the proceedings, the local Syracuse
Post-Standard, failed to address the sanctions as they pertained to the
Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 1,
1990, and on August 2, U.S. sanctions against Iraq were put in place.
On January 17, 1991, the first bombs of the Gulf War were dropped on
Baghdad. Before this war the people of Iraq had a standard of living
comparable to many Western countries. Although a brutal dictatorship,
the government provided universal healthcare and education including
college for all its citizens. There was virtually no illiteracy and the
education system and health system were the best in the region.
The result of the war was total devastation:
more bombs were dropped on Iraq in a six-week period than were dropped
by all parties together in the whole of World War II. Taken together,
these bombs are at least six times more powerful than two atomic bombs.
Many types of bombs were used including ones containing depleted
uranium (DU), the waste matter from nuclear plants; hundreds of tons of
DU ammunition now lie scattered throughout Iraq. The DU dust has
entered the food chain through the soil and the water, and as a result
many formerly unknown diseases have become prevalent in Iraq. Many
pregnant women are delivering their babies as early as six months, and
many babies are born with terrible deformities. Cancer rates have
skyrocketed, and if current trends continue 44% of the population could
develop cancer within the next ten years. 
All major bridges and communication systems
were bombed, making any communications both inside and outside the
country extremely difficult. The water purification system was bombed
and the UN has never allowed it to be repaired; as a result 15 years of
raw sewage has piled up in the streets. This has been the cause of much
disease and death, particularly among the young and very old. Hospitals
and schools were not spared and, as a result of the bombing and the
sanctions, the health and education systems in Iraq went from being the
best in the region to being the worst. 
Robert Fisk in his new book about the Middle
East says, "There was one final scourge to be visited upon the Iraqi
people, a foul cocktail in which both our gunfire and our sanctions
played an intimate, horrific role, one that would contaminate Iraqis
for years to come, perhaps for generations. In historical terms, it may
be identified as our most callous crime against the Middle East,
against Arabs, against children. It manifested itself in abscesses, in
massive tumours, in gangrene, internal bleeding and child mastectomies
and shrunken heads and deformities and thousands of tiny graves." 
In 1998 Denis Halliday, Assistant Secretary
General of the United Nations resigned from the UN after thirty-four
years of distinguished service. At the time he was serving as the
humanitarian coordinator in Baghdad, and his resignation was a direct
result of the conditions he witnessed. He said, "I had been instructed
to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a
deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million
individuals, children and adults. We all know that the regime, Saddam
Hussein, is not paying the price of economic sanctions; on the
contrary, he has been strengthened by them. It is the little people who
are losing their children or their parents for lack of treated water.
What is clear is that the Security Council is now out of control, for
its actions here undermine its own Charter, and the Declaration of
Human Rights and the Geneva Convention. History will slaughter those
Hans Von Sponeck succeeded Denis Halliday as
humanitarian coordinator in Baghdad and, and in early 2000 he too
resigned from that position. Von Sponeck, talking about the Oil for
Food program, said that it was impossible for each person to live on
the $100 per year that was being allocated, especially because of the
conditions prevalent in Iraq at the time. He said, "Set that pittance
against the lack of clean water, the fact that electricity fails for up
to 22 hours a day, and the majority of sick people cannot afford
treatment, the sheer trauma of trying to get from day to day, and you
have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is
deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but
now it is unavoidable." 
And in a report to the UN Secretary General,
Professor Marc Bossuyt, an authority on international law, stated that
the "…sanctions regime against Iraq is unequivocally illegal under
existing human right law and could raise questions under the Genocide
WHAT HELP THE NEEDY DID Over the course
of 13 years, from 1990 until 2003, HTN sent food and medicines that
reached millions of starving Iraqi civilians. The aid was first sent to
Maher Zagha in Jordan. Zagha is a former Onondaga Community College and
Utica College student who lived in the Upstate New York area for
several years before returning to Jordan.  He is listed as a co-conspirator with Dhafir on the indictment.
On the day of Dhafir’s arrest, Zagha was
arrested in Jordan and then held in solitary for 21 days. The
Jordanians interrogated him and released him and since then he has gone
about his normal life, including traveling internationally. After
Dhafir’s conviction in February 2005 the remaining HTN money in Jordan,
$138,564.53 was confiscated along with $25,000 of Dhafir’s personal
Throughout the period of the sanctions
container loads of good were shipped by HTN from Jordan to Iraq.
Receipts from the purchase of food were shown in court. For example, an
invoice from January 29th, 1997, showed the purchase of 25 tons of
Thailand rice, 35 tons of flour and 2000 cans of cooking oil. Invoices
from other days and years list tons of; American rice, Turkish sugar,
Iranian flour, chickpeas and Iraqi lentils. Tea and tomato paste was
also shipped. Zagha sent the aid into Iraq using the correct official
channels required by the Jordanian authorities. When he was unable to
comply, he gave the aid over to the authorities. In 1990 when Dhafir
sent 900 kilograms of medicine to Zagha without the correct paper work,
Zagha had to give the medicine to the Iraqi embassy in Jordan. It was
the only way to get the medicine into Iraq and he could only hope that
it would reach the people for whom it was intended. 
From 1996 through 2003 Zagha sent money to
Iraq and local exchangers were used because there were no banks
operating at that time. The money was sent to Dhafir’s brother Najim in
Baghdad (also a physician) and two other men, Mustapha and Ammar. By
getting money into Iraq from Jordan HTN was able to provide starving
civilians with meat protein. The three men in Baghdad bought animals at
the open markets surrounding the city, and these purchases usually
coincided with the major holidays of the Muslim faith. For example, in
January 2003, for one of the most holy of Muslim holidays, Eid, Zagha
sent four lots of money totaling $285,000. This money bought about
4,000 lambs and cows which were sacrificed, and the food was
distributed to the needy. 
Looking at the quantities of aid provided to Iraqi civilians by HTN, it
is easy to believe that they were indeed feeding more people in Iraq
than all the other aid agencies put together. 
An email read in court showed that Dhafir
believed that the U.S. government was not opposed to Iraqi civilians
receiving humanitarian aid of the form that HTN was supplying. HTN and
other groups, like VITW, openly advertised that they were sending aid
to civilians. They did this through leaflets, websites and fundraising
events. For 13 years the government took little action against people
who sent aid to Iraqi civilians, and this tacit approval must have
helped confirm Dhafir’s belief.
Since the day of his arrest, using unfair
tactics and innuendo, the government has managed to transform Dhafir
from a compassionate humanitarian into a crook and supporter of
terrorists. They have done this with the aid of a complicit press and a
willfully ignorant public.
THE GOVERNMENT APPROACH
From the outset in this case the approach of
the government has been one of circumambulation. Michael Powell of the
Washington Post said, "There is a shadow-boxing quality to the terror
allegations lodged against Dhafir. In August , Gov. George E.
Pataki (R) described Dhafir’s as a 'money laundering case to help
terrorist organizations . . . conduct horrible acts.’ Prosecutors
hinted at national security reasons for holding Dhafir without bail.
But no evidence was offered to support the allegations." 
In April 2004 the U.S. government brought new charges against Zagha to
Interpol, and Zagha had to give up his passport. It was returned so
that he could make a business trip to Syria, but on December 20, 2005,
the authorities again took his passport.
To this day no evidence has been offered to
link Dhafir to terrorists. And yet, on November 15, 2005, the
government presented a lecture at Syracuse University’s law school
entitled, "A Law Enforcement Approach to Terrorist Financing," in which
Dhafir’s case was highlighted. 
The three prosecutors from the case, Michael Olmstead, Greg West and
Steve Green were present along with Jeff Breinholt, Deputy Chief,
Counterterrorism Section United States Department of Justice who was
the main speaker.
Breinholt asserted that the Dhafir case had
been "under prosecuted," this despite the fact that the government
brought 60 counts against Dhafir and gained conviction on 59. He cited
HTN’s use of tax exemption numbers other than its own as an example of
how charities functioned in their criminal activity. Many of Dhafir’s
convictions on tax evasion and fraud charges are based on the
assumption that people who gave money to HTN used the tax exemption
number of another charity and therefore did not pay tax. The government
is holding Dhafir responsible for this lost tax revenue.
One of the two numbers Dhafir used was from a charity that is the Saudi Arabian equivalent of the American charity United Way. 
The use of another charity’s number is not an uncommon practice. What
is uncommon is the fact that it resulted in a criminal prosecution.
Barrie Gewanter, Director of the Central New York ACLU, has explained
the normal procedure for this type of situation in numerous interviews
about the HTN case. Ordinarily the state government intervenes and
shuts the charity down until the situation is sorted out to their
satisfaction. When and if this is achieved, the charity continues its
The government’s philosophy in prosecuting
this case was made clear in the course of the lecture. Olmstead, the
head prosecutor of the Dhafir case, cited the philosopher Emmanuel
Kant’s imperative, "To obey the law because it is the law." He added
that "if you break the law, you must pay the price," apparently
regardless of the unfairness of the law and the humanitarian nature of
the act. Compassion comes with a very high price.
Dhafir is undoubtedly paying the price of
breaking the genocidal policy of U.S. sanctions against Iraq. However,
the government was unwilling to prosecute him for this without the
attendant obfuscation and cover provided by the laundry list of charges
that he faced. A clear message is being sent that humanitarian acts
like this will not be tolerated and will be punished accordingly.
By hosting this lecture on terrorist
financing, Syracuse University Law School provided the government with
a platform that gives credence to an accusation that is wholly lacking
in evidence. They have become the most recent government accomplice.
The "shadow boxing" continues with the media, public and the local law
school as willing participants in the charade.XX The journalist
John Pilger writes, "It is not enough for journalists to see themselves
as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the
message and the myths that surround it" 
It is also not enough for citizens in a democracy to see themselves as
mere receptors of information. As citizens in a democracy we have an
obligation to seek justice for each other. In this case it means
actively going beyond the government’s obfuscation and seeking hard
facts and other sources of information. If this can be achieved, Dhafir
and the other HTN defendants will be vindicated; but it is no easy task.
Many people are reassured by the fact that
Dhafir can appeal against his conviction and sentencing. But most have
no idea what this means in terms of practicalities. Under the best
possible circumstances the chances of a successful appeal are slim.
Seven government agencies investigated this
case for five years. The prosecutors presented the case in minutia over
the course of the seventeen weeks of proceedings. What was expected to
be a 6-week trial turned into a 17-week trial and the three defense
lawyers have received a fraction of their fee. Due to this lack of
finances a request for transcripts was made at the beginning of the
trial. Judge Mordue denied this request and so one of the three
defense lawyers typed the proceedings on his laptop.
But official transcripts are essential to an
appeal and even if ordered today, it would take two years to get the
transcript in full. The cost would be around $60,000. before any lawyer
fees or other costs are taken into account.
Dhafir has been bankrupted by this course of
justice and has no money for an appeals lawyer. His only hope is that
people who care about compassion and justice will be able to raise
enough money for him to have a viable chance of a successful appeal.
Katherine Hughes is a potter and a voracious
reader of history and current events. She responded to a request from
the ACLU for court watchers and attended virtually all of the Dhafir
trial. To find out more about this case, please visit her website: www.dhafirtrial.net.
 Write to Dr. Dhafir: Rafil Dhafir, 11921-052, FCI-Fairton, PO Box 420,
Fairton, NJ 08320.
 We learned in the proceedings that a HTN volunteer was caught and killed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
 The first 15 counts of Dr. Dhafir’s 60-count indictment involve
violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA),
commonly known as the sanctions. The full indictment is available on my
 Kathy Kelly, "Other Lands Have Dreams" (Oakland: Counterpunch and AK Press, 2005), p.51.
 John Pilger, "The New Rulers of the World" (London: Verso 2002), p.54.
 Ibid, Kelly. P.37.
 From my witness of the proceedings and official transcript of Susan
Hutner’s cross examination by the defense, November 10, 2004.
 One witness broke down on the stand when
testifying that his mother had died because she did not have access to
necessary blood pressure medicine.
 A video of an HTN fundraising event was
shown early in the proceedings. The government intended to play only
the first few minutes, but the defense insisted that the whole video be
 John Pilger, "The Impact of the Sanctions," found at
 Information about Iraq under the
sanctions can be found on the Voices in the Wilderness website:
www.vitw.org . A video of a fundraising event in which Dr. Dhafir
describes conditions of Iraq using the Pentagon and UNICEF as his
sources is available at the address below. The file is 12 MB:
QuickTime version: http://www.a39.net/Dhafir/Dhafir.html
Flash version: http://www.a39.net/Dhafir/DhafirFlash.html
 Robert Fisk, "The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the
Middle East" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2005) p.727.
 John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World (London: Verso 2002), p.53.
 Ibid, Pilger, p.59
 Ibid, Pilger, p.95.
 In Syracuse, New York, and Rome, New York, respectively.
 From my witness of the proceedings
 Maher Zagha sent me pictures of the
animals being slaughtered. A sign in each photograph shows that the
animals were purchased by HTN.
 From my witness of the proceedings, correspondence with Maher Zagha and Dr. Dhafrir’s sentencing statement to the media.
 The government’s tacit approval in this
case reminds me of the way that people are granted dual-citizenship:
this is achieved by taking the Oath of Allegiance (and swearing away
their original citizenship) and keeping the country of origin passport.
This is the "accepted" practice and the media write freely about
"dual-citizens." But what if the government decides to prosecute this
action in years to come?
 Michael Powell, "High-Profile N.Y. Suspect Goes on Trial: Arrest Was
Called Part of War on Terrorism, but Doctor Faces Other Charges," The
Washington Post, October 19, 2004.
 The lecture was advertised by the
"Institute For National Security and Counterterrorism", INSCT, which is
hosted by Syracuse University Law School: http://insct.syr.edu/Research_SWP0506.htm A
photograph of Greg West can be seen at this site. It was taken during
the lecture and IEEPA violations are chalked on the blackboard behind
 Elaine Cassel, The War on Civil
Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights
(Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2004). See the chapter, "Guilt by
Association: The Islamic Charities," pp 87 - 105
 See WCNY Public Television, "Access" with George Kilpatrick. This
program aired on Wednesday, 26th October at 11pm, the night before
Dr.Dhafir’s sentencing. I was part of a three-person panel with Barrie
Gewanter (ACLU) and Julienne Oldfield, another of the Dhafir trial court
 John Pilger’s Homepage: http://www.johnpilger.com