SU's Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism and the Dr. Dhafir Case
by Katherine Hughes

Deputy Chief of the Department of Justice’s Counterterrorism Section, Jeffery Breinholt (above), and Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York, Gregory West, were featured speakers at the SU Law School on “A Law Enforcement Approach to Terrorist Financing” just weeks after Dr. Dhafir was sentenced to prison. Photo: insct.syr.edu

The April 2008 Peace Newsletter started a much-needed discussion about Syracuse University and its National Security programs. I would like to draw attention to one occasion involving the SU Law School, the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) and local Doctor Rafil Dhafir.

Dr. Dhafir is an Iraqi-born Muslim, an oncologist, founding member of the local mosque and an esteemed member of the Syracuse Muslim community. He has been a US citizen for 30 years. As a direct response to the humanitarian catastrophe created by the Gulf War and US- and UK-sponsored UN sanctions on Iraq, he founded the charity Help The Needy (HTN). For 13 years he worked tirelessly to help publicize the plight of the Iraqi people and to raise funds to help them. UN statistics showed that, due to the embargo, 6,000 children under the age of five were dying every month throughout the 1990s (Pilger, "Impact of Sanctions," www.johnpilger.com).

According to the US government, Dr. Dhafir donated $1.25 million of his own money. As an oncologist, he was also concerned about the effects of depleted uranium on the Iraqi population that was experiencing a spike in cancer rates (www.afsc.org). For the crime of sending food and medicine to starving Iraqi civilians, he was convicted of violating the International Economic Emergency Powers Act (IEEPA) and of committing white-collar crime. After being held without bail for 31 months, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison on October 27, 2005.

SU Law School Lecture
On November 15, 2005, just weeks after Dr. Dhafir's sentencing, INSCT sponsored a public lecture on "terrorist financing" in which he and the Help the Needy case were highlighted. Jeff Breinholt, then-Deputy Chief of the Counterterrorism Section at the US Department of Justice and INSCT Research and Practice Associate (currently a Senior Fellow and Director of National Security Law at the International Assessment and Strategy Center), and Greg West, one of the HTN prosecutors, presented the lecture. The lecture drew on a 2003 paper Breinholt wrote in which Dr. Dhafir and HTN, and other Muslim charities, were listed under "clean money" cases - as opposed to "dirty money" cases (Breinholt, "Terrorist Financing," US Attorney Bulletin, July 2003, Vol. 51, no. 4, p. 20, www.usdoj.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usab5104.pdf). The other two HTN prosecutors, Michael Olmsted and Steve Green, were also present, along with students and law school faculty.

The lecture occurred despite the fact that Dr. Dhafir never faced any charges of terrorism in a court of law. Indeed, the government prevented him from challenging this "charge" in court by securing an in limine motion that precluded the defense from arguing or presenting evidence at trial concerning the government's "alleged motives in investigating and prosecuting" the case, the "integrity and/or credibility of the government's investigation" and "related issues" (jvbline.org/dhafirbrief1.pdf).

Breinholt told students the HTN case had been "under-prosecuted." In the context of the lecture title - "A Law Enforcement Approach to Terrorist Financing" - the implication was clear. Breinholt explained that because the "American public won't tolerate anything less than the rule of law," creative ways had to be figured out to draft laws that the government can use to prosecute "terrorist financing". He told students about the statutes being used as powerful tools for prosecution of terrorist financing and explained that these tools were not widely known even among prosecutors. And he voiced hope that law schools could serve as a kind of farm system educating students in this new field of law and that this in turn would create lawyers who could use these new prosecution tools.

A major tool that has emerged to gain convictions in "terrorist" financing cases is the use of IEEPA violations. Breinholt said that to convict under IEEPA all that was necessary was to build a chain of inferences from available circumstantial evidence.

Neither Breinholt nor West told the class that these "powerful prosecution tools" are being used mostly against Muslim charities and individuals associated with those charities. Nor did they mention that violations by large corporations like Halliburton, which did billions of dollars worth of business in defiance of IEEPA, go largely unpunished (www.forusa.org/fellowship/nov-dec06/KatherineHughes.html). At most these corporations have gotten a slap on the wrist and a fine, but no individual board member or officer has ever faced prosecution. And although many non-Muslim charities work in the same troubled regions of the world as Muslim charities, not a single non-Muslim charity has been closed. None of this was mentioned at the lecture.

By hosting this lecture on Dr. Dhafir and the HTN case, the Syracuse University Law School gave credence to a charge never brought, and in doing so it became an accomplice in the government's subterfuge. After the lecture I requested that American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) court watchers who attended the trial be provided with "equal time." Syracuse Law School Dean Hannah Arterian denied this request.

A Lesson From History
We are right to question National Security programs at SU when we see how academic programs like these have been used in the past. Raul Hilberg, in his meticulously documented The Destruction of the European Jews shows to what nefarious uses such scholarship can be put. According to Hilberg, in order to build up a storehouse of propaganda against the Jews, "'Research institutes' were formed, doctoral dissertations were written, and volumes of propaganda literature were printed by every conceivable agency." The picture drawn by this propaganda was of "an international Jewry ruling the world and plotting the destruction of Germany and German life (Octagon Books, New York, 1978, p. 654).

In the post-9/11 United States, it is obvious that Arabs and Muslims are not being afforded the protections the Bill of Rights guarantees to all and, in many arenas, are being demonized. INSCT describes its mission as studying "how governments can confront threats to their citizens posed by terrorism while safeguarding constitutional liberties and human rights." Yet when contacted in summer 2005 about denial of due process in the HTN case, it had no interest in the case.

We must challenge programs like INSCT to live up to all parts of its mission. While furthering "a research agenda in security and terrorism," it must not do so at the cost of respect for civil liberties and due process for all.


Katherine has degrees in Religion and Depth Psychology (B.A., 1991), and Ceramics (B.F.A., 2007) from Syracuse University. In 2004/5 she attended nearly every day of the 17-week Help the Needy trial. She is a member of the Dr. Dhafir Support Committee and for the last three and a half years she has tried to educate people about Dr. Dhafir's case and the plight of Islamic charities in the US. See her website: www.dhafirtrial.net.