On February 26, 2003, Dr. Rafil Dhafir of Manlius, NY and three individuals involved with the charity Help the Needy (HTN) were arrested and charged with breaking the US sanctions against Iraq and money laundering.
In speaking about Rafils arrest US Attorney General John Ashcroft said, As President Bush leads an international coalition to end Saddam Husseins tyranny and support for terror, the Justice Department will see that individuals within our borders cannot undermine these efforts. Those who covertly seek to channel money into Iraq under the guise of charitable work will be caught and prosecuted.
While Ashcroft implied Rafils arrest was to prevent terrorism ahead of the war with Iraq, the prosecution has consistently maintained that Rafil is not a terrorist. But the specter of terrorism has tainted the court of public opinion.
As part of the raid, Federal agents interrogated up to 150 predominately Muslim families who had donated money to HTN. They were intimidated and asked inappropriate questions about their faith. It sent shock waves throughout our local Muslim community.
By assaulting the Muslim community, the Feds were striking at the heart of what should have been Rafils strongest support base. When we examine similar high profile cases such as Wen Ho Lee, a former Los Alamos nuclear scientist charged with espionage, we find that it is the defendants ethnic community that is instrumental in winning their freedom. Arguably, interrogations were an attack on potential defense witnesses.
The Community Responds
Within a week of the raid, over a hundred people gathered to form Neighbors Supporting Neighbors to show support for the Muslim community. They continued to meet on a weekly basis and have sponsored a number of events to raise awareness and promote healing.
As the case proceeded, additional charges were placed upon Rafil: income tax evasion and Medicare fraud for overcharging Medicare for chemotherapy by claiming to be present when he was not. The government came to this conclusion after confiscating all of Rafils medical records.
Two other Help the Needy defendants, Ayman Jarwan and Osameh Al Wahaidy, pleaded guilty to breaking the sanctions. They are awaiting sentencing.
By summer the invasion of Iraq was officially over and public sentiment began turning against Mr. Bush. The Muslim community began to feel less under siege. Several rallies were held. After service one Friday in late July over 100 Muslims showed up at the Federal building in support of Rafil.
Yet Rafil remains locked in the Justice Center, denied bail three times. A new lawyer hoping to win bail began trying to negotiate with the prosecution. What the lawyer thought was a good faith negotiation turned out to be an effort to mute support for Rafil. As seen in recent years with union negotiations, the whole point of negotiations for the prosecution was to slow the oppositions momentum and stymie dissent. Read the bail motion for more about the prosecutions dirty tricks: <www.jubileeinitiative.org/DhafirBailInfo.htm>.
From August to November, we remained silent. By late October it was evident to everyone that the prosecution was stalling. We decided to join in on an eight-city press conference to protest the fines placed upon Voices in the Wilderness and other groups for breaking the Iraqi sanctions. November 14 marked a turning point. The press conference was well covered. We had local activists Ed Kinane and Dick Keough, who had both traveled to Iraq, speak, and I read a letter from Rafil. Afterwards about 150 people gathered for a rally in support of Rafil in front of the Justice Center.
The rally made the paper and evidently stirred a response from the prosecution. When Royce Hawkins, a Muslim and member of the legal team, attempted to enter the Justice Center Monday morning, November 17, to visit Rafil, a place he had been visiting for four years unfettered, he was denied access. So was Mohamed Khater. At a press conference in January, Devereaux Cannick, Rafils lawyer, revealed that the sergeant at the Justice Center had received instructions from the Feds to bar them.
Given that our agitation had elicited a response, we decided to hold a rally at the Everson Plaza after the Eid prayer that marked the end of Ramadan on November 25. On the day before the rally, Rafil was moved to Jamesville penitentiary. Miles outside of the city, it makes it more difficult for his attorney to work with Rafil in preparation for the trial, according to Cannick. Was this a coincidence or a message to supporters? Fearing more hassles for Rafil, we cancelled the rally.
As you can see, the government is keen to convict Rafil. I hope that folks are willing to join us for upcoming actions to agitate more. We are looking to hold events to highlight racial scapegoating on February 26. There will also be planning for a rally in support of Rafil for February 28.
If you are interested in helping to plan for February 28, contact Madis Senner 315-463-5369 and check out Rafils homepage: <www.jubileeinitiative.org/FreeDhafir.htm>. For more information on planning for February 26, call the Peace Council, 472-5478.