On October 27, 2005 Judge Norman Mordue sentenced Dr. Rafil Dhafir, founder of the Help the Needy Charity, to 22 years in prison.
Judge Mordue noted that he had received 41 letters and 69 letters previously from a bail motion in support of Dr. Dhafir from the Muslim community and his patients.
Dr. Dhafir, s lawyer Devereaux Cannick began the sentencing hearing by noting that their were "44 glaring misstatements or intellectually dishonest statements", in the government’s sentencing brief. He said some were as innocuous as stating that Dr. Dhafir immigrated to the USA in 1974, while in fact it was 1972, to claims more damaging.
Lead Prosecutor Michael Olmstead rebutted Mr. Cannick, s claims. Mr. Olmstead then went on mini rant about the embargo against Iraq. He said that the sanctions were about a threat to national security, not a ‘Republican thing,. The gallery was shocked to hear Mr. Olmstead politicize the sanctions. He would later revisit the ‘Republican thing, by noting that all the USA Presidents had supported the sanctions.
In making the defense, s appeal Mr. Cannick talked about the hardship imposed by housing Dr. Dhafir at Jamesville Correctional Facility. Judge Mordue would have none of it. Saying; "We accommodated Dr. Dhafir pretty well." His comments were a reference to how Dr. Dhafir had won a pretrial request not to be stripped searched, which violated his Muslim faith, in being transported between jail and the court room during his trial.
In setting the prosecution, s case for sentencing Mr. Olmstead attacked Dr. Dhafir calling him a lying and manipulative person that had others do his dirty work.
When Mr. Olmstead said that Dr. Dhafir had stolen money from helpless and suffering children in Iraq several of Dr. Dhafir, s supporters broke into tears or covered their ears because they found Mr. Olmstead hypocritical and offensive.
Mr. Olmstead also reiterated that Dr. Dhafir was not targeted because of his Muslim faith. The government has been consistently criticized for targeting Dr. Dhafir, because he is the only person to be criminally charged with breaking the sanctions.
The Islamic Society of Central New York reiterated the same when it issued a statement in support of Dr. Dhafir and the injustice of his sentence:
"Today’s sentence of Dr. Rafil Dhafir clearly shows that a Muslim will be treated and judged differently under the same law that should apply equally to everyone."
The statement emphasized how the local Muslim community had been inappropriately interrogated by the FBI the day of his arrest.
"The Muslim community in Syracuse is still trying to deal with the government intrusion on their rights after the arrest of Dr. Dhafir and other Help the Needy defendants on Feb. 26, 2003 and the questioning of more than 150 families at the time, because some of them donated to the charity. With today’s sentence, it is becoming even harder for many members of the community to feel that they can get equal treatment under the law, just because they are Muslims."
Rafil Apologies to God, His wife….
None of Dr. Dhafir, s supporters was surprised when Dr. Dhafir, a man of deep faith, focused his statement before sentencing on God and his faith.
Rafil began by talking about how he had prepared a 50 page document to be read at the trial, but said he was not going to read it because his lawyer, s said it was too long. He even said he was not going to read a 5 or 6 page summary.
Instead he began in Arabic with a "Praise Allah" which he interpreted and noted how he had been in jail for close to 1,000 days.
He said apologies were in order. To God, for him (Dr. Dhafir) not being a good enough person. To the prophet for him not being able to endure as much as he had. To his wife for the time she has and will spend alone. He apologized for putting his charity work ahead of her which lead to his current predicament. He hopes that she understands and forgives him. He promised that he would make it up to her, if not in this life time, then in the life to come. (Since Dr. Dahfir is 57 it may be that he dies in jail.)
He went on to apologize to others the Muslim community, his supporters.
By the time he was finished his supporters were in tears or on the verge there of. He had even wiped off the smirks of some of the large contingent of government employees in the gallery.
Government Victory A Further Erosion of Civil Rights
In its sentencing motion the government asked for a upward revision in Dr. Dhafir’s sentencing because he was a "national security risk,, a terrorist . Many interpreted this as unfair because the prosecution who had initially called Dr. Dhafir a terrorist at the time of his arrest, had successfully won a motion to prevent the defense from raising the issue of terrorism during the trial. Many cried foul when they now redeployed this strategy again.
Jennifer Van Bergen, author of The Twilight of Democracy , in The Case of Dr. Dhafir http://www.counterpunch.org/vanbergen10072005.html notes how the government is trying to turn a white collar crime into terrorism. In the article she also ties together other criminal cases such as the St. Pats 4 and Lynne Stewart and how they advance the government, s ability to arrest and detain those that it sees as enemies of the state.
For example, the government after failing to prove that an Albany NY Imam was a terrorist, has now brought new charges against him in which it claims that the Imam is a threat to national security because of his link to Dr. Dhafir among other things.
Terrorist or National Security Threat? Did you send Aid to Iraq?
To this writer it appeared as though the government had won its sentencing motion. But I am not a legal expert.
Judge Mordue dismissed the terrorist claims in the prosecution, s sentencing recommendation. But this did not prevent the Judge from calling Dr. Dhafir a ‘national security risk, because he broke IEEPA (International Emergency Economic Powers Act) and sentenced him accordingly. To the Judge IEEPA was all about national security.
Is there a difference between being called a ‘national security threat’ or a ‘terrorist’? Consider the words of Jennifer Van Bergen in ‘The Case of Dr. Dhafir’;
"[T]he PATRIOT Act has become widely unpopular, a trigger for political activism and press coverage. The DOJ would much rather prosecute in private, without the public knowing what exactly it is doing, especially where it is doing something really unkind to a nice man. It would hurt their case for the public to be alerted.."
In essence Van Bergen’s words imply that the government won its sentencing request. Rafil got a stiff sentence of 22 years, only 2 less than the minimum the prosecution had asked for in its request for upward adjustment of the sentencing guideline, and the Judge had smeared him as a ‘national security risk,. The government can now take the ‘national security risk,, or threat. and apply it to other cases.
The Judge said that anyone that broke IEPA was a ‘national security threat,. Many of us in the gallery that had sent aid to Iraq during the time of the sanctions winced.
To read more about Dr. Dhafir go to: http://www.jubileeinitiative.org/FreeDhafir.htm.
MADIS SENNER can be reached at email@example.com