By Gay Montague
(Gay has attended the trial daily since it began.)

As a daily observer in the courtroom since the trial of Dr. Dhafir began fourteen weeks ago, my learning curve is huge; my knowledge and understanding of Muslim culture and practice has been broadened. On the other hand, any remaining shards of my rose-colored glasses regarding the workings of our justice system have been removed.

Although I do not know Dr. Dhafir personally, I have witnessed the testimonies of many who do. Each one of them, barring none, has emphatically stated that :

“I have the highest regard for this man….”
“He is like a brother to me….”
“He is like a father to me….”
“I never in all these years had any reason to doubt his integrity.”
“He worked tirelessly to help others and to live up to the tenets of his faith.”

I have experienced a myriad of emotions as this trial progresses—namely, shock, anger, disgust, sadness, puzzlement, hope, awe. The shock, anger and disgust occur when I listen to the strong-arm tactics employed by the FBI. In my past life, I believed these actions were merely the stuff of movies. I cannot imagine how intimidated one must be to have several agents break down your door, point guns at your face, to be handcuffed in front of your young children, or to be questioned for several hours without being permitted to contact an attorney. The sadness I’ve experienced occurs when I hear ordinary people (and there are so many of them) who are directly or remotely connected with this case, describe the havoc they, their families and their careers have undergone since this investigation began right on the heels of 9-11. Their lives are on hold; their stress levels are off the charts, and even those who have had to plea bargain testify in front of those same federal agents, that Dr. Dhafir is a compassionate and generous human being whose primary goal was to help those most in need. Several have testified that “their families (in Iraq) were starving…that’s why they contributed to Help the Needy”. According to their testimonies, aid was always received by those who were in absolutely desperate straits.

A fair trial? That remains to be seen. Herein lies my puzzlement. There is no question that this is an extremely complex case. The resources available to the prosecution are apparently unlimited, i.e. your tax dollars and mine! They can fly witnesses in from all parts of our country (and from Canada); they can tap into records of many government agencies; they can present baised partial translations of conversations, e-mails or faxes; they can reveal only the bank records which provide fuel for their side of the case, withholding bank records which tend to prove that Dr. Dhafir had many resources and investments of his own, prior to establishing Help the Needy. The Post-Standard dutifully sends a reporter almost every day, but there are many times when I wonder if that reporter has listened to the same trial proceedings that I have witnessed.

The defense, on the other hand, must scramble to ferret out the missing pieces of info on tapes or documents; they must make additional translations of portions which have been omitted, making certain the translator has a working knowledge of the Iraqi dialect! They must fine-tooth the ambiguous immigration, tax and Medicare regulations; they must laboriously review and explain reasons for decisions based on Muslim traditions until they feel confident that the jury has an understanding of significant Muslim cultural practices and finally, they must exercise enormous amounts of patience as they ( along with the rest of us) stare for hours at a screen containing blurred copies of checks with unclear dates which were written over eleven years ago!

As the register tallying up the expenditures of our tax dollars keeps on clicking, the frustrations of those who are observers mount. Tedium reigns as obscure pieces of evidence are offered by federal agents. So begins another week of testimony at the Federal Building in Syracuse. “Watchers” are welcome–12th floor. Drop in anytime between 8:30 and 1:30. Witness your government in action and watch the struggle of private citizens as they make every effort to obtain an impartial hearing in the face of so many obstacles.

I experience awe as Dr. Dhafir himself remains dignified, respectful and prayerful after being held in prison for close to two years. One can only hope that in this perfectly imperfect world of tax laws, immigration laws, Medicare regulations and war zones, our own perfectly imperfect government and justice system will find Dr. Dhafir’s actions to be truly courageous and noble and that he will be found innocent of all charges stacked against him.