Saturday, October 02, 2004

By Rafil A. Dhafir

The government has conducted its investigation of me for years now, and has not come up with any evidence to support its belief. They never will, because none exists.

I am of Iraqi background, but I am also an American. My wife and I shared the same sense of horror and disbelief as the rest of America when we saw the attack on the Twin Towers. I do not want to see a child or any individual suffer, be it in Iraq, the United States or anywhere in the world.

I am a religious man, and my religion teaches us that our duty is to look after our brothers and do good for others.

On Monday, my trial is scheduled to start. I look forward to my day in court. However, I face several dilemmas that impact greatly on my defense.

The jail in which I am being held has a policy of strip-searching individuals upon their return to the facility. Because of my religious belief, I cannot be subjected to being strip-searched. Therefore, I am put in a position where I have to choose between my religious belief and my right to be at my trial.

It is not loston me that my attorneys need me in the courtroom to assist them in understanding documents, as well as the testimony of witnesses. However, my religion has sustained me through his ordeal.

My lawyers have explained my predicament to the court, as well as to the authorities at the jail. They have gotten no relief. They have taken the unusual step of offering to be strip-searched in order that I not be subjected to the process. (I am grateful to them for this gesture.)

They have argued that since they are the only persons that I will have contact with other than government officials, a search of them would eliminate any concerns about me bringing contraband back to the facility. The jail officials have rejected their offer.

Thus, I am left with the choice of either offending my religious belief or not being in the arena for the biggest fight of my life.

On the date of my arrest, the government went to my home and ransacked it. They took documents, receipts and bank records that are crucial to my defense. Many of these items are in Arabic. They now claim not to have these items or be able to find them.

In July, my lawyers asked them to bring their files to the jail so I could try to find these items. They said that they would not do this, but instead offered that I be brought to their facility to review the documents. They knew full well that I would be strip-searched upon my return (it should be noted that other local and county facilities do not maintain the same strip-search policy).

As I prepareto fight the most important fight of my life, it strikes me that the government would go to such extremes in order to try to get a conviction. I am aware that this is election season, and they have lost nearly 100 percent of the cases brought against Arab-Americans.

I know they have invested millions of dollars in my case. However, I find it quite ironic that freedom of religion, a fundamental right in our country and one that throughout history the government has fought mightily to protect, is now being trampled upon by the very government that is sworn to uphold it.

Rafil A. Dhafir, M.D., an oncologist who lives in Manlius, is accused of violating the Iraq sanctions and defrauding donors to the DeWitt-based charity he founded. Dhafir denies the charges. He has been held without bail in the Onondaga County Correctional Facility since last February.

© 2004 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.