On the trial: Graduate student takes 17-week leave to follow Dhafir case
By Laura Van Wert
Published: 2/22/2005

The trial of Dr. Rafil Dhafir ended last week, when the jury convicted him of 59 of 60 charges, among them defrauding Medicare and illegally aiding Iraq through his charity, Help the Needy.

But the big question on the mind of Katherine Hughes, one of Dhafir’s supporters, is whether he would have been convicted of so many charges without the undertones of national security that followed the investigation.

Hughes, a 45-year-old graduate student in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, took off from school last semester to devote her time to follow the Dhafir trial. She attended court two days a week for the entire 17 weeks of the trial, taking pages of notes each day, and published a Web log detailing her observations.

Many Dhafir supporters, including Hughes, do not deny the court’s decision; their concern is that he would not have been investigated if he was not an Arab-American.

During the investigation, some public figures – including New York Gov. George E. Pataki and former Attorney General John Ashcroft – framed the Dhafir case as one that dealt with terrorism. In October 2004, the judge in the case ruled that the prosecution could not refer to terrorism during the trial.

When the Dhafir trial was brought to the forefront in the media, it grabbed Hughes’ attention, she said. She said she became interested because she felt the implications of Dhafir’s link to terrorism during his investigation infringed upon his civil liberties.

Hughes said she could not understand why a man accused of a white-collar crime had been denied bail five times and, at times, could not have direct access to his lawyers.

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