Barrie Gewanter
Director of CNYCLU


On October 19th, Dr. Rafil Dhafir is scheduled to be sentenced for his conviction in February 2005 on 59 of 60 federal charges. These charges included violating federal regulations related to economic sanctions imposed against Iraq, as well as money laundering, mail and wire fraud, tax evasion, visa fraud, and Medicare fraud. All but the last category of charges were related to his operation of a charity called Help the Needy.

The NYCLU has already expressed concerns about what appeared to be a selective prosecution of Dr. Dhafir because he is a Muslim of Arab descent. The pursuit of criminal charges related to violations of sanctions against Iraq raise serious questions about religious and ethnic discrimination. For instance, it is our understanding that the Justice Department has addressed comparable violations of this law mainly through civil fines and without criminal prosecutions.

The NYCLU was also concerned about impediments imposed on his legal defense by his incarceration from the time of his arrest through the end of the trial. Reasonable bail with detailed monitoring arrangements should have been made available, especially for someone charged with a first time and non-violent white collar crime. In many ways, Dr. Dhafir was presumed guilty long before the trial began, and of more than indicated by the charges filed against him.

The federal government has repeatedly tried to pitch this as a case with national security implications, but they never actually proved a link to terrorism. Instead, this turned out to be a fairly run of the mill case of white collar crime. The government should not have engaged in inflammatory publicity before the trial, nor introduced highly prejudicial evidence of terrorist links through the back door of sentencing.

Every person charged with a crime in the US deserves and is entitled to fair and equal treatment under the law. For the NYCLU, this case raises serious questions as to whether Muslims accused or charged with crimes in the US can truly receive a fair trial.