By Erin Curran The Daily Orange 2/16/05

The Brussels Tribunal, an international human rights group, recently invited Dr. Rafil Dhafir to be an honorary member of its Advisory Committee.

Dhafir, a New York-based oncologist of Iraqi descent, was charged for violating a former U.S. embargo against Iraq by sending money to civilians through Help the Needy, a charity organization he helped found. He was also charged with Medicare fraud and tax evasion.

Dhafir was convicted of 59 out of 60 charges against him in October 2005. He was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison. Today, his case continues to be surrounded by controversy.

“Dr. Dhafir and a lot of other people had the courage to help the suffering people in Iraq, not only with words, but with deeds,” said Dhafir Dirk Adriaensens, a member of the tribunal’s executive committee, in a press release.

The Brussels Tribunal is a hearing committee set up in 1967 to investigate war crimes.

Katherine Hughes, a Syracuse University student pursuing her second undergraduate degree who had been following the Dhafir case, started the Web log in response to the inadequate local news coverage of the Dhafir case.

Hughes acknowledged that it is difficult for people to look at the case in any context other than the one the government wants Americans to view it in.

“Dhafir’s case makes no sense at all unless viewed in the context of the brutal U.S. sanctions against the country of Iraq and so, understandably, the government did everything it could to deprive the case of that context,” Hughes said.

Because of such sanctions, nearly 600,000 [this should read 6,000] children under the age of 5 die every month in Iraq, many without sheets on their cot, Hughes said.

“The Brussels Tribunal recognized that this case can’t be viewed without the
context of the Iraq sanctions and that is why they have invited Dr. Dhafir to be an honorary member of the advisory committee,” Hughes said.

Jennifer Van Bergen, the author of “The Twilight of Democracy: The Bush Plan for America” and one of the foremost experts on the USA Patriot Act, said the Brussels Tribunal people really “get it.”

“The Tribunal understood that Dhafir was doing good and should be honored, not imprisoned,” Van Bergen said.

The Dhafir case was one of overzealous government prosecution and misuse, Van Bergen said.

“The government used a novel approach; they took money laundering and bank fraud, mixed in a little conspiracy with Iraq sanctions and created a witch’s brew,” Van Bergen said.

Van Bergen said Dhafir’s ancestry and religious tradition fit the profile of a potential terrorist, not to mention the fact that he had a large financial network to the Iraqi people.

“The U.S. government wants to dissemble any Muslim monetary system,” Van Bergen said. “This man is sitting in jail for 22 years, and he did nothing wrong.”

Anthony Nocella, a graduate student in social sciences at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and co-founder of the Student Association on Terrorism and Social Analysis, echoed Van Bergen’s approval of the Brussels Tribunal’s decision to honor Dhafir.

“Dhafir was a progressive liberal,” Nocella said. “He fought non-violently for social justice and welfare of individuals. Twenty-plus years in prison for violating sanctions just doesn’t add up.”

The Brussels Tribunal has demonstrated the international opinion that Dhafir was first and foremost a humanitarian who had fallen victim to political persecution, said Madis Senner, a Syracuse University alumnus.

“In the early days after Dhafir’s arrest, people in the Syracuse community were reluctant to help him because the government had tainted him so badly,” said Senner, who has been a steadfast supporter of Dhafir and said he felt called by God to help him.

Jeanne DeSocio, a local activist and member of the Catholic activist organization Pax Christi, said the way the government treated Dhafir was on the edge of torture.

“Hopefully the Tribunal can get the word out to the American people and shed light on that fact that our government made a mistake – something most of the rest of the world already understands,” DeSocio said.

The Daily Orange is a Syracuse University student run newspaper.