From the New Times, a free Syracuse weekly:

By Justin Park 2/15/06

Despite having his medical license revoked last week and finding himself in the first year of a 22-year sentence for money laundering, fraud and a host of other charges, former Manlius oncologist Rafil Dhafir is still getting some respect. The BRussels Tribunal Committee, an international network of academics and intellectuals opposed to the war in Iraq, nominated Dhafir as their sole honorary member last week.

Dhafir was sent to Fairton Federal Correctional Institution prison in New Jersey in late 2005 after a protracted and high-profile trial in Federal Court in Syracuse, though the doctor maintains his innocence and plans to appeal his case. While evidence in the case revealed that Dhafir did in fact sidestep U.N. sanctions and abuse nonprofit regulations, he and his supporters have long argued that his actions were justified by a moral obligation to assist an Iraqi population devastated by those sanctions.

The BRussels Tribunal nomination, while only symbolic, is a small vindication for those claims. “I don’t think we can understand Dr. Dhafir’s case outside of the context of civil liberties and the sanctions,” said Dhafir supporter and volunteer court monitor Katherine Hughes. “The courts did just that and he got 22 years in prison. I think the tribunal is recognizing that Dr. Dhafir is a prisoner of conscience.”

Madis Senner is another Dhafir supporter. “The tribunal is recognizing Dr. Dhafir for helping the downtrodden against the rules of his government,” Senner said. “He tried to help those in need.” Senner related Dhafir’s efforts to those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the few Germans to publicly renounce his Nazi government’s policies against its Jewish citizens.

The BRussels Tribunal takes its name from the Russell Tribunal, a public war crimes court organized by philosopher Bertrand Russell to try the United States for its deeds in Vietnam. The BRussels Tribunal began as a movement started by a Belgian philosophy professor to bring legal action against those responsible for the Iraq war, including the United States, Great Britain and the neoconservative group The Project for a New American Century. When it became clear that no action would be taken in the gray area of international law, the project changed focus to become a “people’s court” and a group that condemns the Coalition forces’ actions in Iraq. One prominent member among many academics and several Nobel Prize winners is Denis Halliday, a former U.N. humanitarian coordinator to Iraq who resigned to protest the sanctions.

Hughes sees the tribunal’s recognition as part of a growing awareness of Dhafir’s case, despite the fact that he was sentenced months ago. “In addition to the tribunal’s nomination, {Australian/British journalist} John Pilger did a cover story for The New Statesman that mentioned Dr. Dhafir. I hope attention to this case is going to explode now. I see lots of signs that more and more people are going to start looking really hard at it.”

Hughes and fellow Dhafir supporters would welcome the additional attention, if only to take some of the burden off themselves. Hughes, a potter by trade, said she’s back in her studio for the first time in months after devoting herself to the case but still spends hours on it each week, including writing on her Web site,

“What I still don’t understand,” she said, “is how people have let this happen. It just shows you the power of the media to ignore things for the people. You can’t have a democracy without an informed citizenry.”