By Matthew Behrens Toronto Action for Social Change 9/9/06

Imagine it is September 9, 2009. Toronto’s swank Royal York Hotel is hosting a birthday bash for a former U.S. President. Legions of Canadian artists and liberal film star types, however, boycott the event. They are upset at the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq and the former U.S. leader’s refusal to acknowledge that his policies were morally and legally wrong.

Given the subsequent dearth of performing talent, partygoers are forced to watch re-runs of Charlton Heston’s National Rifle Association speeches while a former 60s “radical” spins old Anita Bryant songs and David Frum goes over his speech praising the evening’s guest of honour, ex-President George W. Bush.

Now flash back to September 9, 2006. Toronto’s swank Royal York Hotel is hosting a birthday bash for a former U.S. President. Legions of Canadian artists and liberal film star types fete this former President, even though he is responsible for – and unrepentedly proud of – specific policies that caused far more Iraqi deaths on his watch than George W, George Sr., Condoleeza, Rumsfeld, and all the rest of the Republican cabal put together.

It is truly remarkable how liberal types conveniently forget that William Jefferson Clinton has the blood of well over 1 million Iraqis on his hands, a majority of them children under the age of 5. They were killed slowly and painfully through the most devastating economic sanctions in the history of humankind.


The list of things not allowed entry into Iraq was huge. Among them were everything fom such “dual use” items as pencils and baby dolls to ashtrays, baskets, bicycles, books, candlesticks, chairs, chalk, chess boards, children’s wear, desks, easels, eyeglasses, filing cabinets, forks, girdles, hammers, jackets, lamp shades, light bulbs, magazines, music CDs, paint brushes, writing paper, sandals, shampoo, and hundreds of other daily consumer items. The equipment needed to fix electrical generating stations and water purification systems destroyed during the 1991 U.S. and Canadian bombing runs of Desert Storm were not permitted entry, so water-borne diseases ran rampant. The medicines needed to treat the spike in cancer (a result of tons of depleted uranium dust that wound up in the Iraqi soil, air and water) didn’t get through either.

As Joy Gordon reported in the November 2001 Harper’s, “The United States has fought aggressively throughout the last decade to purposefully minimize the humanitarian goods that enter the country…. Since August 1991 the United States has blocked most purchases of materials necessary for Iraq to generate electricity, as well as equipment for radio, telephone, and other communications. Often restrictions have hinged on the withholding of a single essential element, rendering many approved items useless. For example, Iraq was allowed to purchase a sewage-treatment plant but was blocked from buying the generator necessary to run it; this in a country that has been pouring 300,000 tons of raw sewage daily into its rivers.”

Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was asked on the CBS program 60 Minutes in the mid 1990s if the sanctions-related deaths of a half million Iraqi children were worth it. She replied, “We think the price is worth it.”


Report after report produced through the reign of Bill Clinton tallied the hundreds of thousands of premature deaths in Iraq, and by the close of the decade, the word ” genocide ” began creeping into the reports’ vocabulary. Upwards of 5,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5 were dying each month as a result of the sanctions, leading to the high-profile resignations of UN humanitarian coordinators Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck. When Halliday resigned in 1998, he stated: “I’ve been using the word ‘genocide’ because this is a deliberate policy to destroy the people of Iraq. I’m afraid I have no other view.”

When Clinton left the White House, he neglected to apologize for what he had done, or to perhaps clarify what was going through his mind as the people of Iraq were made the subject of a Stalingrad-style siege. (The general responsible for the Second World War siege of Stalingrad that resulted in upwards of a million deaths, was charged as a war criminal at Nuremberg. Clinton has thusfar avoided such a fate.)

On September 9, 2006 in Toronto, the $10,000 tickets for the Royal York bash were supposed to benefit a charity named after the oh-so-humble Clinton, who selflessly dedicates his altruistic life (at events where he charges a $100,000 speaking fee) to doing good things for good people.

“In my life now, I am obsessed with only two things: I don’t want anybody to die before their time, and I don’t want to see good people spend their energies without making a difference,” Clinton is quoted in a self-congratulatory press release that he no doubt hopes will wind up being repeated in commencement addresses and church services.

Now that he has retired from public office, Clinton struts about the world stage, an aw-shucks fool who inexplicably stirs adulation in the eyes of audience members who fail to see that he belongs in the same prisoners’ dock as Kissinger, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, the Nazi general from Stalingrad, and a host of others responsible for crimes against humanity.

But instead of standing in the dock, he plays the avuncular elder statesman who, like Kissinger before him, issues fatuous and self-serving statements of public import in countries like the U.S. and Canada, where governments don’t have the guts to enforce war crimes legislation and have him charged.

No, we remain awed by his “charisma,” his “sex appeal,” and his breathtakingly beautiful compassion: “I don’t want anybody to die before their time.”


As Clinton tucked into a plate of very expensive food at the Toronto bash, it was a far different scene about a thousand miles southeast. There it was standard issue, cardboard-tasting “food” that’s the regular fare in the U.S. federal prison system for a guy you’ve probably never heard of.

He’s serving a 22-year sentence because he did not want anyone to die before their time. He is not responsible for killing anyone. No, he is in jail because he tried to stop the deaths of the Iraqi people.

But Barbra Streisand won’t be singing at the prison gates, and it is unlikely that you’ll see James Taylor, Billy Crystal, Kevin Spacey, Sarah McLachlan, and other Clinton groupies hosting a benefit for him.

His name is Rafil Dhafir, a Muslim of Iraqi descent who was a successful Syracuse, New York oncologist. There’s enough buzzwords in that last sentence to set off a host of Homeland Security alarm bells, and they certainly serve to explain why he is behind bars during a period when being Muslim is enough to lock you up and throw away the key.

The U.S. government went after Dhafir for one very specific reason: he consciously violated those sanctions that Clinton so vigorously enforced (with the assistance of over $1 billion in Canadian military muscle).

Dhafir’s organization, Help the Needy, raised millions of dollars to purchase essential food and medical supplies for the Iraqi people. Dhafir was part of an all-too-small honour roll of those who openly, proudly violated sanctions.

But in a case of very selective prosecution, it was Dhafir who was arrested along with three other men the morning of February 26, 2003. Others who violated the sanctions were threatened with charges, and some did have substantial fines levied against them, but it is Dhafir on whom the government has laid the heaviest burden.

In a motion to dismiss the indictment against him, it was noted “The circumstances or manner of Dr. Dhafir’s actual arrest points out that he was treated more as a terrorist suspect than someone being charged with low level white collar offenses. At the time of his arrest, approximately 85 law enforcement officers descended upon his home. They knocked down his door and pointed a gun to the head of his wife. (It should be noted that it is not uncommon in cases with charges such as these for the Government to contact the attorney for an individual to arrange for his/her surrender.) After gaining entry into Dr. Dhafir’s home, the agents went about the task of ransacking it. Another tell-tale sign as to the Government’s ‘interest’ is the books that they took from Dr. Dhafir’s library. The ones that they took dealt with the Islamic faith or ideology. His collection on American History, the Bible, Golda Meir and the like were not touched.”


As journalist Jennifer Van Bergen noted, “150 Muslims in Syracuse [were interrogated] on the day of Dhafir’s arrest, many of whom had donated to Dr. Dhafir’s charity. The FBI came to the homes of Dhafir’s donors in the early morning. Husbands and wives were separated either by not allowing wives to call their husbands who had left for work or by putting them in separate rooms. Agents carried a card with them that had questions on it…. ‘How often to do you pray? Do you have family in the Middle East? Do you celebrate Christmas? Etc.’ The questions, according to those who were interrogated, clearly focused on their religious leanings and their connections and travels to the Middle East, not on possible criminal activity as it pertained to Dhafir.”

When Dhafir was arrested, and in subsequent press conferences, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and New York Governor Pataki claimed the Dhafir case was one of the “successes” in the so-called war on terror, though no terrorism charges were ever laid against him.

After a seventeen-week trial, Dhafir was convicted in February, 2005, though as the Syracuse New Standard pointed out, “The defense was forbidden during the trial to tell the jury that the government’s investigation of Dhafir had apparently begun as a terrorism hunt, nor was the defense allowed to argue that Dhafir had been selectively prosecuted for alleged crimes that are relatively common and do not usually result in criminal charges.”

And so this morning, as Bill Clinton jets off to his next birthday bash before another gaggle of wide-jawed liberals, Rafil Dhafir continues his efforts from jail to appeal the conviction and get justice. Others who violated sanctions have spoken up in support of Mr. Dhafir, such as Kathy Kelly and Voices in the Wilderness, which organized scores of trips to Iraq with supplies that “violated” the sanctions.

In a letter to the judge, Kelly wrote that she helped coordinate “a campaign which worked to end the economic sanctions against Iraq by bringing medicines and medical relief supplies to Iraqi children and families, in open and nonviolent violation of the economic sanctions.”

Noting that Voices itself sent some 70 delegations, she points out other groups that sent similar delegations to Iraq, “openly challenging the sanctions and relying on those who traveled to Iraq to bring back greatly needed attention to the suffering endured by people there who had no control over their government.” Among those groups were Veterans for Peace, Pax Christi USA, the American Friends Service Committee, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Metro Detroit Committee to End Sanctions Against Iraq, (led by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton), the Order of St. Dominic (Dominican sisters and priests), Citizens Concerned for Iraq (Seattle based), Conscience International, Global Exchange, Middle East Children’s Alliance, Life for Relief and Development, Education for Peace in Iraq and the International Action Center.” Needless to say, none of their members were thrown in jail for their actions.

Kelly notes that “Americares, led by [movie star] Val Kilmer, also traveled to Iraq and delivered medicines. When we traveled to Iraq, we were deeply troubled by the brutal and lethal punishment imposed on civilian people who were not responsible for the actions of their government. It was clear that these people were in no position to change that government, given the miserable results of previous efforts. We could easily understand why Iraqis living in the US would feel morally obliged to help the people whom they’d left behind in Iraq.”

Richard Deats of the Fellowship of Reconciliation also wrote to the judge, noting: “Isn’t it strange, to say the least, that no one else has been arrested for extending humanitarian aid to needy Iraqis? I know many, many religious people — clergy and lay — who travelled to Iraq during the sanctions with humanitarian aid. I myself was part of an interfaith delegation that did so. We did it because of our belief in the supremacy of conscience and the imperative to help those in need. Seeing the children in the cancer wards of Baghdad and Basra made it obvious that desperate human needs in Iraq were being created as a result of the sanctions.

“Isn’t it also strange that multinational corporations that violated the sanctions, not out of conscience, but to make profits, have not been punished in any way?”

Dhafir is one of many thousands who have been targetted in the Bush war against freedom. Yet as has been pointed out, there were numerous among us who organized against the sanctions, who collected money and civilian goods, and tried to get them to Iraq either directly or via groups like Voices in the Wilderness.

Many of those folks continue their efforts to end the brutal occupation of Iraq. A good domestic angle to add to our work is to free Rafil Dhafir and end his family’s nightmare. For those in the U.S., get in
touch with his supporters at the following website: Other sites include

If you live in Canada, and perhaps were part of efforts to end the sanctions, please get in touch with Homes not Bombs to see what we can do to free Dhafir. We’re at

Letters can be sent to him at: (please DO NOT address him as Dr. Dhafir as these letters are being returned) Rafil Dhafir, #11921-052, FCI-Fairton, POB 420, Fairton, New Jersey, 08320, USA

(report from Matthew Behrens of Homes not Bombs,