The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights give equal protection under the law and in order to defend this freedom it must be extend to all regardless of race or religion. While in office former Attorney General John Ashcroft disregarded this and engaged in inflammatory publicity in cases of Muslim and Arab defendants in the post 9/11 period. Thus organizations and individuals associated with humanitarian work were denied the right to be held innocent until proven guilty and subject to “guilt by association.”

A major casualty of Ashcroft’s injudiciousness has been Muslim charity and those associated with it. Since September 11, 2001, 6 major U.S. Muslim charities and several smaller Muslim charities have been shut down, including Dr. Rafil Dhafir’s Syracuse, New York charity, Help the Needy (HTN). In each case, the charities assets were frozen and its associates held without bail while Ashcroft announced to the media that “funders of terrorism” had been apprehended.

Many defendants in Muslim charity cases were forced to accept plea agreements because they did not believe they could get a fair trial in the post- 9/11 climate of the country. Others like Dhafir, believing strongly in the integrity of the U.S. legal system, chose to go to trial but faced gross impediments to achieving justice. This included being subjected to a show trial that covered up what the trial was really about — whether HTN was involved with money laundering to help terrorist organizations. Convicted of only white-collar crime and violating the sanctions against Iraq, Dhafir was sentenced to 22 years and his prosecution declared a success in the “war on terror.”

When Ashcroft announced his resignation in November of 2004, he gave as evidence of success in the war on terror 211 criminal prosecutions, 478 deportations, and $124 million in frozen assets. But what he neglected to mention was virtually none of these cases were actual terrorism convictions. Like Dhafir, other charity associates were convicted of white-collar crime and sanctions violation. Indeed, at the time of Aschcroft’s resignation there was only one bona fide terrorism conviction, that of the shoe-bomber Richard Reid.

Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. are currently being subject to an ad hoc redefinition and contraction of their basic freedoms without any recourse to public debate. Dhafir and others were not afforded the protections the Bill of Rights guaranteed to all; this is not what we want from our legal system. In order to sustain a vital democracy there must be equal treatment under the Law for all.

Katherine Hughes
For the Dr. Dhafir Support Committee
March 27,2007