(Published 2/21/08 with the title, “Do we want Dhafir’s justice to be America’s?” The last paragraph was not included in the Post-Standard.)

To the editor:

On February 26, 2003, Dr. Rafil Dhafir, a prominent Syracuse oncologist, was arrested and 150 Muslim families interrogated in connection with a charity established to provide humanitarian aid to children suffering in Iraq. As we approach the fifth anniversary of that arrest, it seems pertinent to question the continued persecution of Dr. Dhafir, an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen of some 30 years.

Many Americans generously assisted, directly and indirectly, the Iraqi people who were being killed and starved due to the impact of United Nations sanctions imposed – at the insistence of the U.S. and Britain – after the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait in early 1991. Dr. Dhafir was one of those Americans who generously gave his time and financial resources. He founded “Help the Needy” for that purpose and raised millions of dollars in food aid and medical assistance for the Iraqi people.

Other U.S. citizens who sent humanitarian aid to Iraqi children and adults in defiance of UN sanctions had civil fines imposed by Washington, but none were imprisoned. In contrast, Dr. Dhafir is serving 22 years for his humanitarian outreach in defiance of the sanctions that many, myself included, consider to have been genocidal. Does this mean that a different standard is being applied to U.S. citizens who are Muslim? Dr. Dhafir’s extraordinary sentence, in combination with the establishment of a special federal prison to isolate Arab and Muslim inmates, indicate that the answer is yes.

Dr. Dhafir has become a victim of American injustice that applies double standards. He has been swept up in anti-Islamic, anti-Arab madness that has corrupted the American justice system. It is past time that all humanitarian-minded, decent Americans ask ourselves: Is this the justice system that we want? When American values and American democratic principles are endangered, we must take on the responsibilities of citizenship. We must reverse these prejudicial practices before it is too late.


Denis J. Halliday
Former UN Assistant Secretary-General,
Head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq 1997-98,
Member, Dr. Dhafir Support Committee Advisory Board.