Contact: Katherine Hughes
katherinehugh [at]
Dr. Dhafir Support Committee

Syracuse Doctor Sentenced to 22 Years in Prison for Helping Iraqi People Heads to Appeals Court August 28 in New York City

Oral arguments in the case of Dr. Rafil Dhafir and the Help the Needy charity will be heard at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City on August 28th, 2008, at 10:00 a.m., Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse, 500 Pearl Street, New York.

Almost five and a half years to the day that he became the first and only U.S. citizen jailed for resisting U.S. economic sanctions against the people of Iraq, Dr Rafil Dhafir, a Syracuse oncologist who helped raise almost $5 million in humanitarian supplies for the Iraqi people, will have his appeal heard at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City.

Sanctions initiated against Iraq in 1991 were the most severe in human history, and resulted in the premature deaths of well over a million Iraqi people. The American government’s refusal to lift them, despite worldwide appeals, led 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.” The sanctions also drew a memorable response from Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright who, when 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, replied, “We think the price is worth it.”

It is against this backdrop that numerous groups from around the globe gathered funds and humanitarian supplies to be delivered directly to the people of Iraq, completely bypassing the regime of Saddam Hussein. Dr. Dhafir’s charity, Help the Needy, was founded in the1990s to buy food, clothing, and medical supplies. For 13 years he worked tirelessly to help publicize the plight of the Iraqi people, personally donating $1.4 million of his own money to the charity. As an oncologist, he was also concerned about the effects of depleted uranium on the Iraqi population which was experiencing skyrocketing cancer rates.

But Dr. Dhafir and Help the Needy came under the gun sights of the Bush administration that, following the events of September 11, 2001, raided and closed down six major and many smaller Muslim charities, accusing each of funding terrorism. In each case, alleged “guilt by association” meant that the charities’ assets were frozen and their principals arrested. Yet despite new investigative powers, government authorities have failed to produce evidence of terrorist financing by any of these Muslim charities.

Arrested just weeks before the start of the Iraq war, the federal government repeatedly pitched this case as one that had national security implications, and Dr. Dhafir was held without bail for 31 months. This denial of bail greatly impeded his legal defense, yet no charges related to terrorism were ever filed, nor were any links to terrorists proven. Unable to get Dr. Dhafir to accept a plea agreement, the government piled on the charges and, after a lengthy trial, he was found guilty on 59 counts of; violating federal regulations related to economic sanctions imposed against Iraq, money laundering, mail and wire fraud, tax evasion, visa fraud–all related to running the charity–and Medicare fraud. He is the only person ever to be incarcerated for violating the Iraq sanctions.

“Each year, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control collects millions of dollars in penalties from American Corporations who have violated these sanctions (from oil companies, banks, food and beverage companies, and entertainment companies),” says Katherine Hughes of the Dr. Dhafir Support Committee. “No executive of any such corporation has faced criminal charges. Individuals, businesses, and organizations that have openly defied the sanctions have faced only fines. Criminal prosecutions have only been made against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern origin accused of violating these economic sanctions. And unlike those corporations, there was no profit motive in Dr. Dhafir’s case.”

On the day of Dr. Dhafir’s sentencing the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) issued a statement that said,

“Every person charged with a crime in the US deserves and is entitled to fair and equal treatment under the law. In many ways, Dr. Dhafir was presumed guilty long before the trial began, and of much more than indicated by the charges filed against him. For the NYCLU, this case raises serious questions as to whether Muslims accused or charged with crimes in the US can truly receive a fair trial. Our government should not tout the conviction of Dr. Dhafir or the harsh sentence imposed by the court as a “win,” or as any kind of advancement in national security. When ‘justice” is pursued with religious and ethnic prejudice, and through actions that intimidate and isolate an entire community, there is no victory – there can be no advancement in national security, or faith in the promise of equal treatment under law.”

The Dr. Dhafir Support Committee hopes that Dr. Dhafir will find justice through the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Dr. Dhafir is currently incarcerated in the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana.

For more information on this case:


More about the appeal here.

This video shows Dr. Dhafir speaking at a fundraiser for Help the Needy. It was shown as part of the court proceedings.

Dr. Dhafir’s 45-page statement, given to the media at his sentencing, is available here.

See this article written by a relative of one of Dr. Dhafir’s patients.