Thu 29 Jan 2009
Crime of Compassion: A Court Watcher’s Story of the ‘War on Terror’
A film by Lana Hijazi and Katherine Hughes
In the aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. government flailed about, seeing “terror cells” everywhere. It targeted for prosecution many prominent Muslims across the country, particularly those associated with Muslim charity. Dr. Rafil Dhafir is one of these people. He was held without bail for 31 months and then sentenced to 22 years in a U.S. prison for a crime he was never charged with in a court of law — money laundering to help terrorist organizations. His real crime was speaking out against the U.S. and U.K.-sponsored UN sanctions on Iraq and sending aid to starving Iraqi civilians during the brutal embargo.
In Syracuse, New York, where he was tried, art student Katherine Hughes took a leave from her studies in order to witness his trial. Her passion for the preservation of civil liberties was ignited 36 years ago when she saw a documentary of the Allies going into the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen. Since then she has known that if anything similar happened in her lifetime she didn’t want to be a bystander.
One of a dozen people who volunteered as Court Watchers for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Hughes attended the 17-week trial and took notes for 5 hours each day. Dismayed by what she witnessed in the courtroom and the uncritical coverage in the local newspaper, she has dedicated the last 10 years to seeking justice for Dr. Dhafir.
This film is the story of the terrible cost of one man’s humanitarian outreach, and one woman’s efforts to shed light on how the U.S. government so thoroughly perverted a system of justice it purports to uphold.