This commentary was sent to the Post-Standard in response to the article about the anniversary vigil for Dr. Rafil Dhafir

STEPHEN F. DOWNS Esq, Attorney at Law. Selkirk, NY.

Dear Editor;

In order to understand why people continue to vigil for Dr. Rafil Dhafir, it is necessary to understand the US Government’s response following 9/11. The US government wanted to eliminate any possibility that charitable donations made in the US would finance terror overseas. After 9/11 the US government simply seized millions of dollars of assets from Muslim charities without providing any justification.  The government’s right to do this is still under litigation.

The US criminalized “material support for terrorism”, and enforced this crime in the most extreme manner possible.  How extreme?  The US claimed, for example, that it would be material support if a humanitarian group trained terrorists to abandon terrorism and use legal methods of persuasion. (See Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, pending before the Supreme Court). It would be material support if a law firm filed a brief in court on behalf of a terrorist organization.

The US government also began a program of “preemptive prosecution” to target and convict “suspicious” Muslims to preempt them from committing crimes in the future.  It is hard for many Americans to accept that their government would frame innocent people in order to eliminate the risk of possible crimes in the future.  This is contrary to everything the US stands for.  However, this is our government’s well-documented response to 9/11.  Hundreds of innocent Muslims have been tricked, framed and incarcerated for long prison sentences under the government’s preemptive prosecution program.

In the Holy Land Foundation case, the US government not only seized the assets of the largest Muslim charity in the US, but in a second trial, it successfully prosecuted the leaders of the foundation for material support to a terrorist organization — Hamas. .  Hamas was the de facto government in parts of Palestine at that time, and everyone had to work through Hamas. The US conceded that the defendant’s money did not directly finance terrorism, but successfully argued that by financing hospitals and food pantries controlled in part by Hamas, the Holy Land Foundation defendants had allowed Hamas to shift its money from humanitarian relief to terrorist projects, and increased the prestige of Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians.

Dr. Dhafir ran a charity to relieve the suffering in Iraq, his country of birth, although it violated a US-led embargo on aid to Iraq. According to the UN, 6,000 Iraqi children under the age of five were dying every month because of the embargo.  Other charities had violated the embargo believing that real charitable activities would not be prosecuted, and in fact they were not. After 9/11, the US shut down Dr. Dhafir’s charity, but it could not prosecute Dr. Dhafir for material support of terrorism.  Unlike the Holy Land Foundation case, in which some money was channeled through a government that the US considered “terrorist” (Hamas), Dr. Dhafir worked around the tyrannical government of Saddam Hussein.  He was thus not supporting “terrorism”.

Instead the US government framed Dr. Dhafir by claiming that he had engaged in Medicare violations even though normally these violations would never have been prosecuted.  (No money was stolen — there were only bookkeeping errors).   Dr. Dhafir was targeted under the US government’s preemptive prosecution program, in which “suspicious” Muslims are prosecuted and convicted before they might commit a crime in the future. This is why, although Dr. Dhafir was never charged with terrorism-related crimes, the government treated him as though he was a terrorist caught in an anti-terrorist program. For more information see

Stephen F. Downs, Esq.
For Project SALAM