John Pilger’s article on Dr. Dhafir was published by the Post-Standard in Sunday’s issue on The Readers’ Page. Thank you to the Post-Standard for giving the Syracuse public a chance to see a glimmer of the other side of this case:

In 1999, I traveled to Iraq with Denis Halliday, who had resigned as assistant secretary general of the United Nations rather than enforce a punitive U.N. embargo on Iraq.

Devised and policed by the United States and Britain, these ”sanctions” caused extreme suffering, including, according to UNICEF, the deaths of half a million Iraqi infants under the age of 5. 

Ten years later, in NewYork, I met the senior British official responsible for the imposition of sanctions. He is Carne Ross, once known at the United Nations as ”Mr. Iraq.” I read to him a statement he made to a U.K. parliamentary select committee in 2007: 

”The weight of evidence clearly indicates that sanctions caused massive . . . suffering among ordinary Iraqis, in particular children. We – the U.S. and U.K. governments who were the primary engineers and defenders of sanctions – were well aware of this evidence at the time, but we largely ignored it or blamed (it) on the Saddam government. (We) effectively (denied) the entire population the means to live .. .” 

I said, ”That’s a shocking admission.” 

”Yes, I agree,” he replied. ”I feel very ashamed about it …” 

George W. Bush and Tony Blair invaded Iraq for reasons they knew were fabricated. The bloodshed they caused, according to recent studies, is greater than that of the Rwandan genocide.

On Feb. 26, 2003, one month before the invasion, Dr. Rafil Dhafir, a prominent cancer specialist in Syracuse, was arrested by federal agents and interrogated about the charity he had founded, Help the Needy. Dhafir was one of many Americans, Muslims and non-Muslims, who for 13 years had raised money for food and medicines for sick and starving Iraqis who were the victims of sanctions. He was hauled out of his car by federal agents as he left for work. His front door was smashed down, and his wife had guns pointed at her head. Today, he is serving 22 years in federal prison. 

On the day of the arrest, Bush’s attorney general, John Ashcroft, announced that some ”funders of terrorism” had been caught. 

More than $2 million was raised and several people pledged their homes, yet he was refused bail six times. 

Dhafir was charged under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. His crime had been to send food and medicine to the stricken country of his birth. 

He was offered a lesser sentence if he pleaded guilty, but he refused on principle. For refusing, he was punished with additional charges, including defrauding the Medicare system, a ”crime” based on not having filled out claim forms correctly, and money laundering and tax evasion, inflated technicalities related to the charitable status of Help the Needy. 

The then-governor of NewYork, George Pataki, described Dhafir and the supporters of Help the Needy as ”terrorists living here in NewYork state among us . . . who are supporting and aiding and abetting those who would destroy our way of life and kill our friends and neighbors.” For jurors, the message was powerfully manipulative. This was America in the hysterical wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. 

The trial in late 2004 and 2005 was out of Kafka. It began with the prosecution successfully petitioning the judge to prohibit the defense from examining any links with ”terrorism.” This ruling allowed prosecutors to hint at more serious charges, but the defense was not allowed to follow that line of questioning. 

In February of this year, the same judge, Norman Mordue,”resentenced” Dhafir to 22 years – a cruelty worthy of the Gulag. 

No executive of the oil companies that did billions of dollars of illegal business with Saddam Hussein during the embargo has been prosecuted. 

”I am stunned by the conviction of this humanitarian,” said Halliday, ”especially as the U.S. state department breached its own sanctions to the tune of $10 billion.” 

During this year’s U.S. presidential campaign, both candidates agreed on sanctions against Iran, which, they claimed, posed a nuclear threat to the Middle East. Repeated over and over again, this assertion evoked the lies told about Iraq and the extreme suffering of that country. Sanctions have already devastated Iran’s sick and disabled. As imported drugs become impossibly expensive, leukemia and other cancer sufferers are the first victims. The Pentagon calls this ”full spectrum dominance.” 

John Pilger is an investigative journalist and commentator in Great Britain. This piece is excerpted from a longer column that ran in the November issue of the New Statesman magazine. Dr. Rafil Dhafir, 64, is an inmate at the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Mass. His release date is April 26, 2022.