To: BoP General Counsel, National Inmate Appeals Administrator
From: Peter Goldberger, Attorney for Rafil Dhafir
Re: Rafil Dhafir, Reg. No. 11921-052, FCI Terre Haute (CMU) (Appeal No. 587370-R1)
Background. On April 6, 2010, inmate Dhafir, who is assigned to the Communications Management Unit at Terre Haute, reviewed his central file in the unit manager’s office. There, for the first time, he read his Security/Designation Data printout. The “CCM remarks” section of the form suggested that he “req[uires] monitoring of all communications” and “possible PC relative to I.O.” Preceding these suggestions (which apparently have been followed, considering his present designation) are the following statements, seemingly given as justifications for these security recommendations: “As founder of Help the Needy, def[endant] transferred] funds/resources to Iraq & defraud[ed] IRS.” That is a reasonably accurate summary of the offenses of conviction, except it should be noted that the funds, food and clothing which Help the Needy (a totally religious, non-political charity) transferred to Iraq between 1994 and 2003, in violation of U.S. sanctions, were scrupulously directed to civilians and never for the benefit of the Saddam Hussein government, as the records of the court case show and as reflected in Dr. Dhafir’s PSI. The “CCM remarks” then go on to say, “AUSA: Regarded as shiek [sic] & salafi; assoc[iated] w/radical fundamentalists.” It is the latter comments to which inmate Dhafir has objected, not because they are necessarily false, but because they are highly misleading, religiously biased (or perhaps merely ignorant) and do not remotely justify the conclusion that the Bureau seems to have drawn from them. The Regional Director, however, rejected inmate Dhafir’s RAR appeal because he failed to present “evidence” that this characterization of him was “inaccurate.” Regrettably, that response misses the point. For this reason, Dr. Dhafir appeals to the Central Office for a correction of his records.
Reasons for Appeal. The Bureau of course would not deny that it must never engage in discrimination or prejudice on the basis of religious belief. While religious convictions, no matter how deeply held, do not justify criminal behavior — and cannot be used as an excuse for conduct that threatens legitimate institutional security or public safety — beliefs and associations alone cannot justify harsher treatment. Yet that appears to be what has happened in this case. (Since the inmate’s prior levels of appeal were composed without the assistance of counsel, the problem that he has been trying to highlight has not been clearly (or even appropriately) expressed.) In Islam, a “sheikh” (misspelled in the challenged remarks) is an older man (perhaps the best term in English would be an “elder”), thought to have wisdom by virtue of his age and experience, and looked up to by others for advice, especially on questions with religious implications. Sometimes “sheikh” is used to mean “Islamic scholar.” Inmate Dhafir was a practicing medical doctor and does not claim the status of “sheikh,” although some others may view him that way out of respect for his age, learning, and piety. The point is, however, that this term has no negative implications whatever, and its use in the context of a security classification report, as suggesting a need for “monitoring [of] communications” or attention from I.O. is necessarily based on a misunderstanding of the term or on simple religious prejudice. The same is true for the comment that Dr. Dhafir is “regarded as [a] salafi.” A “salafi” is an adherent of the branch of Sunni Islam that looks to the “ancestors,” that is, the first three generations of Moslems, as exemplary models in seeking an understanding of the faith. (The Christian equivalent would be a strict adherent to the Gospels, who looks to the lives of the original Disciples for guidance in contemporary life.) Again, the term has no political implications and does not suggest any form of antisocial conduct whatever. Its use in a security classification form, or as a justification for any prison administrative decision, is highly inappropriate if not unlawful. Finally, and similarly, the significance of the accusation that inmate Dhafir is or was “associated with radical fundamentalists” depends on what is meant by these terms. Inmate Dhafir could be described as a “fundamentalist” only in the religious sense (again, like a strictly kosher Orthodox Jew or Bible-believing Baptist); there is no evidence of any kind suggesting otherwise. He never “associated” with “fundamentalists” in any other sense. And if the “fundamentalism” of any of his “associates” could be called “radical,” it was only in the intensity and traditionalism of their religious convictions, which were and are apolitical and (perhaps most important) nonviolent and anti-terrorist.
Conclusion. The inmate’s appeal should be sustained. Inmate Dhafir’s records should be corrected, by expunging any negative reference to his supposed religious convictions and affiliations. Any administrative actions that have been taken based on a characterization of his religious beliefs (including his CMU placement) should be reconsidered on the basis only of reliable facts and on a purely secular basis.