Monday, November 12, 2012

The Dhafir Case and the Danger of Exposing U.S. War Crimes

Dr. Rafil Dhafir responded with humanitarian aid to the humanitarian crisis caused by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1990. In the course of that work, he exposed U.S. government actions that many consider war crimes. For his efforts, Dr. Dhafir was prosecuted by the U.S. government and is now incarcerated at Terre Haute.

As "Victims of America's Dirty Wars" explains, the Dhafir case epitomizes the government abuses that Project SALAM and SALAM Illinois were established to counter: the U.S. government "simply framed him for Medicare fraud and then called it terrorism. This is precisely what preemptive prosecution is all about: convicting people of contrived crimes for ideological reasons." (p. 23)


The case is profiled at length in "Victims of America's Dirty Wars", and it bears repeating in detail:
Dr. Rafil Dhafir, born in Iraq and naturalized as an American citizen, is a highly regarded oncologist from Syracuse, New York, who became concerned about the humanitarian catastrophe created by the Gulf War and the UN sanctions imposed on Iraq. After Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 1, 1990, more bombs were dropped on Iraq in a six-week period than were dropped by all parties during World War II. In total, these were at least six times more powerful than the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. Some bombs contained depleted uranium, which was spread across the country. All major bridges, communication systems, and water purification systems were bombed, and the UN never allowed them to be repaired. Nor were hospitals and schools spared. As a result of the bombing and the sanctions, the health and education systems in Iraq went from being the best in the region to being the worst.

After the war, according to the UN’s own statistics, throughout the 1990s 6,000 children under the age of five in Iraq died every month from lack of food and access to simple medicines as a result of the U.S.-led sanctions. Three senior UN officials resigned because of what they considered a “genocidal” policy against Iraq. The number of civilians killed as a direct result of the sanctions rose to between 1.5 and 2 million.

It was in direct response to this humanitarian catastrophe that Dr. Dhafir founded the Help the Needy charity in 1990, and for thirteen years he worked tirelessly to help publicize the plight of the Iraqi people and to raise funds to help them. According to the U.S. government, Dr. Dhafir donated $1.4 million of his own money over the years. As an oncologist, he was particularly concerned about the effects of depleted uranium on the Iraqi population, which was experiencing skyrocketing cancer rates.

In 2003 (just weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq), Dr. Dhafir was arrested, and Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that “funders of terrorism” had been apprehended. On that same day, 150 local Muslim families were interrogated because they had donated to his charity. However, no charges of terrorism were ever brought against Dr. Dhafir. Instead, he was charged with violating the Iraqi embargo and was held without bail for nineteen months until his trial in October 2004.

When Dr. Dhafir refused to accept a plea agreement, twenty-five additional charges of Medicare fraud were added. Medicare fraud usually involves fictitious patients and non-existent treatments; Dr. Dhafir’s case had none of this. The government never denied that his patients received appropriate care, treatment, and medicines; rather, it claimed that because Dr. Dhafir was sometimes not present in his office when patients were treated, Medicare forms were improperly rendered and did not reflect treatment by someone else other than Dr. Dhafir. Illogically, the government argued that if Dr. Dhafir’s forms were not correctly filled out, he was not entitled to any reimbursement for treatments actually given or for the expensive chemotherapy his office had actually administered, and so he was guilty of Medicare fraud. (In fact, Dr. Dhafir, a very compassionate man, treated people without health insurance and paid for medicine for those who could not afford it out of his own pocket.)

Other companies violated the Iraq embargo and were merely told by the U.S. government to stop. Other doctors ran into trouble trying to bill under the confusing Medicare formula and were merely told to straighten out their billing. But Dr. Dhafir was prosecuted as though he were a career criminal. After he was convicted, the government switched theories again and claimed at sentencing––without proof––that Dr. Dhafir was engaged in financing terrorism. He was sentenced to twenty-two years in the notorious Muslim CMU in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Priscilla Dhafir, Dr. Dhafir’s wife and also his bookkeeper, was also charged and eventually pleaded guilty to one count of lying to a government agent: she had told a government agent that her husband was present in his medical office on a day that he had not been. At the trial, while she testified about the intricacies of Medicare reimbursement, a large screen opposite the jury featured an excerpt from the Medicare Handbook, which said that in the event of a billing error “a refund would be requested” by the government. This was the backdrop as Mrs. Dhafir described the mayhem at her house on the day of her husband’s arrest. After her husband left for work at 6:30 a.m., the doorbell rang, and before she could answer it, five FBI agents battered down the door. Finding Mrs. Dhafir in her nightclothes, they held guns to her head. Helicopters and local media hovered over the house as eighty-five government agents rummaged through the house all day. Mrs. Dhafir spent the day in her nightclothes and was not even allowed to shut the door when she went to the bathroom.

Although at trial the government claimed that Dr. Dhafir’s prosecution was not related to terrorism, the government now includes him, Mrs. Dhafir, and their accountant on their lists of convicted terrorists. Unlike the Holy Land defendants, the government could not charge Dr. Dhafir with supporting a terrorist organization like Hamas. No listed terrorist organizations existed in Iraq because Saddam Hussein would not permit it. (p. 22-23)
More information on the Dhafir case can be found on the website: Dhafir Trial: Information about Dr. Rafil Dhafir.


Currently, Dr. Dhafir was recently transferred from Terre Haute. Write to him here:

Dr. Rafil A. Dhafir
P.O. BOX 879
AYER, MA 01432

See SALAM Illinois Guidelines for Writing to Prisoners.

Dr. Dhafir has a large support committee based in his home community of Syracuse, NY. There is extensive detail at: Dhafir Trial: Information about Dr. Rafil Dhafir

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