Saturday, March 31, 2007


AP story of AShcroft Witness

Group to protest Muslim doctor's jailing during Ashcroft speech

By WILLIAM KATESAssociated Press WriterMarch 27, 2007, 2:09 PM EDT
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The politically motivated firings of federal prosecutors bolsters the claim that Rafil Dhafir was selectively prosecuted by the government to be "a trophy" in the war on terror, supporters of the imprisoned Muslim doctor said Tuesday while protesting a speech by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Ashcroft was scheduled to speak Tuesday night at Syracuse University's 1,800-seat Goldstein Auditorium at the invitation of the school's College Republicans organization. Ashcroft would be unavailable for questions afterward, university officials said.

"The government targeted Dr. Dhafir to be a trophy in the war on terror," said Madis Senner, a protest organizer.

"They called him a terrorist. They denied him bail. They made it so he couldn't even defend himself properly. This was all done on Mr. Ashcroft's watch. We want to hear his explanation," said Senner.

Ashcroft was attorney general from 2001 to 2005 and played a prominent role in passage of the Patriot Act following the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.

Dhafir, now 60, is serving a 22-year prison sentence after his conviction in February 2005 of 59 criminal counts, including money laundering and conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions against Iraq. He was found guilty of misusing $2 million that donors gave to his unlicensed charity, Help the Needy, and spending $544,000 for his own purposes.

The jury said Dhafir, an oncologist, also defrauded Medicare out of $316,000 and evaded $400,000 in federal income tax payments by writing off the illegal charity donations.

Prosecutors said Dhafir's Syracuse-based charity solicited more than $5 million over the Internet and by mail between 1995 and February 2002, claiming it would help starving Iraqi orphans and poor children. The government was able to trace only about $160,000 in Iraq.

Dhafir was arrested in a high-profile raid in February 2003 that drew nationwide media coverage. Ashcroft and New York Gov. George Pataki both called Dhafir as a terrorist.

However, no terrorism charges were ever filed against Dhafir, who maintained throughout that he was innocent and that the charges against him were politically motivated.

His conviction and sentence were decried by the Islamic Society of Central New York and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Defense attorney Deveraux Cannick said appeals are pending in Dhafir's case.

Senner and other Dhafir supporters said their concerns about Dhafir's treatment have been heightened by the controversy surrounding current U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the firings of eight federal prosecutors. A growing number of critics say the dismissals were politically motivated and have called on Gonzales to resign.

"We have to wonder whether the Bush administration selected, orchestrated and directed Dr. Dhafir's prosecution," Senner said.

"There is no indication that (U.S. Attorney Glenn) Suddaby was specifically chosen to go after Dhafir. We do know though that enormous resources were applied to arrest and convict Dr. Dhafir," he said.

Suddaby's office has steadfastly denied there were any political considerations involved in Dhafir's prosecution. Suddaby could not be immediately reached Tuesday for comment.

Throughout the case, Cannick said the government singled out Dhafir for a three-year investigation because he was an Iraqi-born Muslim, and when it failed to link him to any terrorists or terrorist groups, it charged him with fraud to save face. Other individuals and corporations that sent money to Iraq received only civil penalties, not criminal charges, Cannick said.

Dhafir was denied bail four times _ he was deemed a flight risk _ and held for nearly two years while awaiting trial. Cannick said Dhafir's detention hindered his defense and violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Dhafir's discriminatory treatment has continued in prison, Senner said.

Dhafir is serving his time in the recently created Communications Management Unit, or CMU, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., where all telephone calls and mail are monitored, the number of phone calls limited and visits are restricted, and all inmate conversations must be conducted in English unless otherwise negotiated. Most of the unit's initial group of inmates are Arab Muslims, including five members of the so-called Lackawanna Six, a group of Yemeni natives who pleaded guilty in 2003 to attending an al-Qaeda training camp.,0,729114,print.story?coll=ny-region-apnewyork


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