2005, Dr. Rafil Dhafir, an Iraqi-born American citizen, was convicted in
Syracuse, New York of 59 felony charges. In addition to charges of mail
and wire fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, Medicare fraud, and
mishandling charity money, Dhafir was convicted of violating the sanctions
against Iraq. Dhafir was sentenced to 22 years in jail.
Dhafir was one of the few, if
not the only person, to be criminally charged with breaking the Iraq
Sanctions.  Normally, a violation of the sanctions
results only in a civil fine.
Dhafir’s crime was that he circumvented the sanctions, raising and
funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars for humanitarian aid to Iraqis
suffering from the U.S. sanctions. While the prosecution claims that he
was a common money launderer and defrauder of donors, the sanction
violations remain the centerpiece of the charges and were the direct cause
of him receiving the maximum sentence. 
But it is our opinion that had the U.S. not chosen to invade Iraq, Dr.
Dhafir would not have been convicted. Arguably, he might never even have
been brought to trial.
The story of the targeting, indictment, trial, and sentencing of Dr.
Dhafir in many ways mirrors the story of U.S. aggression against the
Iraqis, who suffered for years under the sanctions, and whom, at the time
of Dhafir’s arrest, the Administration was planning to invade. The
invasion of Iraq mirrors the invasion of the rights of Dr. Dhafir and the
Muslim community of which he was a member.
Dhafir was the perfect candidate for government targeting. He was a
naturalized American citizen of Iraqi descent that still had family and
friends in Iraq. Through his fund-raising efforts to help those suffering
in Iraq from the brutality of the Sanctions, he traveled across America
and around the globe. This gave him a high profile with connections to
Muslims around the world.
Prior to the invasion, the U.S. government began targeting suspected Iraqi
intelligence agents in order to rattle potential terrorists and “shake the
tree” to see what fell out. It appears now that the targeting of Dhafir
was part of that effort. The government was convinced he was terrorist.
He was Iraqi, Muslim, had strong Iraqi connections, and operated a charity
that moved great amounts of money into Iraq. In fact, according to Ed
Menkin, Dhafir’s original defense attorney:
Prosecutors have been
asking witnesses whether Dhafir "surreptitiously traveled to
Afghanistan," whether he was a longtime mole for Iraqi intelligence,
whether he met with a high-ranking al-Qaida official, and whether he'd
used the code word "tourism" for terrorism in e-mails. 
Recent terrorism indictments
of several of Dhafir’s business associates confirm that the government
believed he was a terrorist and was trying to find a way to taint his
humanitarian work. While a law enforcement official recently noted that
there is no known connection between Dhafir and these indictments
, it is clear from those documents that the government
has been mining Dhafir’s business connections deeply for terrorism
Moreover, as former Bush Administration National Security Coordinator
Richard Clarke revealed in his book, Against All Enemies, the Bush
Administration had a score to settle with Iraq and intended right from the
outset to take down Hussein. Bush Sr. had not succeeded in getting Iraq
under his heel. The Administration of Bush Jr. took it upon themselves to
complete the mission of removing Saddam from power and making Iraq into a
Western player, if not an American-owned commodity.
Of course, the government found no evidence Dhafir was a terrorist and
brought no terrorism charges against him. But that didn’t stop Ashcroft
or Pataki from calling him a terrorist prior to trial ,
from Dhafir being included on a government list of terrorists cited by
President Bush , or from the prosecution obtaining a
maximum sentence based on their assertion that anyone who violated the
Iraq Sanctions was inherently a national security threat.
Operation Imminent Horizon
A little over a week after Dr. Dhafir was arrested, ABC News reported that
the military had begun an effort code-named “Operation Imminent Horizon.”
The declared purpose of this operation was to “disrupt and rattle”
potential terrorist operations. This operation was put into play just
before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The report stated:
The United States is
launching a campaign, code-named Imminent Horizon, to disrupt and rattle
Iraqi intelligence agents around the world, intelligence sources told
ABCNEWS. These are people the United States suspects are trying to
engineer terrorist attacks against American interests overseas.
According to the report,
Imminent Horizon was implemented both domestically and overseas. The idea
was to harass and disrupt the activities of suspected agents.
On the day of Dr. Dhafir’s arrest, Attorney General John Ashcroft noted
that the arrest was part of the effort to prevent terrorism prior to the
invasion of Iraq:
“As President Bush leads an
international coalition to end Saddam Hussein's tyranny and support for
terror, the Justice Department will see that individuals within our
borders cannot undermine these efforts,” stated Attorney General John
Ashcroft. “Those who covertly seek to channel money into Iraq under the
guise of charitable work will be caught and prosecuted.” 
It is clear that Dhafir’s
arrest and the tactics used in the Syracuse Muslim community on the day of
his arrest (as we discuss below, over 150 persons were rounded up and
interrogated) was part of Operation Imminent Horizon. But while other
suspected Iraqi agents were simply asked to leave the country, Dhafir --
who was not ever charged with being a terrorist -- was subjected to much
more aggressive treatment. Agents pushed the door in on Mrs. Dhafir,
knocking her down, and held a gun to her head while questioning her.
Dhafir claimed that eighty-five agents came to his home that day. The
government denied this. 
Subsequent treatment of Dhafir also reflected a strong bias against
him. He was denied bail, one of his attorneys was forbidden to see him,
and he was only allowed to see his remaining attorneys in person if he was
strip-searched -- a practice that is against his religion.
ABC reported that the
Operation Imminent Horizon consisted of rounding up businessman and
students and interrogating them: “In law enforcement terms, it's called
'shaking the tree,' -- creating doubts, trying to rattle potential
The interrogation of 150 Muslims in Syracuse on the day of Dhafir’s
arrest, many of whom had donated to Dr. Dhafir’s charity, was “shaking the
tree.” The FBI came to the homes of Dhafir’s donors in the early
morning. Husbands and wives were separated either by not allowing wives to
call their husbands who had left for work or by putting them in separate
rooms. Agents carried a card with them that had questions on it. But it
was the questions asked which were not on the card that was instructive of
the FBI’s motive: “How often to do you pray? Do you have family in the
Middle East? Do you celebrate Christmas? Etc…” The questions, according
to those who were interrogated, clearly focused on their religious
leanings and their connections and travels to the Middle East, not on
possible criminal activity as it pertained to Dhafir.
The shaking and rattling went even further. One local Muslim indicates
that during his interrogation by the FBI, the interrogating agent
repeatedly suggested that Dhafir was a Shi’ite, in an apparent attempt to
turn the man against the defendant. The agent was trying to get the man to
talk by bringing up the Shi'ite/Sunni divide. In Iraq there is a
civil/religious conflict going on between the two Muslim factions. The
agent was trying to provoke the man into getting angry by implying that
Dhafir was a Shi'ite.
Department of Defense Blessing
Another factor linking
the Dhafir case to Imminent Horizon was a 2002 DOD memo found by the
defense team that encouraged the FBI to keep up its efforts in the Dhafir
case. The FBI has always claimed that it had been investigating Dr. Dhafir
for four years prior to his arrest, but the DOD memo indicates a
connection with the military effort against Iraq.
This suggests that the motivation in prosecuting Dhafir went beyond
prosecution for violating the Sanctions or other laws. But the prosecution
provided no explanation of the DOD interest and apparently none of the
charges relied on intelligence gathered through the DOD. (According to the
lead prosecutor, Olmsted, regular wiretaps were used on Dhafir. Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) taps -- authorized only for taps of
foreign powers and agents of foreign powers -- were not used.)
It seems that, again, Dhafir was the victim of a taint operation by the
government. Interestingly, the 2002 memo ties in with the ABC report that
planning for “Operation Imminent Horizon” had begun a year before the 2003
invasion of Iraq: “Sources say the CIA, FBI and military intelligence
agencies have worked on this operation for more than a year -- a period
during which they say evidence has continued to mount that Baghdad intends
In Dhafir’s case, instead of using “shock and awe” as it did to scare the
Iraqi people into submission, the government resorted to smearing Dhafir
as a “terrorist” to frighten the Muslim community into stopping their
business and to keep them from coming to Dhafir’s aid.
As noted earlier, numerous officials have called Dhafir a terrorist.
Additionally, a report done by former Attorney General Edwin Meese and
Paul Rosenzweig for the Heritage Foundation noted that one provision of
the PATRIOT Act -- the delayed notice warrant provision -- was used in the
Dhafir case. In the same paragraph, the report cites several examples of
terrorist cases, thus implying again that Dhafir belonged in the same
At the time of Dhafir’s
arrest the country was still reeling from 9-11 and preparing for war with
Iraq. When the government called Dhafir a “terrorist” it was as if they
had shouted fire in a crowded movie theater that had all its exits
locked. The media and the local community went into frenzy. This made it
difficult for him to get a fair trial.
Will Justice Prevail?
Had the government been more objective and done its job better it would
never have considered Dhafir a terrorist or investigated him as an Iraqi
intelligence agent under the Operation Imminent Horizon effort.
Dhafir supporters say that he was on Saddam Hussein’s “hit list.” If he
were an Iraqi agent working for Saddam, the Iraqi leader would not have
issued orders for his assassination. Like many others in Iraq who opposed
Saddam’s brutal reign and tried to help his countrymen, Dhafir would have
been killed had he gone directly to Iraq with his aid. Dhafir avoided the
legal channels in order to avoid the pilfering of the aid by Saddam’s
henchman. Dhafir’s supporters say that he never went back home to Iraq
because he faced certain death.
Dr. Rafil Dhafir escaped the clutches of Saddam Hussein but not the
clutches of an over-zealous and ambitious Bush administration, looking for
feathers in its hat.
Popularity for the invasion and occupation of Iraq continues to wane.
Politicians appear willing to come up with an exit plan before mid-term
elections. But what will the exit plan be for all the casualties of this
senseless war? Countless Iraqi’s and USA/coalition forces have been killed
and maimed. Their fates etched in stone.
And what of Dr. Dhafir? At 58, he likely will die in prison before his
release. Will politicians similarly look to right a wrong and admit that
he too was a victim of a senseless war?
To learn more about go to: www.FreeDhafir.org
To keep abreast of
developments on the Dhafir case, send an email to the following address to
subscribe to the Free Dhafir newsletter:
Jennifer Van Bergen is a
journalist with a law degree who writes frequently on civil liberties and
human rights issues. She is the author of The Twilight of Democracy:
The Bush Plan for America (2004). Her upcoming book Archetypes for
Writers (Michael Wiese Productions) about the characterization program
she taught at the New School University, will be out later this year. She
can be reached at:
Madis Senner, CPA, is an ex global
money manager turned faith-based activist. His causes include supporting
Dr. Rafil Dhafir. He can be reached at:
 See “Operation
The ABC News article is no longer available on their web site. It
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