Oct. 18, 2004 – The trial of Rafil Dhafir, the Syracuse area oncologist accused of sending money to Iraq in violation of the sanctions, began today with two major restrictions placed on the defense.
Last week, US District Judge Norman Mordue ruled that Dhafirâ€™s attorneys cannot argue he was selectively prosecuted because he is Muslim. The defense also cannot inquire into the governmentâ€™s original motives for investigating Dhafir.
The restrictions will likely be a major setback for the defense, which has repeatedly argued in recent weeks that the investigation of Dhafir and his charity, Help the Needy, were part of a politically motivated attack on Muslims carried out by Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department. In a rejected motion to dismiss the criminal case against Dhafir, the defense argued that other, non-Muslim individuals and corporations who also violated the sanctions have faced only civil charges, if any.
"Itâ€™s quite relevant," Deveraux Cannick, Dhafirâ€™s lawyer, told the Associated Press. "Itâ€™s what this case is really all about. It was in their records that this case was about terrorism. They didnâ€™t find any terrorism and now they are afraid of that word and they donâ€™t want it to be brought up at trial."
The defense did win a slight victory on Monday when an agreement was reached allowing Dhafir to attend his trial without being strip-searched. Dhafir has refused the search because he says it violates his religious beliefs. Under the agreement, a Federal Marshal will escort Dhafir to and from the courtroom each day.
Dhafir has been in jail since February 2002, and has been denied bail four times. Jury selection begins today.