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.


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