The following biography of Rafil Dhafir was prepared by Royce Hawkins of the Center for Community Alternatives; MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF PRETRIAL RELEASE FOR DR. RAFIL DHAFIR, (USA vs Rafil Dhafir, Defendant's Pretrail Release memorandum, 2003-CR-64
The purpose of this memorandum, prepared by the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA), is to provide information about Dr. Dhafir's character and background, his strong ties to the Syracuse community, in order to assist the Court in evaluating the defendant's request for release from detention.
Biography of Rafil Dhafir
Dr. Rafil Dhafir was born on July 1, 1948 to Fatima Thabit and Abdullah Dhafir in Baghdad, Iraq. Dr. Dhafir has six living siblings. Three of Dr. Dhafir's siblings live in Iraq, two reside in England, and the other, Dr. Mazin Dhafir, resides in Orchard Park, New York, where he is a dermatologist.
Dr. Dhafir reports that he was raised, as a Sunni Muslim, in a hardworking middle class family in Baghdad, Iraq. Dr. Dhafir graduated with high honors from high school at age 16. He ranked number 10 out of 45,000 graduating seniors in the nation. After high school, Dr. Dhafir entered Baghdad Medical School in Iraq at age 17. Dr. Dhafir completed his study in general medicine in 1971, at age 23. Following medical school Dr. Dhafir practiced medicine in Baghdad for a few months as service to the government, before migrating to the United States in 1972. Dr. Dhafir settled in Highland Park, Michigan, where he met and later married, Priscilla. The couple has no children. .
In 1973, after completing his residency at Highland Park Medical Center, Dr. Dhafir began treating patients in an impoverished and crime ridden area of Detroit, Michigan. In Detroit, he trained in the emergency rooms of Detroit General and St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital. As a result of Dr. Dhafir's emergency room duties he witnessed first hand the impact of poverty and violence. Dr. Dhafir not only treated trauma victims, he counseled victims of rape long before it was standard practice. .
It was in the emergency room at Detroit General, where Dr. Dhafir had his first experience with a cancer patient. He saw a man, draped in a hospital gown, sitting alone in a hallway of the hospital. A physician approached the man and said "sir you have cancer of the mouth and you are going to die." After the physician gave the man the devastating news, he turned and walked away, leaving the man hopeless and bewildered to cope with the news of his impending death alone. This incident deeply affected Dr. Dhafir. Dr. Dhafir states that his religion of Islam has taught him that there is a cure for every illness, except senility, and his desire to hold true to his religion has motivated him to devote his career to working with cancer patients. .
In 1976, motivated by his desire to treat and care for cancer patients and his faith that these were not hopeless causes, Dr. Dhafir enrolled in the University of Michigan to become certified in oncology. Frances E. Bull, Professor Emeriti of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, remembers Dr. Dhafir as a soft spoken, skilled physician, who related to his patients in a gentle manner:
Dr. Rafil Dhafir was a medical oncology trainee at the University of Michigan from July 1, 1976-June 30, 1978, having received his medical degree at the College of Medicine in Baghdad in 1971, and having his internship and medical residency in the Detroit area, 1972-76.
The Section of Medical Oncology had, at that time, three junior faculty members and myself, Professor and Head of the Medical Oncology Section of the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We had a total of two trainees per year when Rafil was with us. With this small number of faculty trainees, we basically worked shoulder to shoulder caring for patients with advanced cancer and grew to know each other well.
I can characterize Rafil as a well-trained, skilled physician, who related to these anxious and ill patients with a gentle kindness. He was soft-voiced and calm in demeanor. He was a practicing Muslim, and therefore did not smoke or drink, and observed the fasting of Ramadan. I held him in the highest regard.
From time to time since his departure for practice in New York, I would see him at the oncology meetings, but our conversations were brief.
I wrote him after 9/11, when there were anti-Muslim demonstrations around the country, hoping he was faring all right. His responding letter, which I cannot now locate and may not have saved, indicated he had reduced his flying because of airport security hassles, but that prior to 9/11 had been doing a fair bit of flying to raise funds to help the children of Iraq. He felt the children were suffering and dying from the sanctions imposed on Iraq, a view which I think is generally agreed upon. This activity would be in line with my knowledge of him as a compassionate human.
I am Hopeful that he will be viewed in this light by our court system.Frances E. Bull, MD Exhibit A.
In 1977 and 1979, Dr. Dhafir passed his medical and oncology boards and went on to practice medicine and teach oncology at Texas Tech University in Amarillo, Texas in 1978. Upon Dr. Dhafir's arrival in Amarillo, there was no Mosque where Muslims could congregate to practice their religion. In order to help fill this void, Dr. Dhafir made a part of his personal residence available as a place of worship for the Muslims in the Amarillo area. .
In 1980, after living in Amarillo, Texas for two years, Dr. Dhafir relocated to Syracuse, New York to become Associate Director of the cancer research project at Bristol Labs. Dr. Dhafir was able to help the company speed up the process in delivering vital cancer medication to seriously ill patients. Despite Dr. Dhafir's busy schedule at Bristol Labs, he assisted the Muslim community in building a Mosque on Comstock Avenue in Syracuse, New York. Ayesha Abdulazeem, one of the founders of the Islamic Society of Central New, describes Dr. Dhafir's participation in building the Mosque as follows:
...Dr. Rafil Dhafir, was invited to join our community of fledgling and predominately indigenous Muslims, as an Amir. At first, he presided over our weekly meetings held on Sundays, wherever the University had a vacancy. Eventually, as the community grew in size Dr. (Dhafir) developed experientially in his ability to orchestrate the business of a not-for-profit...he along with several other community members began to formulate the plans to secure land, and fund-raise to achieve the building of a permanent place of worship...Ayesha Abdulazeem Exhibit B.
After construction of the Mosque was completed, in 1981, Dr. Dhafir saw a need to provide spiritual leadership, in addition to financial support, to the Muslim community in Syracuse, New York. Dr. Dhafir served as president of the Islamic Society of Central New York. As Dr. Dhafir grew spiritually, his desire to treat cancer patients grew stronger. He felt compelled to return to his medical calling. .
Driven by his compassion to deliver oncology services to the neediest people, Dr. Dhafir opened his own practice, in Rome, New York, in the spring of 1982. Dr. Dhafir is known and loved by his patients as a compassionate practitioner who is dedicated to saving lives. Peggy Tosti, a former patient of Dr. Dhafir's, describes his unique qualities:
I have been a patient of Dr. Rafil Dhafir for about eight years. He has shown me he is a man dedicated to saving lives. His compassion and care and relentless studying for cures of the horrible cancers his patients have to endure are unmatched by any other doctor who has treated me.
I had the misfortune of suffering two totally separate cancers-nearly back-to-back-and despite the discouragement I felt, Dr. Dhafir would not allow me to be despondent. He and his kind staff, which includes a Roman Catholic nun, have been totally devoted to my comfort and that of my fellow patients.
When patients undergo therapy for cancer, they inevitably get to know others who are in the same boat. I chatted with many of Dr. Dhafir's other patients and never heard a negative word about him or his staff. To me, this was an amazing fact. Not one of us felt mistreated, or questioned the doctor's dedication.
Dr. Dhafir never denied his devout Muslim roots. In fact he often talked of his pilgrimages to his homeland (Mecca). But he never flaunted or attempted to convert anyone. His hiring of a Roman Catholic nun as his nurse-practitioner exemplifies his love for all of humankind.Peggy Tosti Exhibit C.
In addition to Dr. Dhafir's private medical practice, he has been on the medical staff of Rome Memorial Hospital since 1982. In a press release issued by the hospital, following Dr. Dhafir's arrest, Darlene Burns, chief executive officer of Rome Memorial Hospital, stated that Dr. Dhafir has been a respected member of the medical staff since 1982. (See exhibit D for press release. .
Over the years Dr. Dhafir became acutely aware of the financial problems faced by many of his elderly patients quite often these elderly patients who received medicare, could not afford the co-payments associated with their insurance plan. Dr. Dhafir continued to provide his services, waiving the co-payments when his patients were unable to pay. .
In 1991, Dr. Dhafir recognized that there was a dire need for medical services in the rural community of Camden, New York. Dr. Dhafir took up this challenge. He established the Camden Medical Center in addition to maintaining his private medical office in Rome, New York. Through his hard work and dedication he was able to recruit a number of doctors to join his effort to provide medical services to the Camden community. The doctor's from an array of special areas such as internal medicine, family practice, pediatrics, and gastroenterology came to the Camden Medical Center. The Camden Medical Center continues to provide valuable medical care to more than 20,000 patients a year. .
Dr. Dhafir's compassion and generosity did not end with the cancer patients that he cared for, he also has a special place in his heart for the children of Iraq. Dr. Dhafir's concern for the children of Iraq should in no way be seen as an endorsement of any nefarious activities of the government of that country. Many American and Christian groups have provided relief to the Iraqi children who have suffered greatly during the last 12 years. .
In 1997, the United Nations commissioned a study that looked at a range of health related issues in Iraq. The study found that almost one million children in southern and central Iraq were chronically malnourished:
The most alarming results are those on malnutrition, with 32 per cent of children under the age of five, some 960,000 children, chronically malnourished-a rise of 72 per cent since 1991. Almost one quarter (around 23 per cent) are underweight-twice as high as the levels found in neighboring Jordan or Turkey..
Phillip Heffinck, a UNICEF Representative in Baghdad, responded to the findings of the study as follows; "What we are seeing is a dramatic deterioration in the nutritional well-being of Iraqi children since 1991." Mr. Heffinck further stated: "It is clear that children are bearing the brunt of the current hardship." .
Finally, the study points out that there has been no sign of improvement in the nutritional health of the Iraqi children, since the UN Security Council passed the oil-for-food program. .
As people outside of Iraq became more aware of the developing health and medical crisis, Dr. Dhafir felt compelled to help in what ways he could. He still loved the people of Iraq, although he did not care for the leader of their country. .
After the first Gulf war in 1991, many families in Iraq were displaced and many children suffered from malnourishment. In 1993, in response to the suffering of the Iraqi children, Dr. Dhafir was instrumental in establishing the Help the Needy Endowment Inc. (HTN). HTN assisted children and their families by providing food and related items. HTN also collected and distributed Zakat on behalf of Muslims. Zakat is the third pillar of Islam which orders wealthy Muslims to give 2.5% of their wealth to the poor each year. .
PRIOR CRIMINAL RECORD.Dr. Dhafir has no prior criminal record.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE HISTORY .Dr. Dhafir has no history of substance abuse.
MEDICAL HISTORY.Dr. Dhafir has no significant health