Aug. 28 is the one-year anniversary of the incarceration of a righteous man. In May 2012, Shakir Hamoodi, a Columbia resident, was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison because he sent money to his brothers and sisters in Iraq more than a decade ago. I have known Shakir Hamoodi for seven years. I spoke with him face-to-face a week or two before he got locked up on Aug. 28, 2012. His main concern was not being able to properly parent his then-13-year-old son; he would not be able to give daily guidance and encouragement during the formidable trials of adolescence.
In an earlier meeting, Shakir had told me that he had two choices. He could either fight his case in court (with an expected cost of about $500,000) or plead guilty and leave his sentence in the hands of a federal judge. Before choosing the latter option, Shakir went to a federal court to observe the sentencing of a similar case. The defendant received a sentence of probation and no prison time. Needless to say that he and his attorney were shocked when Shakir was sentenced to three years in prison followed by a couple years of probation.
He told me the judge referred to the sworn statements accounting for all the money (that had been sent to help his famished friends and family to keep from starving and dying) as “feathers.” The judge said something to the effect of “these pages are nothing but feathers” implying that they mean nothing. Shakir told me that the government attorney accepted the fact that all the funds went to the people on the list and not to enemies of the U.S. armed forces. They were willing to accept the evidence that he was able to account for every penny with the assistance of an accountant in Iraq who had been responsible to receive and distribute the money. However, he was still in violation of the technicalities of the executive order.
Dr. Hamoodi also told me that it tore his heart out when he found out that his sister had miscarried because of malnutrition, obviously a preventable affliction. His own flesh and blood were suffering greatly in the country of his birth for lack of a few dollars a month to buy food and medicine. Putting myself in his shoes, I would have done the same thing.
To keep his brothers and sisters alive, he arranged for a way to send money to them. None of the money he sent went to rebels for the Iraqi army. However, President George H. W. Bush had signed an executive order prohibiting the sending of funds for any reason to Iraq. Other, similar orders by presidents had included exceptions for immediate family members.
History records that civilians usually suffer greatly in war-torn countries. According to Wikipedia, the deaths related to World War II range from 50 million to 80 million people; most of those, about 38 million to 55 million people being non-combatants (about two-thirds of the deaths were civilians). It is conceivable that millions of people in Iraq were suffering, starving and dying directly as a result of a presidential executive order. If anyone should be punished, it should be the politicians and military leaders that kept food and medicine from being delivered to millions of suffering civilians and for sabotaging the Iraqi monetary system causing hyperinflation; not a U. S. citizen trying to give life-saving bread and medicine to his brothers and sisters.
Today, I signed a petition, organized by Shakir’s son, Owais, to request that President Obama commute the remainder of the 36-month sentence. Apparently they need about 5,500 more signatures. If you are interested please go to: www.change.org/petitions/president-barack-obama-commute-the-36-month-sentence-of-dr-shakir-hamoodi to sign the petition.
Aric Schreiner is a Columbia resident.