In travesty of justice, Rasmea Odeh found guilty despite history of Israeli torture

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The following statement was issued by the Rasmea Defense Committee:

In a travesty of justice, Rasmea Odeh today was found guilty of one count of Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization.  For over a year, Rasmea, her supporters, and her legal team have been battling this unjust government prosecution, saying from the start that the immigration charge was nothing but a pretext to attack this icon of the Palestine liberation movement.  And although there is real anger and disappointment in the jury’s verdict, it was known as early as October 27th that she would not get a full and fair trial.

On that day, Judge Gershwin Drain made a number of rulings that made her defense virtually impossible.  The government’s indictment stated that she had unlawfully gained U.S. citizenship because she had allegedly answered a number of questions falsely on her visa application in 1995 and her naturalization application in 2004.  She had been in this country as a lawful permanent resident for almost 20 years, and a citizen for over nine, when she was arrested on October 22nd, 2013.

Rasmea Odeh

Rasmea Odeh

The main basis for the arrest a year ago was that she had allegedly falsely answered “No” to a question asking whether she had ever been arrested or imprisoned.  The government claimed that she failed to disclose that she had been convicted by the Israelis of participating in bombings in 1969.  This conviction in a military court was the result of a false confession made after she was viciously tortured and raped by Israeli military authorities for weeks.  There is no due process in Israeli military courts, which “convict” over 99% of Palestinians who come before them, and “evidence” from these should not be accepted in a court in the U.S.

But Judge Drain did allow the conviction in Israel to be entered into evidence; and even though he suggested that Rasmea’s assertion that she faced torture and sexual abuse at the hands of her Israeli captors was “credible,” he still ruled that it could not be brought up in the course of her trial.  So her attorneys had to scrap plans to call to the stand an expert witness, clinical psychologist Dr. Mary Fabri, who has decades of experience working with torture survivors, to testify that the allegedly false answers on the immigration forms were the result of Rasmea’s chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The judge also rejected Rasmea’s selective prosecution motion, even though it was clear that the case against her grew out of the investigation of 23 anti-war and Palestinian community organizers in Chicago and Minneapolis, who were subpoenaed to a federal grand jury in 2010.  Make no mistake.  Rasmea came under attack by the U.S. government because she is Palestinian, and because for decades, she has organized for Palestinian liberation and self-determination, the Right of Return, and an end to U.S. funding of Israeli occupation.  Palestine support work, especially the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, has made a number of recent gains, and the long arm of federal law enforcement has attempted to crack down on it, like it has on all effective and impactful movements for social justice in the history of this country.  The crackdown reached Rasmea.

More than 200 people from across the Midwest, especially from Chicago, traveled to stand with her throughout the trial.  They bore silent witness to her incredible testimony, for despite the judge’s rulings, she and her defense team did put the crimes of Israel on record.  Her story of being exiled from the village of her birth, Lifta, in 1948; of being exiled again during the 1967 war; of experiencing the death of her sister after the raid on her home in 1969; and of being a political prisoner, one of the most famous in the history of the Palestine liberation movement—all these are stories of the crimes of apartheid Israel, crimes that continue today in the racist settler and military assaults we have seen in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, 1948 Palestine, and the West Bank.  Israel’s terrorism, and the U.S. government’s complicity, were exposed for all the world to see.

Rasmea’s honesty in the face of cross-examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel was thoroughly convincing as well.  She said clearly that she thought the questions on the immigration forms were being asked about her time in the U.S., because she said she had nothing to hide and did not need to lie.  She had testified about her torture at the United Nations when she was released in 1979, and as her lead attorney, Michael Deutsch, said, “It was well known that she was convicted, and traded [in a prisoner exchange]. The U.S. Embassy knew it, the State Department knew it, and Immigration should have known it.”  So although the government had to prove that she “knowingly lied,” it never met that burden, regardless of what the verdict says.

For over a year, the Rasmea Defense Committee has been organizing educational events, rallies, protests, and call-in days to demand that U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade and Tukel drop the charges against her.  We now have more work ahead of us.   Rasmea’s brilliant legal team—Deutsch, Jim Fennerty, Bill Goodman, and Dennis Cunningham—will undoubtedly file an appeal, and have strong grounds to do so, based on Judge Drain’s unjust decisions.  And we will continue to support their work with our political organizing and mobilizations.

Just like our people in Palestine and across the world will never rest until every inch of historical Palestine is free, we will never rest in our defense and support of Rasmea as she moves forward to challenge this conviction.  As Deutsch said in his closing statement to the jury, “It has been one of the great privileges of my long legal career to represent this extraordinary woman of great passion and dignity.”  Rasmea’s story is the story of millions of Palestinians, and of millions of freedom-loving defenders of justice everywhere.  Her eventual victory will be a victory for Palestine and for all the people’s movements across the world.

Today, we thank everyone who stood with Rasmea this past year, and ask you to continue fighting with us until we achieve that victory.

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26 Responses

  1. ritzl
    November 10, 2014, 4:18 pm

    A) Sad, so very sad, that a jury did this. I actually had hopes. I hope there are legal avenues left.

    B) How in the f*k do long-time, open, and unrepentant terrorists like Rahm Emanuel’s father get allowed in and granted citizenship, and Odeh gets a show-trial and the boot?

    C) In the muddle that is Palestinian statehood, there may be at least one small, unambiguous bright spot: that Palestinian courts could start convicting Israelis of crimes such that they would have to declare that conviction just as Odeh did. If the Palestinians actually use evidence and disavow torture, the more the better.

    It would be interesting to see if US law is vaguely enough written to mean any conviction rather than convictions in states with which the US has bilateral relations. Heck, Abbas could make recognition of Palestinian court decisions a condition for starting the next round of “negotiations.”

  2. DoubleStandard
    November 10, 2014, 4:31 pm

    Rasmea did not present a cogent defense. They threw everything against the wall and hoped something would stick. Nothing did.

    1) She was tortured and was suffering from PTSD while she filled out the application, which caused her to lie.
    2) She didn’t speak English and didn’t get the question.
    3) The conviction was false so she shouldn’t have had to answer yes.

    Which is it??

    • andrew r
      November 11, 2014, 11:31 pm

      Did you follow the trial at all? The defense wasn’t allowed to bring up torture – the judge ruled any testimony on it would not be admissible, and warned Ms. Odeh she could be held in contempt for discussing it. At best, the defense mentioned that she was convicted in a military court.

      Also, while her brother (already living in the US) filled out the application for her, she stated point blank that she thought the question only applied to the US, and that the Immigration official who interviewed her did not specify it applied anywhere in the world.

      Rather than throwing everything against the wall, the defense was heavily circumscribed in what they could use. Much of their case rested on demonstrating the Immigration official had a faulty memory and couldn’t be relied on to remember instructing her to report any conviction outside the US.

      It should have been the state of Israel on trial, not Rasmea Odeh. Obviously that’s what the judge was trying to prevent.

  3. just
    November 10, 2014, 5:59 pm

    Judge Drain is true to his name, and the jury was/is stupid.

    total injustice.

  4. chocopie
    November 11, 2014, 1:43 am

    So unfair that this long-suffering woman is going back to prison again for the crime of being Palestinian. Zionism is never satisfied–she was hounded out of her land, accused, tortured and imprisoned, exiled, and then hunted down and imprisoned again.

    She has a very compelling story. I wish her case could become more widely known.

  5. Walid
    November 11, 2014, 4:16 am

    Rasmea is one of the few Palestinians in the news actually born in Palestine and probably the reason why she has been targeted. She, like mostly all other people of the Odeh family was born in Lifta, the only Palestinian village out of 500 that’s still left standing; all the others having been razed to the ground with either highways cutting through them or new Israeli communities built over their ruins. Of the village’s original 400 houses, there are about 60 still left standing and almost intact as a reminder of the 3000 Palestinians chased off the land by the Zionists in January 1948. It’s also a constant reminder of the Palestinians’ RoR. 3 years ago, Palestinian and Israeli activists succeeded in getting the Israeli court to block the building of upscale homes on the village’s territory that would have demolished the remaining houses. Lifta is a thorn in Israel’s side and it’s only a matter of time before Israel destroys it. Rasmea is also a reminder of Lifta and the RoR.

    As to Judge Drain, he replaced Judge Paul Borman, on Rasmea’s case who according to Wiki, ” recused himself after he learned that his family had held investments in the Jerusalem supermarket that Odeh and others were convicted of bombing in 1969, stating that his financial ties “could be perceived as establishing a reasonably objective inference of a lack of impartiality in the context of the issues presented in this case.”

    He had refused an earlier request by Odeh’s lawyers to step down from the case on the basis of his long history of involvement with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, that he had raised more that $3 million for a pro-Israeli charity, and had made numeorus trips to Israel, saying that Odeh’s lawyers were engaged in “careless and rank speculation” for suggesting that he could not be impartial in the case.”

    Makes you wonder how close Judge Drain is to Judge Borman.

    • Walid
      November 11, 2014, 5:56 am

      At the commemoration ceremony on the anniversary of Arafat’s death, President Abbas just dropped 2 bombshells:

      1. Before the end of the current month, Palestine will apply for full membership in the UN and if not accepted, will sign agreements to commence proceedings against Israel with every agency.

      2. Abbas openly accused Hamas of the 15 bombings in Gaza of last week.

      • Marnie
        November 11, 2014, 12:05 pm

        I’m hoping for #1.

  6. Horizontal
    November 11, 2014, 10:24 am

    I cannot understand why Judge Drain would not allow details of why she lied about never having been imprisoned to be disclosed during the trial, as it seems to go to the very heart of the case.

    Had I been on that jury and found out about this later, I would feel hoodwinked, no matter how I had voted.

    I hope justice eventually takes place; it wasn’t allowed in the courtroom.

    • DoubleStandard
      November 11, 2014, 10:38 am

      Because the legitimacy of her Israeli conviction doesn’t matter. The judge excluded it because the prosecution feared that the jurors might think that if the conviction from Israel was wrongly obtained, they have to acquit her in this case right now. This is not so.

      • andrew r
        November 12, 2014, 12:14 am

        With all due respect, you’re full of crap. The judge did not exclude the legitimacy of her conviction: It was presented to the jury as a given.

        As Jebson spoke, the charges Odeh was convicted of by the military court appeared on the screen standing behind his podium. The jury saw each charge, and then, each question she answered incorrectly on her application, zoomed in on in dramatic fashion.

        According to the EI writer, the govt. mentioned the bombings ten times in the closing arugments alone, and 50 times throughout the trial. The govt. played up what she was convicted for, and so the legitimacy of the Israeli military court was at the heart of the govt’s case, nevermind the defense.

      • DoubleStandard
        November 12, 2014, 10:17 am

        So I read the motion filed by the prosecution and the judge’s response. Basically, the prosecution said that the conviction could be false but it doesn’t matter because she doesn’t have the right to pass judgment on the legitimacy of her own conviction, and that allowing her to challenge it in court would shift focus from her lie to the Israeli occupation. The judge agreed.

      • andrew r
        November 12, 2014, 8:45 pm

        Ugh, that was supposed to be a blockquote. Whatever, here’s the EI links.

        http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/charlotte-silver/us-government-focuses-45-year-old-israeli-military-ruling-trial-rasmea-odeh

        http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/charlotte-silver/after-tense-last-day-jury-begins-deliberations-rasmea-odeh

        Also, her brother filled out her Visa application in 1995 and she filled out her own application for citizenship in 2004.

    • JeffB
      November 11, 2014, 12:07 pm

      @Horizontal

      Because this article is misleading. The defense was trying to have it both ways. The defense didn’t want the jury to know that she was a convicted terrorist associated with a bombing because their feeling was such information was prejudicial. On the other hand they wanted to argue the trial had been unfair due to torture. How was the prosecution supposed to discuss her torture without discussing the bombing? That would have created a picture that she was tortured for ethnic reasons which the judge wasn’t going to summarily decide was true. It was an impossible situation and the judge wasn’t going to allow that strategy. If you want something excluded then it is excluded. The jury got the minimum that she had been convicted. That was her call. She could have given the jury the full story but she went the other way and lost.

      • Horizontal
        November 11, 2014, 10:04 pm

        I didn’t get that from reading the story.

        Is what you’re saying what you think or what you know?

      • Jackdaw
        November 14, 2014, 10:49 am

        Poor defense work and a client who hurt her own case when she testified at trial.

        Cramming the courtroom with ‘supporters’, is not a good idea either.

    • Brian Kerk
      November 11, 2014, 12:53 pm

      The Judge did allow that. “She said clearly that she thought the questions on the immigration forms were being asked about her time in the U.S.”

  7. Jackdaw
    November 11, 2014, 10:56 am

    ” she was viciously tortured and raped by Israeli military authorities for weeks. ”

    Really. I wasn’t aware that Israel rapes women prisoners. Have any other female prisoners made that claim, or is Ms Odeh the only victim?

    • DoubleStandard
      November 12, 2014, 10:18 am

      Israel doesn’t rape women prisoners. Rasmea odeh is a liar and a terrorist who will be getting a one way ticket back to the middle east.

      • andrew r
        November 13, 2014, 4:40 am

        Rasmea deserves to go home to a free Palestine. It’s the pogrom state of Israel that needs to be taken out of the middle east. No one believes this is about her technical violation of us law and clearly you don’t either.

  8. gamal
    November 11, 2014, 12:48 pm

    Rasmea is not alone

    ” Although Benton Harbor is ostensibly out from under emergency management, the city is subjected to the more powerful and predominantly white St. Joseph, where the county court system is based. The fact that an all-white jury was impaneled in such a racially sensitive case in an area with deep historical tensions, speaks volumes in regard to the lack of sensitivity existing among the county authorities and the corporate interests.”

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/11/11/legacy-of-racism-and-national-oppression-in-berrien-county/

  9. eljay
    November 11, 2014, 3:53 pm

    But Judge Drain did allow the conviction in Israel to be entered into evidence; and even though he suggested that Rasmea’s assertion that she faced torture and sexual abuse at the hands of her Israeli captors was “credible,” he still ruled that it could not be brought up in the course of her trial.

    The rape victim is fired from her job for lying about an assault conviction. Judge Drain decides that the assault conviction can be entered into evidence, but the fact that the assault comprised punches and slaps at the rapist while the victim was chained in his bunker and at his mercy for months won’t be brought up in trial.

  10. Walid
    November 12, 2014, 5:45 am

    A bit more detailed insight from The Nation (just before the guilty verdict) and how the Israeli torturers got her to confess to the bombing by threatening to have her father rape her:

    “… Rasmea Odeh was one month old when her family fled from their home in Lifta, a village outside Jerusalem. By February 1948, the Zionist army had destroyed Lifta and expelled its residents as part of its strategy to take control of Jerusalem. Odeh grew up as a refugee in Ramallah in the West Bank, which she saw come under occupation by the Israeli army in 1967.

    When she was 21, in 1969, Odeh was arrested in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers at her home, and for twenty-five days her interrogators tortured her. She was beaten from head to toe with sticks and metal bars; her body, including genitalia and breasts, was subjected to electric shocks after she was forced to watch a male prisoner tortured to death in this very way. All the while, she was told she would die if she did not confess. But it was not until they brought in her father, threatening to force him to rape her, that she agreed to sign a confession stating that she had helped orchestrate two explosions in West Jerusalem that killed two civilians. Even then, her torturers raped her with a thick wooden stick.

    Standing before a military court less than one month later, Odeh renounced the confession. But the panel of judges ignored that, and Odeh was sentenced to ten years plus life in prison. Ten years later, she was released in a prisoner exchange, along with seventy-five other Palestinians. That same year, in 1979, Odeh traveled to Geneva, where she described to the United Nations precisely how she came to be convicted of terrorism by Israel. In the years following, Odeh lived in Lebanon and Jordan, where she obtained a law degree. In 1995 she immigrated to the United States, joining her brother and father, both US citizens, and the large Arab-American communities in Detroit and, later, Chicago….”

    http://www.thenation.com/article/188033/will-rasmeah-odeh-go-prison-because-confession-obtained-through-torture

  11. Jackdaw
    November 16, 2014, 1:34 am

    Rashmeh’s cousin admits to Rasmeh’s involvement in the murderous supermarket bombing.

    Rasmeh’s bombs were set to detonate at 11am on Friday, the peak shopping time for Shabbos.

    150 people were in the supermarket, mostly women and children.
    Two college students were murdered by Rasmeh and her terrorist cohorts. The students had gone to the market to buy canned goods for a camping trip.
    They never had a chance to mature and see what life has to offer. Rasmeh murdered them.

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