Palestinian American activist asks judge to drop charges based on “illegal” US investigation

The trial of Rasmea Yousef Odeh will begin on 4 November, the new federal judge on the case decided in Detroit yesterday.

But Odeh, a Palestinian American community leader in Chicago, hopes that the judge will dismiss the charges against her when he rules on key defense motions in coming weeks.

Yesterday’s appearance in Detroit was the first before US District Judge Gershwin A. Drain. Drain was assigned to the case after the original judge, Paul D. Borman, a lifelong activist and fundraiser for Zionist causes, recused himself in August citing his family’s ties to an Israeli business mentioned in the case.

Dozens of Odeh’s supporters rallied outside the courthouse, where they heard a call for increased solidarity between Palestinians and African American communities confronting police violence, torture and repression.

At one point, Department of Homeland Security police demanded that rally speakers stop using a bullhorn on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. But when challenged, they were unable to produce a statute allowing them to make such a demand.

In October last year, Odeh was arrested and indicted for allegedly lying on her US citizenship application a decade ago by failing to disclose her conviction in an Israeli military court for allegedly participating in two bombings in Jerusalem in 1969.

Odeh has pleaded not guilty to the US immigration fraud charge and says the Israeli convictions were obtained in the unfair Israeli military court system based entirely on a confession extracted through prolonged, brutal torture including sexual assault.

If convicted Odeh could face prison time as well as being stripped of her US citizenship and deportation.

“Illegal investigation”

Although approximately three dozen of Odeh’s supporters traveled from Chicago and rallied outside the courthouse along with local supporters, neither they nor journalists got to see the new judge – he held a private meeting with Odeh, her defense attorneys and US prosecutors that dealt only with scheduling matters.

Drain set 2 October as the date for the next preliminary hearing where he could rule on two key defense motions, one of them a request to dismiss the case outright.

Odeh’s defense attorneys have filed a motion asking Drain to dismiss the charges altogether on the grounds that the “indictment is the product of an illegal investigation into the First Amendment activities of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) and intended to suppress the work of the defendant in support of the Arab community of Chicago.”

Odeh is associate director of AAAN.

According to the motion filed by the defense attorneys, US prosecutors and FBI agents began investigating AAAN’s executive director Hatem Abudayyeh in January 2010 and in September of that year raided his home, along with those of six other community and political activists in Chicago and other cities.

Prosecutors summoned Abudayyeh and two dozen other activists before a grand jury – an inquisitorial body that the government uses to obtain indictments, but which has been used frequently as a means of coercion in political cases. But four years later, the grand jury has returned no indictments from the investigation.

Odeh’s indictment is the product of this “illegal investigation,” the defense motion argues, “and should be quashed as politically motivated and based on the selective use of the criminal law to target protected political work.”

The motion points out that although the investigation into the political and community activists was conducted in Chicago where Odeh lives and works, the indictment against Odeh was issued by US prosecutors in Detroit.

The US prosecutor’s office in Illinois “apparently passed the case to the office in Michigan,” the motion states, “to divert attention from its failed effort to criminalize the work of the AAAN in Chicago.”

The defense has also asked the judge to order US prosecutors to hand over communications between their Chicago and Detroit offices.

Government “knew” about Odeh torture

The second defense motion that is likely to be discussed in October asks the government to hand over US State Department records related to Odeh’s father Yousef Odeh and “all others similarly charged from 1969-1970.”

The defense believes that documents held by the government “likely contain information which are material and exculpatory” and “would show that the US government knew of the torture that the defendant and her father, who was a US citizen, were subjected to after their arrest by Israeli authorities” and would “corroborate” Odeh’s account that “she was viciously tortured by the Israeli occupation authorities.”

In addition, the defense motion states, the documents could show that the US government knew of Odeh’s “convictions” by the Israeli occupation at the time of her naturalization application but did not raise them as a bar to her receiving citizenship.

Solidarity

As in every previous hearing in Odeh’s case, dozens of activists, many from Chicago, rallied outside the US courthouse.

Following the meeting with the judge, Odeh’s lead defense attorney, Michael E. Deutsch, told supporters and media that the new judge was following his normal procedure by holding today’s hearing in a closed meeting (see video at top of this page).

But Deutsch said that defense attorneys told the new judge that dozens of people had traveled from Chicago and “wanted to see what was going on” and asked him to hold the hearing in open court.

The judge, Deutsch said, insisted he wouldn’t treat Odeh’s case any different from any other, despite the significant public and media attention.

Deutsch said that he had asked the judge to “make arrangements when the trial happens for a bigger courtroom” because of the anticipated public interest.

“I think we’re in a much better situation with the new judge than the old judge,” Deutsch said.

He added that 2 October would be an important day when arguments on defense motions would be argued in open court.

African American struggle against torture

Among those who traveled from Chicago was Frank Chapman, an organizer with the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR).

He spoke about common elements of struggles against police torture and racism in Chicago and across the United States with Odeh’s case.

Chapman said (video below) that he had been in Ferguson, Missouri recently – where police have violently repressed protests after the 9 August police killing of African American teenager Michael Brown – “and I saw the Palestinian people there with their flag and their banner expressing solidarity.”

Chapman said that his group had last week presented to the US Department of Justice “a letter of complaint from 65 victims of police crimes in the City of Chicago, many of them victims of torture … just like Rasmea was a victim of torture.”

Chapman said that many torture victims were in jail and “their mothers and their brothers and their sisters have been fighting to get them out, in some cases for as long as twenty years.”

The letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder mentioned by Chapman states that Brown’s murder and “the massive outpouring of anger and demands for justice” have “focused the attention of the nation on the crisis of police crimes all over the country. People are demanding that the perpetrators of crimes who hide behind a police badge, and their leaderships, be investigated and prosecuted.”

“Attempt to intimidate”

Asked about the incident with DHS police and the bullhorn outside the courthouse, AAAN’s Hatem Abudayyeh told The Electronic Intifada that he saw it as an “attempt to intimidate” Odeh’s supporters.

“We’ve seen the same DHS officers every time we’ve been here and they know what we’re doing and they dealt with us in a much more humane manner,” Abudayyeh said. Abudayyeh attributed the more aggressive stance to a “new guy” – an officer – he had not seen previously.

At the post-hearing press conference, Odeh briefly thanked supporters and stressed how crucial their ongoing efforts would be as upcoming hearings and the trial approach.

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No American, after hearing what this person has been through at the hands of the Israeli authorities, will convict her in an American court of law on these BS charges. We are not stooges for the Israelis, and they do not own America. No more doing their dirty work!!

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.