Rasmea Odeh in prolonged solitary confinement in Michigan jail

Rasmea Odeh

Ali Abunimah

Lawyers and friends of Rasmea Odeh are increasingly worried about the jailed Palestinian American community leader’s condition, as she has been held in solitary confinement for twelve consecutive days.

Odeh, 67, from Chicago, has been held in St. Clair County Jail in Port Huron, Michigan, since her 10 November conviction on immigration fraud charges.

Odeh has been in total segregation, locked up for twenty-three and a half hours a day. She is not allowed to receive visitors or mail, speak to other prisoners, or use the commissary.

Most worryingly, she is suffering from back and dental pain, which makes it difficult for her to eat, as well as other health problems exacerbated by a lack of ability to care for herself with adequate exercise.

Total isolation

Michael Deutsch, Odeh’s lead attorney, said that no reason has been given for this prolonged, punitive isolation.

“Originally she was put in isolation due to some dispute with an officer,” Deutsch told The Electronic Intifada. “I don’t know the nature of that argument. I’ve seen no paperwork.”

Odeh was given six days of solitary confinement, “but when the six days were up, she was told she’d have to stay for another three days and we’ve had no explanation,” Deutsch added. After those three days were up, the period was extended again for three days.

Deutsch said that a Michigan lawyer who has been working with the legal team visited Odeh yesterday and that she was still in segregation.

A letter from Odeh’s lawyers is being sent today to St. Clair County Sheriff Tim Donnellon, who is in charge of the jail, demanding that Odeh be released from segregation and that she be provided with immediate medical care.

Deutsch suspects that the US Attorney’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security could be instigating the harsh treatment Odeh is receiving.

“I can’t say for sure, but it seems to me that they are targeting her because of who she is and what she stands for,” Deutsch said.

The immigration fraud charge against Odeh stems from her failure to disclose in an immigration form a 1969 Israeli military court conviction for alleged involvement in two bombings in Jerusalem.

Odeh has always contended that the conviction was forced out of her after weeks of torture and sexual assault in Israeli detention.

The trial judge himself said he found Odeh’s account of her torture “credible,” but forbade her from mentioning it in front of the jury. At the same time, government prosecutors were allowed to repeatedly refer to the Israeli accusations against her.

Government delay

Odeh’s immediate detention after her conviction surprised her legal team, who had not expected the judge to revoke the bond that had allowed her to stay free since she was charged in October 2013. Odeh’s sentencing is scheduled for 10 March.

Odeh’s lawyers have filed a motion urging US District Judge Gerswhin Drain to reconsider his decision and allow Odeh to return home to Chicago until sentencing.

The filing includes letters of support from community leaders refuting government claims that Odeh is a flight risk. Some community members have offered to put up their homes, valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars, as a guarantee. One of her attorneys, Jim Fennerty, has offered to host Odeh in his home until she is sentenced.

But Deutsch now sees the government trying to delay the judge’s ruling. All the motions were filed by 24 November, including an amicus or “friend of the court” brief supporting Odeh from the National Lawyer’s Guild (NLG).

“Now, the government is asking for more time to respond to the NLG amicus brief, which is unheard of,” Deutsch said. Typically, as an intervention from an outside entity, an amicus brief may be something a judge takes into account, but would not delay a case over, Deutsch explained.

“But the government is using this to delay [the judge’s] ruling, which is going to be delayed at least until Monday.”

In the meantime, Deutsch says, “We’re just waiting, and as we wait and they delay, she suffers, in particular in a county jail, which doesn’t have proper facilities.”

Odeh’s supporters have issued an urgent action alert urging members of the public to contact Sheriff Donnellon to demand that Odeh be let out of solitary confinement.

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Comments

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I fear that what the government is aiming for is Rasmea's death. Then they can "move on." My faith in my country is lost. This is a sad thing.

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This is the exact Kafkaesque treatment that Israeli jails meet out to Palestinians. Osama bin Laden told Robert Fisk that he hoped to turn the US into a shadow of itself. He was apparently not the only one to dedicate himself to this task.

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...and demonizing Palestinians.

Why is Odeh treated differently from other refugees from oppression? Why is Israel's occupation of the West Bank ignored and whitewashed? Why is torture considered irrelevant?

I agree, if Odeh was another nationality fleeing occupation and discrimination, our courts would have rushed to forgive her. If anything but a Palestinian, her "crime" of omitting that a military court of an illegal occupation convicted her, after torture and a forced confession, would have been judged "no problem" and understandable.

As a Palestinian, Odeh's good deeds and prominence in the U.S. threatened the Israeli narrative and stereotype of Palestinians. They will not tolerate any example that conflicts with the image Hollywood and mass media have created.

Their narrative is threatened by Odeh's example as a conscientious citizen. Their agenda is exposed by Odeh's treatment in the courts.

The Israel Lobby can only win this battle is Americans do not know the truth. Keep up the good work!

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Thanks to EI for reporting this. Our job is to spread the story and to stimulate the outrage it deserves. The authorities act with impunity when they feel no public pressure.

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I am deeply concerned about how this older woman who has health difficulties is being treated during her incarceration. There is no need for this lack of compassion.

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.