US says rallies outside Rasmea Odeh hearings may be “criminal”

The US government claims peaceful protests outside a Detroit courthouse are a “mob” and “hoard” engaged in “jury tampering.”

Ali Abunimah

In an astonishing development, government prosecutors have alleged that orderly public protests outside the Detroit federal courthouse during hearings in the case of Palestinian-American community leader Rasmea Odeh are part of a potentially “criminal” attempt at “jury tampering.”

The Rasmea Defense Committee has condemned the government’s claims as an attempt to “intimidate” Odeh’s supporters.

In a motion filed on 3 October, US prosecutors asked Judge Gershwin Drain to allow for an anonymous jury, an extraordinary measure, supposedly to avoid this alleged tampering.

The government motion refers to the protestors – who have been entirely orderly as witnessed by this writer on numerous occasions and documented by videographers and reporters – as a “mob” and a “hoard.”

In what looks like an attempt to incite the public against Odeh and raise fears of “terrorism,” the motion cites as a precedent for using an anonymous jury the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber” who was convicted in 2012 of attempting in 2009 to blow up an airplane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit.

If the judge accepts the government’s request, jurors’ names would be kept from the public and the defense and they would be brought to the courthouse under police escort through a separate entrance “thereby not requiring jurors to cross through a protesting mob.”

Fundamental rights

No jury has been selected yet. That would be the first order of business when the trial begins. It is currently set to begin on 4 November.

In what looks like a further attempt by prosecutors to deter and criminalize public protests and intimidate people who attend rallies, the government motion even includes a photograph of a rally which took place on 2 September.

Last October, 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, associate director of Chicago’s Arab American Action Network (AAAN), could face prison time, as well as the prospect of being stripped of her US citizenship and deported.

Over the last year many of Odeh’s supporters have traveled from Chicago, joining with local participants to rally in her support in the street outside the courthouse in Detroit during pre-trial hearings – exercising the most fundamental right under the US Constitution.

“Criminal”

The government motion singles out AAAN executive director Hatem Abudayyeh. It states that:

Abudayyeh has orchestrated a concerted effort to influence the criminal proceedings against defendant [Odeh], which has resulted, at each proceeding, in a large group outside the Courthouse protesting and parading, carrying signs demanding dismissal of charges and “Justice for Rasmea” and displaying the Palestinian flag.

It claims that “Abudayyeh has publicly stated that a goal of filling the courtroom, rallying outside the courthouse, and chanting while holding posters is to influence the opinions of jurors” and that “Abudayyeh also has told Deputy United States Marshals that he intends to be contentious with their efforts to maintain order and proper decorum.”

Government motion, which Odeh supporters say is an effort to intimidate them, includes this image of a 2 September rally.

It alleges that “Influencing the opinions of jurors and potential jurors through extra- judicial means is obviously improper and, as discussed in the accompanying brief, almost certainly criminal.”

“Simply put,” the government claims, “Abudayyeh and his hoard of supporters have created a public, emotional and political atmosphere aimed at improperly influencing the jury.”

The motion is signed by Barbara L. Mcquade, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan and assistant US attorneys Jonathan Tukel and Mark Jebson.

As this writer has witnessed, none of Odeh’s pre-trial hearings has ever been disrupted by any disorderly conduct despite the public gallery being filled on every occasion.

“Bizarre” and “desperate”

The Rasmea Defense Committee, which has helped mobilize support for Odeh, called the government motion “bizarre and desperate.”

In a statement, the committee said the “array of security measures” demanded by the government during the trial were intended to “make it seem like 67-year-old Rasmea Odeh is a dangerous person.”

The statement dismisses the government’s claims about “jury tampering,” noting:

Until there is a trial, there is no jury, so how could a jury possibly be tampered with?  In any event, at no time have we ever tried to improperly influence a jury. Not once. What we are doing is organizing protests, having people sign petitions, and holding educational events. We are encouraging people to attend Rasmea’s court appearances. We are shining a light on the unjust prosecution of Rasmea. We want the government to drop the charges.

“The prosecutor’s motion is a clumsy attempt at intimidation, and should be condemned by everyone who is concerned about civil liberties,” the statement adds.

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The word the DoJ is looking for is "horde" -- which the peaceful protesters are not, either. ['Hoard' is a verb.] This case has been a real witch hunt all the way along.

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.