Jailing Rasmea Odeh may trigger trauma from Israeli torture, expert tells judge

Women participate in a rally calling for the release of Rasmea Odeh, outside the federal building in Chicago, 12 November.

Sarah Jane Rhee

Rasmea Odeh’s lawyers have asked US District Judge Gershwin A. Drain to reconsider his decision to jail their client until her sentencing hearing scheduled for 10 March.

On Monday, a federal jury in Detroit found Odeh guilty of unlawful procurement of naturalization after a trial under rules which defense attorneys said were so restrictive that they could not put on the defense they had planned.

Odeh was convicted of not disclosing a 1969 conviction in an Israeli military court for taking part in two bombings in Jerusalem that killed two persons. Odeh’s attorneys argued in pretrial hearings that the conviction was based on a confession obtained after weeks of torture and sexual assault.

In a move that surprised Odeh’s attorneys on Monday, US prosecutors asked Drain to revoke the $3,000 bond on which Odeh had been free since she was indicted.

Odeh’s conviction carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison, as well as fines. Prosecutors indicated in court that they are likely to seek a prison term of no less than 21 months.

In granting the prosecution’s request to detain her immediately, Drain told Odeh, “You are no longer clothed in the presumption of innocence.” He also invoked her attempt to escape from an Israeli prison in 1975 as proof that she poses a flight risk.

The judge also asserted that Odeh “has no real ties to anyone in Chicago” that would prevent her from fleeing the country before sentencing, a pointed dismissal of the dozens of friends and supporters who had travelled from Chicago to Detroit to attend pretrial hearings for over a year, and who were present every day during Odeh’s trial.

Mossad-linked group claims credit

After her conviction this week, Shurat HaDin (an Israeli legal group that the transparency organization SpinWatch revealed works closely with the Israeli spy and assassination agency Mossad) claimed responsibility for helping US prosecutors unearth Odeh’s 45-year-old record with the Israeli military court. The Jerusalem Report said on Thursday:

“In trying to defang her defense, the NGO [Shurat HaDin] said that the US attorney’s office ran into heavy red tape trying to get the IDF [Israeli army] Archives Division to supply it, in timely fashion, with documents proving Odeh’s identity and conviction, in Israel’s Judea and Samaria [occupied West Bank] courts, for her hand in the bombing. Using its own connections, Shurat HaDin was able to get the relevant documents.”

Stepping up protests

Supporters of Rasmea Odeh around the country are planning a national week of action to protest her detention and refute Drain’s disregard of the community in which Odeh is rooted.

Across the country, protests are being staged to demonstrate the breadth of support Odeh has. On Wednesday, in Oakland, California, several people were arrested outside a federal courthouse while protesting the immediate incarceration of Odeh.

Today in New York, a broad coalition of human rights groups also planned to hold a protest outside the federal courthouse.

Community backs Odeh

In the brief filed with Judge Drain on 13 November, lead defense attorney Michael Deutsch wrote, “We urge the Court to look again at his seemingly offhand notion that the presence of other family members is a sine qua non of sufficiently strong community ties to show unlikelihood of flight.”

In other words, Deutsch challenged Drain’s assertion that only close family would be proof of strong enough “community ties” to keep Odeh in Chicago.

But Deutsch went on to tell Drain that Odeh has two nephews who live in Chicago. Co-counsel James Fennerty has volunteered to act as custodian for Odeh before sentencing and several people in Chicago have offered to post their homes — valued at $500,000 — as insurance against her bond.

In support of the motion, Deutsch attached several letters from organizations in Chicago urging Drain to reconsider.

Torture trauma warning

In addition to a range of religious and cultural groups, Mary Fabri, the clinical psychologist and renowned torture expert who was prepared to testify on Odeh’s post traumatic stress disorder, wrote to Drain, “I am concerned that being immediately taken into custody and being detained will intensify Ms. Odeh’s symptoms of PTSD and threaten her mental state… . The revocation of her bail and immediate detention is fraught with reminders of her imprisonment in Israel.”

The Arab American Action Network’s Arab Women’s Committee, through which Odeh cultivated strong relationships with hundreds of Arab women immigrants, also submitted a letter with with more than 250 signatures.

Odeh is deputy director of the Arab American Action Network and expanded the reach of the women’s committee during her decade with the organization.

The government has until 19 November to answer the motion.

Inconsistent rulings

By invoking Odeh’s history while in Israeli custody to justify the revocation of her bond, Drain continued his inconsistent rulings in regard to the relevance of her 45-year-old conviction by an Israeli military court. While he refused to allow evidence of her torture into trial, heavy emphasis was placed on what she had been convicted of throughout the proceedings.

As I stated in an interview with The Real News Network on Wednesday (video above):

The judge said that this case is not about what happened in 1969: we are not trying to re-litigate what happened in 1969. He said that as a way of justifying not admitting the information of her torture, which calls into question the legitimacy of her conviction. But at the same time, he also let in what she was convicted of, which was participating in a series of bombings that resulted in the deaths of two people… And the prosecution alluded to this conviction numerous times. I think her defense attorney said it was over 50 times did they repeat this, convicted of two bombings that killed two people, which is a very inflammatory charge that would prejudice any jury.

Editor’s note: This post has been edited to reflect the fact that SpinWatch first revealed the connection between Shurat HaDin and Mossad.




The more I read about Rasmea's case, the more I am convinced that she is the victim of a vindictive Zionist organisation, which is determined to shut her up one way or another for her advocacy work.
If the prosecution frequently alluded to her conviction by an Israeli military court for taking part in a bomb attack, then it is certainly relevant how that conviction came to be, including the use of torture and the threat of rape. She was convicted in an occupier's military court.
I am livid that Rasmea was incarcerated straight after the guilty verdict in stead of allowing her to appeal against the verdict as a free woman. It just reinforces my suspicion that in the USA anti-Arab and particularly anti-Palestinian racism and prejudice is rife and that Palestinians and Arabs will not find justice in "the land of the free".


I suspect the jury believed she should have clarified on her own if the question about having a criminal record applied only to convictions in the US or anywhere in the world. That and their being instructed by the judge not to account for the legitimacy of her 1969 conviction is probably why they voted guilty. IOW she got railroaded, because so long as the jury was made aware of what she was charged with by the Israeli military court, the legitimacy of her conviction was taken for granted. Being unable to challenge that meant she had no defense.

If she had been convicted in 1969 of a petty crime or for political speech in a dictatorship, she would not have been prosecuted. This was double jeopardy.

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.