Rasmea Odeh faces government torture examination

Rasmea Odeh

Ali Abunimah

A government expert witness will conduct an 18-hour psychiatric examination of Rasmea Odeh in order to challenge the testimony of a defense expert that Odeh’s post-traumatic stress disorder may have affected her state of mind when she filled out immigration and citizenship documents as far back as 1995.

The 69-year old Palestinian American activist was convicted of immigration fraud in a US federal court in Michigan in November 2014 for not disclosing a conviction in an Israeli military court more than 40 years ago.

During her trial, Judge Gershwin Drain refused to let Odeh present her defense that her PTSD prevented her from recalling her violent arrest, prolonged interrogation, torture and prosecution by the Israeli military.

Odeh had been examined by Mary Fabri, a clinical psychologist with an extensive background in treating victims of torture. Fabri served on the executive committee for the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs for eight years.

After her own extensive examination, Fabri concluded that Odeh’s PTSD could have prevented her from recalling the traumatic torture and imprisonment she endured in 1969.

As a result of Drain’s rulings, no mention of Odeh’s torture and abuse was allowed into trial. But government prosecutors were allowed to present her as a convicted terrorist who had confessed to coordinating two bombings in Jerusalem in 1969.

In February, an appeals court vacated Odeh’s immigration fraud conviction, arguing that Drain denied Fabri’s testimony on an erroneous basis.

But the court of appeals left the door open for other arguments to keep Fabri’s testimony out.

In June, Drain set a tentative date for Odeh’s new trial, pending a hearing on 29 November at which the government would contest the credibility and reliability of Fabri’s expertise.

However, over the last several weeks, the government has argued that it should be allowed to conduct its own examination of Odeh before the November hearing. This week, Drain granted the government’s request, cancelling a 22 September hearing to debate the issue.

The hearing on 29 November is still scheduled. Drain will listen to Fabri and the government expert witness and then decide whether Fabri’s testimony is credible enough to take the case to trial in January.

“So it’s a battle of witnesses,” Odeh’s lead lawyer Michael Deutsch told The Electronic Intifada.

“Logically what should happen is the judge should say that’s a decision for the jury,” Deutsch said. “But there’s a small window that he could say that Fabri is not reliable enough to even go to a jury.”

Deutsch says that it is normal for the government to call a counter-witness to examine Odeh for their own diagnosis. But he says it is unusual and unnecessary for Odeh to undergo an extensive and adversarial examination before the jury trial is confirmed.

“They’re actually getting an opportunity before the trial to keep Fabri from testifying at trial, to keep us from having a trial at all,” Deutsch said. “So they get two shots at her: one before and one during the trial.”

Before the appeals court vacated her conviction, Odeh faced 18 months in prison, revocation of her US citizenship and deportation to Jordan.

The government had recommended seven years in prison for Odeh.

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This is an absolute disgrace. The logic of the government's position is that Rasmea Odeh's torture and illegal conviction by the Israelis disqualifies her from living in the US. The fact that Gershwin Drain is allowed once again to preside in this case is a further miscarriage of justice. As the article points out, he allowed the prosecution to characterise Ms Odeh as a convicted terrorist while rejecting the defense's effort to introduce testimony on the flagrant breach of human rights suffered by her at the hands of her captors. Now we learn that Drain has authorised a series of lengthy hostile "psychiatric interviews" of the accused, aimed at undermining her claims. On the one hand he refuses to allow her to describe the trauma of abuse she underwent, yet he now insists she be subjected to interrogation with the express purpose of repudiating testimony he himself has forbidden. What a travesty.

And by the way, being abused by the police practically amounts to a citizenship requirement in many American communities.

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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.