US brings new charges against Rasmea Odeh

Rasmea Odeh

Ali Abunimah

Federal prosecutors have filed a slate of new charges against Rasmea Odeh.

“The judge said this isn’t a political trial, but the government in their desperation is turning this into a political case,” the Palestinian American activist’s lead attorney Michael Deutsch told The Electronic Intifada, in response to the new allegations.

Barbara McQuade, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, issued the new indictment just a week after Judge Gershwin Drain ordered a new trial for Odeh.

But faced with the new charges, Odeh’s defense team has asked for the trial that had been set to start on 10 January in Detroit to be delayed until mid-March.

Odeh, 69, was found guilty of immigration fraud in November 2014, stemming from her failure to declare on her immigration and naturalization forms her conviction in an Israeli military court in 1969. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison, revocation of her US citizenship and deportation.

But last February, a US appeals court threw out the verdict, ruling that Judge Drain had erred by not allowing Odeh to call an expert witness to testify about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the torture and rape she suffered in Israeli custody – which Odeh’s defense attorneys argue affected her mental state when she filled out her citizenship application in 2004.

After government prosecutors failed in their bid to prevent a new trial, US Attorney McQuade asked a grand jury to bring a new indictment against Odeh.

The new charges appear to try to circumvent Odeh’s PTSD defense by alleging that she was a member of a “terrorist organization” – the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – and was therefore legally inadmissible to the US when she first immigrated in the 1990s.

In Odeh’s first trial two years ago, Judge Drain barred any use of the word “terrorism,” arguing it could prejudice the jury. He also refused to allow Odeh to testify that she had been tortured to confess.

Drain stated that he did not want to retry her alleged offenses from 1969, saying the US trial should be focused only on the answers Odeh gave on her immigration forms.

But Drain nonetheless allowed the government to talk about the 47-year-old Israeli charges against Odeh – that she had participated in two bombings in Jerusalem that led to two deaths.

The new indictment adds two new allegations that were absent from the government’s previous case: that Odeh was engaged in “terrorist activity” in 1969 and that she was associated with a “designated terrorist organization.”

Michael Deutsch, Odeh’s lead attorney, says the government hopes the PTSD defense would not apply to these allegations, since they allegedly took place before she was tortured by Israeli interrogators.

If Drain accepts the new indictment, the government will dedicate a portion of the trial to proving these allegations.

“This is the government’s response to the fact that we intend to put in the fact that she was tortured and suffers from PTSD,” Deutsch said, adding that it is nearly impossible to get a fair trial when accused of being a terrorist.

Deutsch said Odeh’s legal team is considering various challenges to the new indictment. He is examining whether the statute of limitations excludes this new set of allegations issued 12 years after Odeh applied for naturalization.

If Judge Drain does allow the new charges to continue, Deutsch expects the government to bring in so-called terrorism experts and potentially even Israeli officials to establish that the PFLP is a “terrorist” organization.

The government set the precedent in its prosecutions of Muhammad Salah and the Holy Land Five, when it brought in anonymous Israeli intelligence officers to testify and did not allow defense attorneys the right to fully cross-examine them.

The Rasmea Defense Committee is calling the new indictment “a vicious attack by prosecutors desperate after a series of setbacks in their case against the Chicago-based Palestinian American community leader.”

“We have always said, from day one, that this is a political case, and that the government is prosecuting Rasmea as part of a broader attack, the criminalization of the Palestine liberation movement,” Nesreen Hasan of the Rasmea Defense Committee said in a press release. “This new indictment is literally the same charge, with the same evidence – immigration forms. Only now, they want to paint Rasmea, and all Palestinians, as terrorists.”

The US Attorney’s office in Detroit to did not respond to a request for comment.

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If the issue is the validity of a conviction by the Israeli military court, why can't the proceedings take the natural path and investigate how the conviction was arrived at. We all know the answer. Don't tread on Israel, our revered friend in the Middle East.

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Why did the federal prosecutor wait till now to impose these new charges? This is blatant persecution of Rasmea Odeh. She's accused of breaking the rules, but the rules keep changing. They had their chance to try her for PFLP membership and decided against doing so. But because her torture at the hands of an illegal U.S backed military junta will now be introduced in evidence, the government has lodged charges dating from before her torture and PTSD onset. The defense must challenge this tactic. One of her attorneys is quoted as saying that the PTSD defense will not apply to acts and membership dating from before her detention and abuse. But surely the trauma she endured at the hands of her police rapists explains her failure to record those previous matters on her application, as much as her subsequent "trial and conviction" before a kangaroo court. And of course, there's only one way to "prove" PFLP membership or acts of terror- the word of an Israeli official.

Are we going to see shadowy Mossad figures testifying from behind curtained panels, in an American courtroom yet again? Even Gershwin Drain should be able to see the injustice in this latest maneuver. Talk about butterflies and wheels. This really is disgraceful.

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Was PFLP even designated as 'a terrorist organization' by US in 1969?

I am really doubtful - it hadn't gained that much prominence by that point.

If so, then what US would have used as an excuse for 'terrorism' designation would also come after 1969 - and would mean that she wasn't a member of 'a designated terrorist organization' then.

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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.