Federal prosecutors are recommending that Rasmea Odeh be sentenced to up to seven years in prison before proceedings begin to deport her from the Unites States.
The sentence prosecutors are calling for against the Chicago-based Palestinian American community leader is much tougher than those contained in federal guidelines for those convicted of immigration offenses.
Last November, a federal jury in Michigan found Odeh guilty of immigration and naturalization fraud for failing to disclose her conviction by an Israeli military court in 1969 for helping to organize a series of bombings in Jerusalem.
Odeh has maintained that the 1969 convictions were the result of a false confession extracted through weeks of prolonged torture and sexual assault by Israeli interrogators.
Punished for going to trial
When Odeh returns to Judge Gershwin Drain’s Detroit courtroom on 12 March for sentencing, the prosecution will invoke the acts which Israeli occupation authorities accused her of 45 years ago.
This is a stark reminder that defendants who opt to exercise their constitutional right to a trial are invariably punished with a harsher sentence: had Odeh accepted a plea agreement offered when she was first indicted in October 2013, she would have been deported without any time in federal prison.
The defense has asked the judge not to sentence Odeh, who spent a month in jail after her conviction and is now free on bail, to any further prison time before she is deported.
According to Odeh’s lead defense attorney Michael Deutsch, more than ninety percent of people who are convicted for immigration fraud are sentenced to between one and three years. Sentencing guidelines put together by an officer of the court say Odeh’s conviction falls within the 10 to 18 month range. The cutoff for considering past convictions for sentencing recommendations is 15 to 20 years, meaning that Odeh is considered to have no prior criminal history.
“But there is a small line of cases where the court looks at the crime that you lied about when immigrating to fashion the sentence,” Deutsch told The Electronic Intifada.
Sentenced as a “terrorist”
The government submission states that it is seeking an “upward departure” from the standard sentencing guidelines for immigration fraud because “few immigration fraud cases are based on a defendant having failed to disclose criminal history involving acts of terrorism.”
Past precedent for such extraordinary sentencing enhancement for lying on immigration forms includes one person who participated in the Rwandan genocide by manning a checkpoint where she would select people for execution, and another in which a man was a member of death squads and committed massacres in Guatemala.
The prosecution admonishes the judge against taking into considering “whatever good she claims to have done in the United States.”
The defense has submitted nearly eighty letters from individuals, organizations and academic institutions across the country urging Drain to exercise leniency when sentencing Odeh.
In the defense’s sentencing recommendation, Deutsch writes: “The Government, for its part, insists that the defendant be branded a terrorist, and sentenced accordingly, based on a conviction for bombings obtained in an illegitimate military trial, conducted by war criminals, 45 years ago. Their position is that only the bombing matters: Not the illegal 1967 massacres and occupation — let alone the military ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians from the land and their homes when Palestine was partitioned in 1948 — not the midnight sweeps and kidnapping by the invading army after the 1967 war, not the torture, not the kangaroo court and false confessions, not the prison time.”
During Odeh’s trial last November, Judge Drain allowed prosecutors to mention the bombings dozens of times, but strictly forbade Odeh from telling the jury about the circumstances of her arrest or her torture.
Odeh, who was 21 years old at the time of her conviction, was interrogated by Israeli soldiers and maintains she was subjected to sustained torture before signing a confession. Though sentenced to multiple life sentences, she was released after ten years in a prisoner exchange. She immigrated to the United States to join her brother and father in 1995 and became a US citizen in 2004.
The prosecutor’s memo supplies its own evidence in an attempt to prove Odeh did place the bombs in Jerusalem irrespective of her signed confession. It describes her attending “videotaped terrorist reunions” with “unrepentant terrorists” like Leila Khaled, and the government goes so far as to suggest Odeh was the impetus behind some of the plane hijackings carried out by Khaled in the name of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
After Judge Drain insisted that the trial of Odeh focus narrowly on the veracity of her immigration and naturalization forms — not the acts of which she was accused in 1969 or the circumstance under which she was convicted — the prosecution will make the sentencing hearing dominated by the decades-old conviction.
Basil Joffe, the brother of Edward Joffe, who was killed in one of the bombings which Odeh is alleged to have organized, has submitted a letter to the court and asked that he be permitted to speak on the day of sentencing.
“I believe that the nature of the crimes she committed in Israel is material and should be taken into account in her upcoming sentencing,” Joffe wrote.
Joffe attended Odeh’s trial in Detroit, sitting in a bench reserved for government prosecutors.
“It makes no sense for him to make a statement: he’s not a victim of the crime for which she was convicted. They’re trying to make a political statement about her,” Deutsch said.
Judge Drain will decide within the next two weeks who will be permitted to testify at Odeh’s sentencing hearing.