Rasmea Odeh seeks reversal of immigration fraud conviction

Rasmea Odeh

Ali Abunimah

Palestinian American community leader Rasmea Odeh is appealing her immigration fraud conviction for failing to disclose on immigration and naturalization documents her conviction in an Israeli military court in 1969.

The brief filed with the Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals on Tuesday by Odeh’s attorneys argues that Odeh was denied her right to present a complete defense at her trial last November.

Meanwhile, the defense team argues, the government was allowed to present prejudicial Israeli military court documents during her trial in Detroit.

The appeal adds that US District Judge Gershwin Drain failed to fairly apply sentencing guidelines when he ordered Odeh imprisoned for 18 months.

Odeh’s citizenship was also revoked and she was ordered removed from the United States. Her sentence was stayed pending appeal and she is free on bond after spending five weeks in jail immediately after her conviction.

Odeh’s defense asks that if she is not given a new trial, that her sentence be reduced to time served.

Incomplete defense

Odeh was denied her constitutional right to present a complete defense, her attorneys argue, because the trial court did not admit expert testimony by Dr. Mary Fabri.

Fabri, a torture expert, testified in pretrial hearings that the trauma inflicted on Odeh by Israeli forces 45 years ago could have caused her to interpret the naturalization questions in a way to avoid any thought of her past trauma.

The filing states that “Odeh claimed that she had been brutally tortured with electro-shock, and instrument rape, during the three weeks following her arrest by Israeli soldiers in 1969, at the infamous ‘Moscow Villa’ interrogation center run by the Israeli Shin Bet secret police.”

The Israeli interrogators extracted through torture a confession from Odeh that she was involved in deadly bombings in Jerusalem, Odeh and her defense team say.

After receiving amnesty, Odeh was released by Israel in 1979. She eventually made her way to the US to care for her ill father. She was naturalized in 2004.

Odeh testified during her trial that she had believed that the naturalization questions dealing with past arrests referred only to her time in the US, where she had no criminal record.

The trial judge ruled that Odeh could not testify regarding the torture she endured and the PTSD symptoms she suffers as a result. Nor was she allowed to testify that she was innocent of the charges for which she was convicted in the Israeli military court.

Prejudicial documents

The appeal further agues that the court behaved improperly by admitting Israeli military court documents, including a confession extracted under prolonged torture, “without any inquiry into the truth or validity of the documents, or the legality or fairness of the system that produced them.”

The military court system is Israel’s juridical regime for controlling the lives of millions of Palestinians living under decades of occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It has been frequently criticized by Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations for failing to meet minimum standards of due process.

“Certainly, a US court would not have admitted documents created by a Nazi court operating in occupied France that convicted partisans resisting occupation,” Odeh’s defense argues in the brief. “How is it proper to allow documents here which are similarly the product of torture and illegal occupation?”

The defense additionally argues that the court refused to redact “highly prejudicial and irrelevant, surplus language” from the Israeli military court documents, including the names of the victims of the bombings for which Israel had convicted Odeh.

“Predictably, the prosecution … opportunistically and prejudicially, brought up the bombings and two civilian deaths, and the many injured, repeatedly, throughout the trial,” the filing states.

“Illicit investigation”

The defense claims in the appeal that Odeh was “unnecessarily indicted” by the US shortly before the statute of limitations ran out. The indictment was the sole outcome of “an overzealous FBI ‘counter-terrorism’ investigation into US activists involved in public education about the plight of the Palestinian people.”

That investigation targeted the executive director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago, where Odeh serves as associate director. In September 2010, several activists’ homes were raided and over the next several months, 23 individuals were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in Chicago (disclosure: this author was one of those subpoenaed).

“Even though no charges were ever brought, and no criminal allegations ever aired, this illicit investigation into the work and files of AAAN, led to the discovery of Ms. Odeh’s naturalized citizenship, and prompted the Justice Department to contact the Israeli government seeking documents about Ms. Odeh. So Ms. Odeh became the one lone single victim of the FBI’s phony ‘counter-terrorism’ action.”

A statement circulated by the Rasmea Defense Committee says that the appeals court is expected to hear oral arguments in Cincinnati in September.

“Hundreds of her supporters will be there with her, as we were throughout the trial,” committee member Nesreen Hasan is quoted as saying in the statement.

Odeh and her lead attorney, Michael Deutsch, will give an update on the appeal to supporters via livestream tomorrow.

Odeh will also be appearing with scholar and renowned activist Angela Davis in Chicago on 28 June.

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Comments

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This entire case is a joke!! This country is a joke!!! Trying to kick this poor woman out of the country after she's been here for years??? And for what?? She's been nothing but a positive leader!! My goodness...

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Kangaroo courts...no justice. In the end I hope Ms. Odeh will get her voice heard and this absurd case closed. May God give you strength and may truth stand. Amen

Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.