Palestinian-American community leader Rasmea Odeh has requested a new trial a week after a Detroit federal jury found her guilty of unlawful procurement of naturalization.
On 17 November, lead defense attorney Michael Deutsch submitted a motion to US District Judge Gershwin A. Drain, arguing that the trial which took place over the course of three days in the first week of November failed to uphold Odeh’s constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial.
It is standard procedure to move for a new trial before filing an appeal, which Deutsch intends to do following sentencing, scheduled to take place on 10 March. Odeh, 67, faces up to ten years in prison, being stripped of her citizenship and deportation.
She was charged in October 2013 with immigration fraud for failing to disclose 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.
The judge disallowed Odeh and her lawyers from discussing the torture during the trial itself.
The five-page motion emphasizes that the crime for which Odeh has been convicted, lying for immigration benefits, is a “state of mind” offense.
But the motion argues that by refusing to allow Odeh to call her expert witness, clinical psychologist and torture expert Dr. Mary Fabri, to testify that Odeh suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the court did not allow her to show that “she did not have the requisite guilty state of mind.”
The motion adds that when Odeh took the witness stand, she “was improperly limited in testifying in her own defense by court rulings prohibiting her from testifying that she suffers from PTSD, and that she was tortured by Israeli soldiers and security agents, which is the basis of her PTSD.”
On the day Rasmea Odeh was slated to take the stand and before the jury entered the courtroom, Judge Drain specifically instructed her not to make any mention of her torture, threatening to hold her in contempt if she did.
Since Odeh was charged more than a year ago, she has asserted that the answers on her application for citizenship about whether she had ever been arrested, convicted or imprisoned had triggered her PTSD, causing her to avoid recalling the 45-year-old memories.
In 1969, Odeh was arrested by Israeli soldiers, and according to her account, tortured for 25 days until she signed a confession that she helped coordinate a series of bombings. Despite recanting the confession soon afterwards, a military court convicted her and four others of planning the attacks. Odeh spent a decade in prison before being released early in a prisoner exchange.
Despite writing that he found claims that she had been tortured “credible,” Drain ruled that any evidence of her torture was inadmissible. As a result, Odeh and her defense argued that she had misunderstood the questions she is alleged to have answered falsely.
The defense was prepared to call an eyewitness to Odeh’s torture: a Palestinian woman who now lives in the United States and who was also swept up by the Israeli military in 1969. The woman claims to have seen Odeh being subjected to electric shocks.
Poor conditions in rural county jail
Awaiting her sentencing hearing, Odeh is being held in the St. Clair County Jail in Port Huron, Michigan, which has insufficient medical services, Deutsch told The Electronic Intifada.
“Usually county jails are for people who are in there for a limited amount of time. Rural county jails in particular don’t have facilities to hold people for months.”
Deutsch has asked Judge Drain to reconsider his revocation of Odeh’s bond until sentencing. But failing that he will request to have Odeh moved to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in the Chicago area, where she will be able to have visitors and better medical attention.
Odeh has lived in Chicago for a decade, where she is associate director of the Arab American Action Network, a social services agency.
“The [county] jail is very cold and they don’t even have enough blankets — she had to buy a blanket,” Deutsch reported.
Deutsch also plans to submit an affidavit detailing Odeh’s medical needs that are not being met in the county jail.