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Judge with Israeli Military Ties Won’t Recuse Himself from Immigration Fraud Case Against Palestinian American

Federal judge Paul Borman serves in the Eastern District of Michigan (Government graphic and in the public domain)

A federal judge in Detroit has refused to recuse himself from a case involving a Palestinian American woman who allegedly committed immigration fraud and neglected to disclose on naturalization forms that she had been imprisoned by Israelis in Palestine for decades for terrorism-related offenses. The defense had argued his support for the Israeli military made it impossible for him to fairly hear the case.

Rasmea Odeh is an organizer in Chicago. She has been a naturalized citizen in the US since 1995. But, on October 22, 2013, the Department of Homeland Security suddenly had her arrested. She now faces up to ten years in prison if convicted and immediate deportation after her release.

US District Court Judge Paul Borman’s own foundation, The Borman Fund, has supported several groups that are pro-Israel. A defense filing submitted [PDF] by Odeh’s attorney, Jim Fennerty, showed in particular $2,000 was donated to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) in 2006. FIDF promotes “educational, social, cultural and recreational programs and facilities for the young men and women soldiers of Israel who defend the Jewish homeland.”

Borman ruled [PDF], “Defendant has not provided facts that would permit a reasonable, objective person to question this court’s impartiality. Defendant’s motion strikes at the very heart of a federal judge’s pledge to administer impartial justice, and does so with careless and rank speculation.”

“Defendant misrepresents the nature of my actual work,” he added. “Based upon statements contained in a biography created in connection with my receipt from the Detroit Jewish Federation of an award for my work on behalf of the Jewish Federation, defendant leaps to the conclusion that I have inside information regarding the ‘Israeli military legal system in the Occupied West Bank,’ that will affect my ability to be impartial in this case. Not a single piece of factual evidence is offered to support this baseless assertion.”

The judge clearly interpreted the request to recuse himself as an attack on his religious convictions, however, Odeh’s attorneys had only questioned his support for groups that support Israel. No part of their motion to recuse himself addressed his Jewish identity.

Hatem Abudayyeh, a national coordinating committee member of the United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) and part of the National Rasmea Defense Committee, reacted, “This really is upsetting because we still believe that he is not impartial, and it’s even more upsetting that his ruling was put into the context of what he described as support for Jews and support for the Jewish people.”

“The point is he was fundraising for Jewish organizations that support Israel, and, in fact, he even donated thousands of his own money to the Friends of the IDF, which nobody can argue is an organization or institution that supports the American Jewish community here. Friends of the IDF clearly is an organization that supports the Israeli military,” Abudayyeh added.

The judge’s ties to the Israeli military are critical for the defense because they would like to present evidence that Odeh was tortured by Israeli soldiers. As reported by The Electronic Intifada, that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and “any call to remember the torture would have reactivated the symptoms of PTSD and thus she, like others suffering from extreme trauma,” avoided thinking or talking about her experience.

Odeh testified in 1979 before a UN special committee in Geneva on the torture she experienced. Josh Ruebner wrote for The Hill, “She was arrested [in 1969] from her home in Ramallah in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers who ‘beat me without asking me a single question.’ She was brought to an Israeli jail in Jerusalem where ‘they beat me with sticks, plastic sticks, and with a metal bar. They beat me on the head and I fainted as a result of these beatings. They woke me up several times by throwing cold water in my face and then started all over again.'”

Soldiers, she recalled, tried to force her father to rape her. “In her father’s presence,” she said, “interrogators threatened to ‘violate me’ and ‘tried to introduce a stick to break my maidenhead [hymen].'” And, “Shackled naked from the ceiling, interrogators,” she added, “they ‘tied my legs, which were spread-eagled, and they started to beat me with their hands and also with cudgels.'”

The defense maintains that the crimes which she confessed to committing were a result of torture, and, therefore, a motion has been introduced to prevent any reference of her 1969 arrest, trial and her imprisonment.

What is the likelihood that the judge goes along with this if he supports the IDF? As Abudayyeh explained, “If he’s a supporter of Rasmea’s torturers, then there is no way he can be fair and impartial.”

What Odeh’s lawyer, Michael Deutsch, had argued in the motion that his support for the state of Israel would prevent him from being able to impartially determine whether the “Occupation’s military legal system” was fair” and comported with due process. He called attention to numerous trips Borman had taken to Israel and the meetings he had with Israeli government officials.

“Would a reasonable objective person, fully informed of this court’s relationship to and support for Israel question not whether this court could fairly sit in judgment [of] a Palestinian who was condemned by Israel as a ‘terrorist’?” He also wondered if he could impartially judge someone who is an “outspoken critic of the state of Israel and its human rights violations against Palestinians.”

According to Abudayyeh, who has worked with Odeh for years, her father was a US citizen in 1969. The US ambassador to Israel knew about her case and intervened on her behalf. He does not believe the US can claim they did not know she was imprisoned and was forced by “vicious torture into confessing to a crime that she did not commit.”

Like Odeh’s defense attorneys, Abudayyeh contends that the legal case has to address Israel, the Israeli courts and the Israeli prison system and its treatment of political prisoners. It will have to confront treatment of female prisoners by Israel and the government’s “decades-long use of torture including sexual torture and rape.”

The judge did not decide on a motion to allow evidence of torture to be heard in Odeh’s case. That will be ruled upon in a future status hearing.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."