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Podcast: Attorney for Palestinian American Organizer Rasmea Odeh Discusses Significance of Her Conviction

Palestinian American organizer Rasmea Odeh, who immigrated to the United States about twenty years ago, was convicted on November 10 of immigration fraud by a jury in Detroit. She immediately was taken into custody and jailed after the judge revoked her bond during an afternoon hearing.

Supporters of Odeh put out a statement after the verdict calling the result a “travesty of justice,” and adding, “Although there is real anger and disappointment in the jury’s verdict, it was known as early as October 27th that she would not get a full and fair trial.”

Michael Deutsch, who was the lead attorney for Odeh in the case, appeared on “Unauthorized Disclosure,” to talk about the verdict and what happened during trial. He explains how the judge gutted her defense, blocking her from being able to testify about how she was subjected to sexual torture by Israeli soldiers in 1969. The military coerced a confession out of her that she had been involved in bombings and then convicted her of terrorism. But she could not talk about this experience from the stand.

After the interview, Rania Khalek and I discuss the United Nations Committee Against Torture proceedings in which the US delegation was confronted on issues related to US torture. We highlight what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, as people prepare for the announcement on whether Officer Wilson will be indicted for killing Mike Brown. Khalek describes how journalists Max Blumenthal and David Sheen might be banned from German parliament. We also discuss Navy war games over national parks and a US Marshal’s Service dragnet spy program.

The podcast is available on iTunes for download. To listen (and to download), go here. Click on “go here” and a page will load with the audio file of the podcast that will automatically start playing so you can listen to the interview.

You can also listen to the podcast by clicking on this player:

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Below is a partial transcript

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Rasmea was immediately arrested and after a short hearing in the afternoon. This was on Monday. She’s in jail. The sentencing is not going to be until March 10, at the moment. Can you talk about how things ended, the verdict, but also introduce her as well?

MICHAEL DEUTSCH: Rasmea Odeh is a 67-year-old Palestinian woman, who came to this country in 1995 on a visa to be with her father and brother who lived in the Detroit area. And then ultimately she moved to Chicago and she became the associate director of the Arab-American Action Network, which is community-based group in Chicago that deals with the Arab community and immigrant and provides them with social services and works in the community around the public issues and also does solidarity work around the issue of Palestine.

In the fall of 2013, she was arrested in Chicago and brought to Detroit on an indictment saying that she had illegally procured her naturalization basically by lying on her application in which asked whether she was arrested, convicted or imprisoned and said she no. This happened nine years after she had gotten her citizenship in 2004.

And the basis of it is that in 1969, when she was a 22-year-old college student, she was arrested and tortured horrifically and convicted and imprisoned for allegedly planting a bomb in two places as part of the resistance to the occupation of the Palestinian land, which had just been increased in 1967 when they invaded the West Bank in Gaza and took over. So, they wanted to go back to the 1969 conviction and say, well, she lied to get into the country and to get her citizenship.

We went to trial. The judge refused to allow us to challenge her conviction in 1969, which was don by a military court of Israeli soldiers that is setup in the occupied territories who were posing as judges and that who has been shown over the years use systematic torture to obtain confessions to get convictions. We alleged that the entire process was illegitimate and that no document or evidence coming from that procedure should be admitted in a US court.

We also wanted to show that because of horrific torture she received—over 25 days electroshock, rape and all sorts of other horrific things—She still suffers from post-traumatic stess, and an expert, one of the leading experts on torture in the US, would testify that when she answered the questions in 2004 on her immigration naturalization application she had cognitively blocked what happened to her forty years earlier and that she had interpreted questions to only apply to the US because the questions ask were you ever convicted or imprisoned. It just says ever and she had been in the country for nine years at the time and answered the questions no, no, no because she had never been convicted or arrested in the US.

But the judge would not let us put on that post-traumatic stress expert or that defense, would not let her testify about her torture or innocence or about the military courts. So, her defense was fairly gutted and the jury deliberated less than two hours and found her guilty and then the judge decided that she was a flight risk and took away her bond, even though every day of the trial about 100 people had come from Chicago from her community to support her who were part of the work she has done—the unique work of organizing immigrant woman and helping them adjust to life in the United States.

RANIA KHALEK: What was the government’s reasoning for refusing to allow the defense to bring up the sexual torture?

DEUTSCH: There was kind of two things. One was they interpreted the charge that she was charged with as a general intent crime and therefore they didn’t have to show her state of mind other than she knew that she had been convicted and lied about it. And therefore they said it was not relevant that she suffered from post-traumatic stress because that could only be admitted in a specific intent crime. And then the judge added that it was too long ago and we don’t think it affects her now. We’re not going to re-litigate what happened to her in 1969.

But the underlying reason was they didn’t want the torture to come out in the court before the jury publicly. They didn’t want her to be able to testify about what happened to her. They wanted to be able to cover it up because they wanted to protect the reputation of Israel, if not consciously certainly subconsciously. In that regard, they didn’t want any political interest or involvement to come out in the trial.

KHALEK: Would this mark a first time where the US government successfully used a conviction that happened under Israeli military law?

DEUTSCH: That’s a good question. If not the first, one of the first. I had a case in Chicago in 2006 where my client had been tortured by the Israeli secret police, the Shin Bet, in getting a confession. And we moved to challenge the confession in the federal court in Chicago and they wound up bringing in the actual interrogators to testify in court. So, you know, it hasn’t happened in terms of just giving what we call full faith and credit to the convictions from the Israeli military court because there are not a lot of situations where they seek to use those convictions in a US court.

GOSZTOLA: I know that after the verdict came down there was the fact that the judge made this unusual step of commenting on it. Could you talk about that?

DEUTSCH: Yeah, he said I don’t usually do this but I think it was a fair and reasonable verdict, probably because that’s what he was rooting for all along and when he went back to talk to the jurors, which we weren’t present for, one can only assume that when he came out and decided to lock her up he felt somewhat emboldened by their verdict in agreeing that they didn’t believe what she had testified to because she did testify on her own behalf.

The judge even in the selection of the jury refused to question the jury about Israel/Palestine – their views, their attitudes, their connections. And somehow he thought all that was irrelevant and he really didn’t want to get into it. So he didn’t really want any of that to come out in the court. He wanted to try it like she had lied about being arrested in some place that had nothing to do with occupation and all this history that’s been documented about how Israel has treated the Palestinians since 1948 and probably before that as well.

GOSZTOLA: Now one of the things that we’ve talked about before on the show and I’d like to get your view on is how this case might have been litigated as if it were a terrorism case. I know she was charged with an immigration fraud charge but in the way that it was a political case I know that there were marshals and DHS agents in the courtroom. Can you speak to how it had this terrorism veneer?

DEUTSCH: They tried to use that kind of idea of terrorism and of course the judge didn’t really want that either. He let the government continue to say that she was convicted to a string of bombings in which two innocent people and many others injured. They kept saying that because that was in the indictment that was charged. And, of course, they had asked for an anonymous jury, which means you don’t know the jurors. Ultimately, they also asked and received this special procedure where the jurors are gathered outside the courthouse and then bussed to the court in a special bus where the windows are all black and they don’t know who they are and who are in the bus.

And they also accused all the people who came to support her protest outside the court as trying to improperly influence the legal proceedings and prejudice the jury—

KHALEK: That was pretty shocking. That was pretty shocking. I mean, this entire trial was pretty shocking, but that in particular was pretty amazing. Have you ever seen anything like that before where the supporters are being called criminals by the prosecutor?

DEUTSCH: No, no, not really. And I’ve represented many cases in which there were people outside protesting and picketing, and no one’s really attacked them as this prosecutor did, even mentioning by name the executive director of the Arab-American Action Network and accusing him of criminal action. So, yeah, they’re really aggressive and I think that they created an atmosphere of intimidation but despite that the people came and the people filled the courtroom. They even had an overflow courtroom where people were able to see and hear the proceedings.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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

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