Palestinian American Activist Rasmea Odeh Bonds Out of Jail After Government Fails to Block Release
Odeh is a 67-year-old associate director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago. She has a reputation as an award-winning advocate for women’s rights. And, forty-five years ago, she was arrested and subjected to rape and torture by Israeli security forces.
When the Justice Department found out that the Rasmea Defense Committee was using social media to raise funds so she would have the $50,000 to bond out of jail, the prosecutors saw an opportunity to keep her in prison until her sentencing on March 10.
Prosecutors argued in a motion to determine the source of bond money, “Defendant is not planning to pledge her own property as collateral but rathr is seeking to raise money from contributors for her release.”
“It is difficult to see why money raised from large numbers of people creates any incentive for Defendant Odeh to appear,” the motion added. “It is likely that she would suffer no personal loss by virtue of its forfeiture, and if money is raised from a large enough number of people, none of them would suffer a significant loss either. It’s defendant’s burden to establish by clear and convincing evidence that she is not a risk of flight. Clear and convincing in this context means that it is ‘highly probable’ that she would not be a risk of flight.”
This was a “totally ridiculous move to try and keep her jail,” Michael Deutsch, one of Odeh’s attorneys, told Firedoglake.
The government asked for a hearing, but the government soon discovered that the $50,000 was coming from one person, not the horde of activists and supporters the Justice Department has been demonizing whenever they have had the opportunity.
“We made him available for a deposition because he was a close friend of Rasmea, and he was a working guy and he put up most of his retirement money,” Deutsch said.
During the deposition, according to Deutsch, the government asked the friend of Rasmea about his political beliefs and “what he believed about the Israeli courts and about the military court.” Odeh’s attorneys objected.
The deposition went on for about an hour and, as it wrapped, the government recognized they were not going to win this challenge and withdrew their objection to the bond money being put up for her release.
Part of what precipitated this development was the fact that she had been put in solitary confinement at the county jail in Port Huron, Michigan, where the US Marshal’s Service was holding her until sentencing.
Deutsch explained that first a guard claimed she had been “disrespectful” and so she was given “six days in isolation.” It basically was a result of a “difference of opinion.” The guard “took offense and wrote her up.”
When it was time for her to be released from solitary confinement, the jail extended her time for three more days with no explanation. Those days elapsed, and the jail extended her time in isolation again.
Eventually, the jail informed her that because of her “notoriety” and the fact that her case was in “social media” she had to be locked up in solitary confinement “for her own protection,” according to Deutsch. “Therefore, she was going to be kept isolated without any contact with any of the other prisoners” and only “let out for 20 minutes at midnight.”
Her defense was outraged and Deutsch emailed the judge demanding an emergency hearing because “this was outrageous.” He at least wanted her to be sent to a federal prison near Chicago. But Judge Gershwin Drain granted her bail.
“The idea that you could just say because you have notoriety we’re going to lock you up in isolation indefinitely—I don’t believe they could get away with that if she went to court and challenged it,” Deutsch declared.
It was Deutsch’s belief that US Attorney Barbara McQuade was aware that she was being kept in isolation and that her office likely approved or had no issue with what the jail was doing to Odeh.
“There’s a political agenda going on here. In my view, it’s obvious,” Deutsch added.
Barbara Harvey, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) who has been working on NLG filings in Odeh’s case, commented on this episode.
“It’s a sad commentary on our federal justice system that it has so aggressively pursued the criminal prosecution of a woman who is in this country because she fled wrongful imprisonment in Israel, based on a confession coerced from her by a sustained pattern of rape and other brutal torture; who for all of her 20 years here has lived an exemplary life as a model citizen; who has dedicated her past 10 years in Chicago to public service [by] helping other Arab women immigrants assimilate successfully into a very different society than the one they have all left behind.”
“We are very relieved that she has now been rescued from a county jail, where she was kept for half of the past month — arbitrarily and vindictively — in solitary confinement,” Harvey stated.
Odeh spent about a month in prison because Drain revoked her bond after a jury issued a verdict, which he took the unusual and probably unethical step of openly endorsing in court.
The Rasmea Defense Committee reported in a press release that Odeh looked “strong” and “excited to see more of her friends, family and supporters soon.”
“The defense committee wants to again thank everyone for their phone calls, letters, rallies, protests, and all the other activism that helped us get Rasmea released. She sends her love and appreciation to all, and graciously asks us to be ready for the next stage—winning the appeal and exonerating her fully.”
In Chicago, she will be working on her sentencing case while also returning to her work with the Arab American Action Network and its Arab Women’s Committee until March 10.