In Political Prosecution, Palestinian American Activist Rasmea Odeh Granted New Trial
Federal Judge Gershwin Drain granted Palestinian American activist Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted of immigration fraud in November 2014, a new trial. In February, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Drain improperly blocked testimony related to torture she experienced at the hands of Israeli security forces.
“It’s a positive development. [The government] fought hard to keep out the expert on post-traumatic stress, and the judge rejected that,” Michael Deutsch, one of Odeh’s attorneys, declared.
Deutsch added, “We’re hopeful that the jury will see the whole background and status of her situation and be more open to understanding that she did not intentionally lie when she obtained her naturalization.”
Nesreen Hasan, who is a lead organizer with the Rasmea Defense Committee and its parent organization, the United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), reacted, “The government has gone to great lengths to cover up the details of Israel’s torture and crimes against this mentor of mine and of so many others—this Palestinian icon. Now, the truth will finally be told, in open court. Rasmea will be vindicated.”
Odeh is a 69 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.
Just over 45 years ago, she was arrested and subjected to torture by Israeli security forces. Odeh was brought before an Israeli military tribunal and accused of involvement in terrorism attacks. She maintained her innocence, but Israel convicted and sentenced her to prison.
In 1994, Odeh immigrated to the U.S. and was allowed into the country without any problems. Her defense asserted that the State Department knew about Odeh’s background when she applied for citizenship.
Her defense planned to have Dr. Mary Fabri testify that Odeh did not know statements she made on her immigration documents were false because she suffers from post-traumatic stress, which occurred as a result of torture. Drain barred Fabri from offering such testimony during the trial.
“Because this type of testimony is not categorically inadmissible to negate a defendant’s knowledge of the falsity of a statement, the district court must reconsider the admissibility of the testimony,” the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled [PDF] on February 25.
Drain now concedes her opinion is relevant and reliable and Fabri is a recognized expert and the science is established.
According to Deutsch, Odeh was not permitted to testify about what happened to after the Israeli military arrested her. This development will likely allow Odeh to testify, and her testimony, along with the psychologist’s testimony, will make it possible to give a jury a “framework” for understanding the trauma Odeh suffered and why she has post-traumatic stress.
A jury cannot understand Odeh’s struggle without having testimony from an expert, who describes the science of what happens to someone with post-traumatic stress. They would easily think Odeh was lying.
“It’s not an intentional thing,” to hide or be dishonest with information, Deutsch explained. “It’s an automatic thing. There’s what Mary referred to as filters that automatically prevent the person from recalling the traumatic incident. So, [Odeh] narrowed her focus and thought that the questions [on the naturalization application] had to do only with the U.S. when asked about arrests and convictions and didn’t think about what happened to her in Israel.”
At the first trial, the defense was not allowed to ask potential jurors anything about Israel and Palestine or raise the fact that Palestinians accused of resistance were systematically tortured. This was not allowed to be mentioned to the jury during trial either.
Deutsch believes testimony from Odeh and Fabri “could really open the door to the entire Palestinian-Israeli conflict that was occurring in 1969, which was a high point of resistance and lot of repression that went on. Hundreds of people arrested. Systematic torture.”
“Once you start to get in that she was tortured, I think the government is going to argue that she wasn’t tortured. She’s lying,” Deutsch suggested. “And then, that opens the door to whether or not she was tortured and people like her were tortured and why were they tortured and what was going on. So it could really open the floodgates to the whole story.”
Odeh’s defense committee is separately pushing for U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade to “stop wasting taxpayer money and end this travesty of justice” by “dropping the charges” against Odeh.
“There is a movement to call upon the U.S. Attorney to drop the charges against her,” Deutsch acknowledged. “It’s kind of a waste of energy and time to prosecute a woman that’s been living in this country over 20 years and has made significant contributions to her community and to immigrant people across the country.”
“To not only put her in prison and also to deport her and send her out of the country, it seems to be a waste of resources and kind of a retaliatory revenge by the government.”
At each hearing or day of her trial, there have been hundreds of supporters from Chicago, the midwestern United States, and other parts of the country, who have shown up to stand by her during a case organizers see as a political prosecution against activists committed to Palestinian liberation.