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New Indictment: Prosecutors Intensify Political Case Against Palestinian American Organizer Rasmea Odeh

A grand jury empaneled by the United States government returned a superseding indictment against Palestinian American organizer Rasmea Odeh that will allow prosecutors to further politicize their case and openly treat Odeh as a terrorist when she receives a new trial in 2017.

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.

About a week ago, Judge Gershwin Drain granted Odeh, who was convicted of immigration fraud in November 2014, a new trial. The decision came after the Sixth Circuit Court Of Appeals ruled in February that Drain improperly blocked testimony related to torture Odeh experienced at the hands of Israeli security forces prior to immigrating to the U.S.

A new trial was scheduled for January 10, 2017, but Odeh’s defense has filed a motion to change the trial date.

Michael Deutsch, an attorney for Odeh, called the superseding indictment with additional allegations against her “an effort by the government to inject terrorism into the case as a way to prejudice her rights to a fair trial.”

“They’re going to try and prove she was a member of what they call a terrorist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP),” and use that to “color the jury’s evaluation of the evidence of whether she knowingly lied or not in her naturalization application.”

As stated in a press release [PDF] from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Michigan, the new indictment contains no additional charges. However, it adds the allegation that she lied about her “association” with the PFLP, which the U.S. designated a terrorist organization, and that she was “inadmissible at the time she arrived” in the U.S. because she “engaged” in terrorism.

Initially, when prosecutors first indicted Odeh, they indicated in pleadings they would not “raise the issue of membership in the PFLP because they wanted to avoid politicizing the case. Now, they’ve changed, and they want to politicize the case because they’re concerned about her defense of post-traumatic stress and the fact that she can show she did not knowingly lie,” according to Deutsch.

Deutsch said prosecutors believe adding these allegations will “tilt the balance in their favor.”

In 1994, Odeh immigrated to the U.S and was allowed into the country. Her defense previously asserted the State Department knew about Odeh’s background when she applied for citizenship.

Plus, when she was arrested by Israeli forces in 1969, her father, a U.S. citizen, along with her two sisters, were arrested at the same time. Her father was released after 20 days, Deutsch said in a prior interview.

Odeh’s father was released because the State Department intervened. He then testified to the State Department and before a United Nations commission, which investigated Israeli practices toward Palestinians.

Based on what Odeh’s father told the State Department, as well as the State Department’s own records, her defense claims thee government should have known about Odeh’s background. The State Department gave her a green card and admitted her into the country, knowing full well she was arrested, detained and tortured in an Israeli prison.

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The critical question remains: Why did the U.S. government pursue a prosecution against Odeh around two decades after she started a new life in America?

The answer has something to do with a fishing expedition by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into Palestinian solidarity activism in Chicago and states in the midwest.

A cloud of investigation hangs over the heads of at least 23 activists, who were issued grand jury subpoenas after the FBI raided some of their homes in September 2010. Their dissident organizing made them FBI targets and allegations against them have been pieced together to charge them with “material support for terrorism” if the government would choose to escalate its criminalization of their activism.

One of the activists targeted was Hatem Abudayyeh, the executive director of AAAN.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago went through channels in Washington, D.C., to request documents on Odeh from the Israeli government. The Israelis produced documents from “their military occupation legal system, which showed that she had been arrested and imprisoned and convicted by the Israelis,” according to Deutsch.

Instead of proceeding with this case in Chicago, where an investigation into Palestinian activists was ongoing, the case was passed off to Detroit, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Michigan indicted her.

An undercover FBI agent known as “Karen Sullivan” attempted to entrap activists into sending $1,000 to the PFLP so a case could be brought against someone involved in Palestinian solidarity work.

From an FBI affidavit:

…On March 4, 2010, UC1 [Sullivan] recorded a conversation with [REDACTED]. UC1 told [REDACTED] that UC1’s father had left him/her a package, which included envelopes and a video called “Women in Struggle,” when he recently died. UC1 told [REDACTED] that the video was about women in the PFLP who admitted killing and bombing targets in Israel. UC1 said that his/her father left $1,000 for UC1 to get to the “organization of the women in the video.” [REDACTED] said that they can “get it to our people.” [REDACTED] told UC1 to talk to [REDACTED] at the FRSO Congress meeting in May 2010. [REDACTED] said that “if that’s what you want to do with it, we can get it there” and said that $1,000 “will go far in a place like Palestine.” UC1 said that the $1,000 was for the women “which were the PF.”…

When it appeared activists might give money to Palestinians, who were not in the PFLP, “Sullivan” concocted a scheme to convince activists her father died and it was his last dying wish to get funds to the PFLP because he supported the Palestinian militant resistance profiled in the documentary, “Women in Struggle.”

“Women in Struggle” is a 2004 documentary that features Rasmea Odeh.

As the superseding indictment shows, the trial against Odeh is not only a political prosecution against a Palestinian American organizer. It is also a part of a concerted effort to further intimidate Palestinian solidarity activists in a climate that grows increasingly chilly by the day, especially as government officials push legislation to punish speech critical of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Correction: A previous version of this story suggested AAAN was under investigation and targeted by the FBI in 2010. That was a mistake, and the story was edited to fix that error.

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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."