Jury finds Rasmea Odeh guilty; faces up to 10 years in prison, deportation

Nov 10, 2014 at 7:07 pm

A federal jury on Monday found Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian American activist and women's rights advocate, guilty of lying on her U.S. naturalization application guilty. Odeh, 67, faces up to 10 years in prison, revocation of her citizenship, and possibly deportation.

Supporters of Odeh, though, say it was clear weeks ago that her trial appeared problematic.

On Oct. 27, a statement released today from the Rasmea Odeh Defense Committee says, "Judge Gershwin Drain made a number of rulings that made her defense virtually impossible."

The issues surrounding Odeh's case dates back to 1969, when the Israeli military arrested Odeh and 500 others, accusing them of terrorism.

There's one issue, however, Odeh's supporters say: Following her arrest, Odeh was brutally tortured and raped while in prison for weeks, which led to her offering a confession for that she participated in two bombings — crimes she now says she didn't commit. Odeh then spent 10 years in Israeli prisons. Even so, federal prosecutors say in a 16-page indictment, Odeh was a part of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Lenin group who "used terrorism as a means to win attention to its cause."

But, Odeh's defense committee said in the statement, that accusation is empty: "[E]ven though [Drain] suggested that Rasmea’s assertion that she faced torture and sexual abuse at the hands of her Israeli captors was 'credible,' he still ruled that it could not be brought up in the course of her trial. So her attorneys had to scrap plans to call to the stand an expert witness, clinical psychologist Dr. Mary Fabri, who has decades of experience working with torture survivors, to testify that the allegedly false answers on the immigration forms were the result of Rasmea’s chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."

Drain ruled that Odeh was a flight risk, revoked her bond and had her detained, according to the Detroit Free Press. Odeh's sentencing is scheduled for March 10. 

Odeh has for years been vocal about her time in Israeli prisons: In 1979, Odeh testified in before a United Nations panel in Geneva on what she endured. A summary of parts of her testimony can be found at The Hill.

From the onset, Odeh's "case was contentious," the Freep notes.

[A] previous judge, Paul Borman, recusing himself after Odeh's attorney said Borman had a financial connection to the case because of pro-Israel donations; Borman said the 1969 bombing targets included a supermarket to which Borman's family was financially tied. 

In the end, even though the judge ruled her evidence was "credible," the jury had a rather simple decision to address, as the Arab American News previously noted: "the prosecution only has to prove that Odeh knowingly lied on her citizenship, regardless of her motives." 

Odeh's defense committee said in the statement that her attorneys will appeal the decision, in light of the jury's decision to— as the Freep plainly notes — agree "with federal prosecutors who said that Odeh checked 'no' on immigration and citizenship forms she filled out in Detroit when asked whether she had ever been convicted of a crime."

Odeh has been involved in the Arab-American community in Chicago since arriving in the U.S. in 1994. She currently serves as associate director of the Arab American Action Network, a nonprofit that provides services to the Arab-American community in Chicago.

Jess Sundin, of the Minneapolis-based Committee to Stop FBI Repression, previously told Metro Times, "For us, Rasmea is an incredibly important leader in the community in Chicago where she comes from."

"She has been really building important work, especially for Arab immigrant women in that community," Sundin said. "And we need her here."

Sundin says Odeh's defense team sought to include experts who could talk about the sort of trauma she experienced in prison, and how that could've impacted her interpretation of the questions on her application. The judge denied the defense's motion to include the expert.

"Fundamentally, this is a case about prosectuting her for the crimes that were committed against her by Israel," said Sundin. "And it's a part of a longstanding approach the government has taken against Palestinians.