Mon Aug 14, 2017: Rally to Support Rasmea Odeh

Brooklyn For Peace joined the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and other groups on  Monday, August 14, 2017, in a rally to support Rasmea Odeh before her court appearance (in Detroit) and sentencing on August 17. The Rally took place at Union Square, Manhattan.

The purpose of the rally was to show love and support for Rasmea Odeh before her sentencing in federal court three days later in Detroit. The will be her last court appearance and Rasmea is planning to make a statement.

The plea agreement that has already been reached states that Rasmea will not get additional jail time – but she will have to leave the U.S. This rally will express our support for a legendary former political prisoner and beloved community leader.

Rally organized by
: Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network
Endorsed by Brooklyn For Peace and others
Thomas Cox represented Brooklyn For Peace and made this statement.

If you’re not familiar with her case, see this article in the Nation (Nov 4, 2014). Below is a summary of the details, the background, and the legal saga.

Case of Rasmea Odeh: Summary Updated August 11, 2017

Rasmea Odeh (born 1947/1948) is a leading member of Chicago’s Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim communities, and her decade of service in Chicago has changed the lives of thousands of people, particularly disenfranchised Arab women and their families. She has been with the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) since 2004, and is responsible for the management of day-to-day operations and the coordination of its Arab Women’s Committee, which has a membership of nearly 600 and leads the organization’s work in the areas of defending civil liberties and immigrants’ rights.

In 2013, Rasmea received the Outstanding Community Leader Award from the Chicago Cultural Alliance, which described her as a woman who has “dedicated over 40 years of her life to the empowerment of Arab women, first in her homes of Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon, where she was an activist and practicing attorney, and then the past 10 years in Chicago.”

In the early morning of Tuesday, October 22, 2013, then 66-year-old Rasmea Odeh was arrested at her home by agents from the Department of Homeland Security. She was indicted in federal court, charged with Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization, an allegation based on answers she gave on a 20-year-old immigration application.

Background

The government claims that Rasmea failed to disclose that she was convicted by an Israeli military court of participating in bombings in 1969.

In 1970, after weeks of torture and rape, Rasmea finally issued a confession, which she tried unsuccessfully to withdraw when she got to court. These confessions are secured during an interrogation process that frequently includes the kind of torture Rasmea endured, as has been documented over the past four decades not only by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, but also by a commission convened by the Israeli government and Israel’s High Court of Justice. Rasmea was convicted in 1970 by an Israeli military court of involvement in fatal terrorist bombings. She was sentenced to life in prison in Israel for her involvement in two bombings in Jerusalem in 1969, one of which killed two people, and involvement in an illegal organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). She spent 10 years in prison before she was released in a prisoner exchange with the PFLP in 1980.

Rasmea never set out to hide her past. In 1979, she traveled to Geneva, where she described to the United Nations precisely how she came to be convicted of terrorism by Israel. As her lead attorney, Michael Deutsch, said, “It was well known that she was convicted, and traded [in a prisoner exchange]. The U.S. Embassy knew it, the State Department knew it, and Immigration should have known it.”

In the years after her release, she lived in Lebanon and Jordan, where she obtained a law degree. In 1995 she immigrated to the United States, joining her brother and father, both U.S. citizens, and the large Arab-American communities in Detroit and, later, Chicago.

The case against Rasmea grew out of the investigation of 23 antiwar and Palestinian community organizers in Chicago and Minneapolis, who were subpoenaed to a federal grand jury in 2010. Rasmea came under attack by the U.S. government because she is Palestinian, and because for decades, she has organized for Palestinian liberation and self-determination, the right of return, and an end to Israeli occupation and colonization. Palestine support work, especially the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, has made a number of recent gains, and the long arm of federal law enforcement has attempted to crack down on it, as it has on all effective movements for social justice in the history of this country. Rasmea’s prosecution is part of this crackdown.

In August 2014, Rasmea’s defense team had filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that it was “the product of an illegal investigation into the First Amendment activities of the Arab-American Action Network (AAAN) and intended to suppress the work of the defendant in support of the Arab community of Chicago.” The request for dismissal was denied.

In January of 2010 the Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox “initiated a request through the office of International Affairs Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice from the State of Israel for records of the defendant.” In July 2011, the Israelis sent a set of documents to Assistant U.S. Attorney Fox, supporting the claim that she “had been arrested, convicted and imprisoned by the military legal system imposed by Israeli in the West Bank…”

None of the 23 activists subpoenaed in 2010 under the grand jury investigation for possible material support for terrorism has ever been charged. Over two years later, with nothing to show for its 2010 raids, the U.S. Attorney indicted Rasmea for falsely answering questions in 2004 in her naturalization application.” The defense attorneys speculated that “the U.S. Attorney in Illinois, which was the office that initiated the request for the Israeli documents and was carrying out the investigation, apparently passed the case to the office in Michigan, to divert attention from its failed efforts to criminalize the work of the AAAN in Chicago.”

Legal saga

Rasmea was convicted of immigration fraud on November 10, 2014, by a jury in federal court in Detroit, Michigan, for concealing her arrest, conviction, and imprisonment for the 1969 bombings. After her conviction, she was imprisoned in a Michigan county jail for a month, under very difficult conditions, including almost three weeks in solitary confinement. Supporters across the country rallied for—and won—her release on bond.

On December 11, 2014, she was released on bond pending sentencing. Her counsel maintains she did not receive a “full and fair trial” because the judge ruled as irrelevant her testimony that her confession to the crimes had been extracted by torture while she was in the custody of Israeli police in 1969. On February 13, 2015, federal Judge Gershwin A. Drain denied Odeh’s request that he either overturn the federal jury’s conviction of her or grant her a new trial. He ruled that her argument lacked legal merit, as evidence showed that she illegally obtained U.S. citizenship, the jurors “clearly did not believe [her] explanation,” and that “the evidence was more than sufficient to support the jury’s verdict.”

Judge Drain allowed the Israeli military court conviction to be entered into evidence, but barred testimony about her torture at the hands of her Israeli captors. That ruling eliminated the testimony of expert witness Dr. Mary Fabri, a clinical psychologist who has decades of experience working with torture survivors. Fabri was prepared to testify that the allegedly false answers on the immigration forms were the result of Rasmea’s chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

During her November 2014 trial, Rasmea and her defense team put the crimes of Israel on record–her story of being exiled from the village of her birth, Lifta, in 1948; of being exiled again during the 1967 war; of experiencing the death of her sister after the raid on her home in 1969; and of being a political prisoner, one of the most famous in the history of the Palestine liberation movement.

In March 2015, Rasmea was sentenced to 18 months in prison, loss of her U.S. citizenship, and subsequent deportation. However, because of massive publicity and popular organizing efforts, she was allowed to be free on bond pending appeal. The sentence was a huge blow to the prosecutor, who had asked for up to seven years. Her appeal was filed by defense attorneys on June 9, the prosecution replied on July 8, and the defense rebuttal was sent to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on July 20. The appeals court heard oral arguments in Cincinnati on October 14, 2015, and Deutsch made a powerful argument for a new trial for Rasmea.

In February 2016, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Rasmea’s conviction and sent her case back to the District Court. The Appeals Court ruled that Judge Drain had erred in keeping the evidence of torture and PTSD from the jury. If the government decides to try again, this ruling means that Rasmea should now be able to tell her entire story to the courts and the jury.

At a hearing in his chambers in Detroit on June 6, 2016, Judge  Drain scheduled a new trial for Rasmea  to begin in January 2017.

In December 2016, however, in an apparent attempt to circumvent that defense, the government filed new charges against Odeh. The new indictment added two new allegations that were absent from the government’s previous case: that Odeh was engaged in “terrorist activity” in 1969 and that she was associated with a “designated terrorist organization”—the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Michael Deutsch, Rasmea’s lead attorney, said the government hoped the PTSD defense would not apply to these allegations, since they allegedly took place before she was tortured by Israeli interrogators.

In March 2017, Odeh accepted a plea agreement, bringing to a close her more than three-year legal battle with the US government.

Odeh will now lose her US citizenship and be deported. But as part of the agreement she will not spend any time in prison or detention by US immigration authorities, according to a statement from her defense team.

The Rasmea Defense Committee said the decision to accept the plea deal was difficult, but are calling it a “victory” in light of the government’s attempts to sentence Odeh to up to seven years in prison.

The defense committee said the decision to accept a plea was based on the belief that under the “current, racist political climate” Odeh’s “prospects for a fair trial are slimmer than ever.”

On April 25, surrounded by friends and supporters in a federal court in Detroit, Rasmea Odeh entered a guilty plea. Her final court date will be August 17, where she will be sentenced.

 

 

 

 

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“We can find justice someplace. Maybe not in this court, maybe in another place. There is justice in this world, we will find it. We will face injustice and we have to change this world, not just in this country, in all the world in all the places there is no justice, we have to bring the justice together. In spite of everything, we are the stronger people, not the government who is unjust.” —Rasmea to supporters after November 2014 verdict

This account is based on several sources, including Justice4Rasmea.org, Wikipedia, The Nation (November 4, 2014), The Chicago Monitor (April 26, 2016), Electronic Intifada (June 13, 2016, and April 25, 2017). The Detroit News (December 4, 2014) has a very different story, written by William A. Jacobson, Cornell Law School, a conservative blogger and pundit.