On November 10 with the courtroom packed with Rasmea Odeh’s supporters from Chicago, U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain revoked Odeh’s bail and sent her to jail until sentencing on March 10th.
“Odeh doesn’t have ties to the Chicago community. She has apparently done good work at the Arab American Action Network, but that work is not a substantial tie to the community. She could do this in another country.”
With this blatant ignoring of the facts, Judge Drain agreed with the government that Odeh was a flight risk and deserved to be incarcerated in a remote County jail for four months. Yesterday, the same Judge Drain ruled in favor of a defense motion to release Odeh on $50,000 bond.
“Defendant’s dedication to her community work and the people that such work assists, as well as the presence of relatives in Chicago, demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that she is not as significant a flight risk as originally believed.”
Before the Judge would neither admit evidence of Odeh’s close ties to the community nor see with his own eyes that community inside courtroom at every hearing. Why the change?
Odeh was convicted of immigration fraud for allegedly “lying” on her citizenship application about being convicted by an Israeli military court using a confession obtained through torture and sexual assault. The 67 year-old Palestinian community leader was placed in St. Clair County Jail in Port Huron, an hour outside of Detroit and at least six hours from any supporters in Chicago. Visiting was highly restrictive. She was allowed only one half hour visit per week. All visitors had to be pre-approved for exact days and times. If the visitor was late at all for the visit, it would be immediately cancelled. Conditions were poor with Odeh needing blankets and warm clothing because of the cold and lacking medication for high blood pressure and ongoing dental pain. The defense expert had already testified that jailing Odeh could reactivate her Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).
During her time in jail, she was placed in solitary confinement for twelve consecutive days. Initially this isolation was for six days as punishment for a”disagreement with an official.” It was extended for six more days without explanation. Rasmea’s supporters never stopped their campaign to get her released on bail. The defense team filed a motion to reconsider the denial of bail; the National Lawyer’s Guild filed a supportive amicus brief; and Odeh’s supporters sent letters to Judge Drain and held fundraisers. Upon learning last week that Odeh was being held in solitary confinement, the Rasmea Defense Committee organized hundreds of supporters to call the jail and send emails to the County to have her released from solitary confinement.
Just as had happened throughout Odeh’s court hearings and trial, multiple organizations including the Rasmea Defense Committee, the Committee Against Political Represssion, the US Palestinian Community Network and many more continued to demonstrate that Odeh had hundreds of supporters who were not going to let her be targetted for her organizing in the Arab and Palestinian community. As the statement yesterday from the Rasmea Defense Committee stated
“All your letters to Rasmea helped keep her spirits up, and strengthened her resolve to continue challenging the unjust ruling, detention, and treatment in jail. Of course, we are going to appeal the conviction, and there is still a ton of organizing work to be done, but today we celebrate and prepare to bring Rasmea home.”
Odeh’s bond has been set at $50,000 in cash and these organizations will need to raise this money before she can be released. Returning to Chicago, she will have to report to a probation officer every two weeks. But again, why the change? Why is Judge Drain responding to organized pressure that has been there all along?
Throughout the hearings and the trial, the government prosecutors have been trying to portray Odeh as a convicted terrorist who lied to obtain citizenship and after twenty years is still a danger and needs to be deported. This is also the image that is being promoted by the media. The only way this story can stand is if the government and the Judge deny all evidence to the contrary which they have done up to this point. All of the biased Israeli government documents describing Odeh’s conviction in a military court by confession were admitted, while all testimony about the unjust military court system, the confession coerced through torture, and Odeh’s suffering from PTSD was denied. The jury was not only shielded from all of the evidence concerning Odeh’s case, but they were also “shielded” from Odeh’s supporters (or the “protesting mob” as prosecution documents called them) by being partially sequestered and having armed marshals in the courtroom. Judge Drain could deny all of this evidence during the trial, but couldn’t justify denying the strong ties and level of work Odeh had done for the community in Chicago. As the defense team pursues an appeal of the case, it will likely be based on the Judge’s prejudicial rulings that prevented Odeh from fully defending herself. Judge Drain did not want to give the defense team one more prejudicial ruling, jailing Odeh based on blatantly false reasons, that could be used as a strong argument for a new trial.
As the Rasmea Defense Committee says “there is still a ton of organizing to do.” Now that Odeh can be released on bail, the defense team will continue work on an appeal. Odeh’s supporters will still be putting pressure on the government prosecutors to overturn the conviction and get a new, fair trial where all of the evidence can be presented to a jury. With Odeh coming back to Chicago on bond, she will be able to continue her community work with the Arab American Action Network. A fundraiser that supports her work in Chicago will be a performance of the Wishah Popular Dance Troupe from Palestine on December 17, 2014 at 7PM – Lockport Township High School Auditorium, 1333 East Seventh Street, Lockport, IL
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.