As Rasmea Odeh’s supporters packed the courtroom for her hearing in the U.S. District Court in Detroit on July 31st, they heard Judge Borman refuse to step down from the case even though he has a history of giving funds to pro-Israel organizations.
Odeh was arrested by agents of the Department of Homeland Security and charged with immigration fraud. She is accused of not disclosing on her immigration application that she was arrested and convicted by an Israeli military court 45 years ago. While in an Israeli detention center, she was subject to torture and sexual assault by the prison authorities to obtain a false confession. Odeh was processed by an Israeli military court system that routinely bypasses due process holding Palestinians without charge or trial for months and years. (For additional background on Odeh’s case, see Rasmea Odeh: Repression of a Palestinian Community Leader.)
Odeh’s defense team of Michael Deutsch, Jim Fennerty, and William Goodman had prepared a motion for Judge Borman to recuse himself from the case due to his political and financial investment in organizations supporting the state of Israel. In a press release, it states that “in the papers filed with the court attorneys Deutsch and James Fennerty describe Judge Borman’s long history of support for Israel, including fund raising for, and donating millions of dollars of his own money to the state. They argue: “Clearly, one who has been a life-long supporter and promoter of Israel and has deep ties to the State of Israel spanning over 50 years, who no doubts believes that Israel is a great democracy and protector of human rights, cannot be ‘reasonably’ said to be impartial when these claims of torture and illegality are raised by a Palestinian defendant.”
At the beginning of the hearing, Judge Borman indicated that he “had reached a decision on the recuse motion ten minutes ago” and the decision was distributed to the attorneys. Quickly, the Judge shifted to technical matters regarding the defense motions needing to be resubmitted separately “as is the standard procedure for the Detroit district”. But the biggest issue discussed was the defense motion to include for the jury an expert witness who has stated that Odeh suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) as a result of the torture suffered in the Israeli prison. The defense contends that Odeh was suffering from PTSD at the time of her completion of the immigration application – affecting her psychological intent in supplying the answers that she did. The government prosecutors deny that this expert testimony is necessary or relevant to their case against Odeh. They also indicated that they would want to provide their own expert witnesses if the judge ruled the testimony admissible. This will be an important ruling as if it is allowed to go ahead, it will also become part of the jury instructions for deciding the case. Given Judge Borman’s pro-Israel background, it is hard to imagine that he would allow even a discussion of Israel’s torture of Palestinian detainees in a U.S. court.
As Michael Deutsch explained afterwards, “The judge refused to remove himself from the case saying he was just a Jewish person providing support for Jewish organizations. The evidence against Rasmea all comes from a military court, it is not a fair system. We are hoping to present an expert testifying to her torture while in prison and that she is suffering from post traumatic stress, but there is a question whether the judge will allow it before the jury. If it is denied, he will be stopping her from mounting a defense.”
The next steps are a hearing on September 2 to resolve all of the defense motions that have been submitted to the court. If everything is resolved at that time, her trial date will be September 8. Whether the trial starts then will likely be dependent upon whether the expert testimony issue can be quickly resolved.
Both before and after the hearing, about 150 of Odeh’s supporters from Chicago, Detroit, and Minneapolis picketed and rallied – hearing speeches from Palestinian, Muslim, and anti-war leaders. Kristin Szremski, Director of Media and Communications at the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) spoke about the wide range of people who had turned out. “Look at the diversity of the women at this protest. In her work for women in the Arab, Muslim, and immigrant community, Rasmea stands for each one of us. Her work is important for women from every country. Our activism is not illegal, we will continue to stand on the path to truth.”
Dawud Walid, Executive Director CAIR-Michigan, spoke to the support of CAIR in Rasmea’s case. “Rasmea is a victim of the pro-occupation Zionists who also always seem to be Islamophobes. We call for an end to the normalization of Islamophobia in the Justice Department.”
With the many supporters from Detroit and the surrounding area, there were strong connections made between the repression of Palestinians and the experience of the Detroit community. Abayomi Azikiwe from the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Racism, said “We protest the illegal emergency state takeover of our city – we are also under occupation in Detroit. At our protests, people chant ‘Water for the people of Detroit, Water for the people of Palestine.'”
Odeh’s hearing was also taking place at the height of Israel’s assault on Gaza. That fact was in the minds of many of those picketing. Hatem Abudayyeh, from US Palestinian Community Network (USPN)-Chicago, made this connection with his statement that “Israel has been shown to be lying about the bombing of civilians in Gaza and they are lying about Rasmea too. Just like it has been hard to get the media to cover the truth about the attacks on Gaza, we need to work harder to get the media to cover the facts about Rasmea’s case.”
After the hearing, Odeh’s supporters continued to picket outside the courthouse and spoke of their determination to return in even larger numbers for the September 2 hearing and the September 8 trial. Michael Deutsch had the last word.
“All of us being here is as important as my work in the court. When the Judge sees you filling the courtroom bearing witness, it makes a difference.”