Less than a month before a new trial, the federal prosecution team has entered a new indictment in their case of unlawful procurement of naturalization against Palestinian American community leader Rasmea Odeh.
New Indictment Portrays Odeh as a Terrorist
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade announced that a grand jury she impaneled returned a new, superseding indictment asserting that Odeh was involved in “terrorist activity” and was a member of a “designated terrorist organization” both grounds for revoking her citizenship.
At her trial, Odeh was not allowed to tell the full story of her conviction of bombings in Israel in 1969 that was the result of a coerced confession made after she was tortured and raped by Israeli military authorities. Odeh was originally arrested in 2012 for a twenty year old “naturalization fraud” charge that was “discovered” while Justice Department investigators were frustrated in their failure to charge or indict 23 Palestine activists in 2010 for “material support for terrorism.”
Both Defense and Prosecution Expert Witnesses Confirm PTSD
The government prosecutors resisted any defense attempt to introduce evidence of Odeh’s torture by the Israeli authorities. The defense expert witness, the world-renowned psychologist and torture expert, Dr. Mary Fabri, confirmed that Odeh continues to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For this PTSD evidence to be allowed in court, it would have meant details of Odeh’s torture as well as the unjust Israeli military court would have been admitted. At the original trial, Judge Drain denied admission of the expert testimony and would not allow Odeh to discuss her experience in Israeli jails.
But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the prosecution and Judge Drain’s decision, forcing new consideration of the PTSD evidence which led to the retrial. The prosecution attempted once again to stop evidence of Israeli torture and military courts to be admitted in a new trial by subjecting Odeh to an eleven-hour interrogation by their own expert. Much to the government’s surprise, their expert affirmed that Odeh does indeed live with PTSD.
As an act of prosecutorial desperation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is now claiming that the acts Odeh was involved in 47 years ago were “terrorist activity” and that she failed to report on her visa and naturalization forms an alleged association with a “Designated Terrorist Organization.” A large number of Palestinians were rounded up for the bombings and as the indictment states “On May 5, 1969, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) charged them in an indictment brought before a military court governed by military law.” Odeh’s convictions on these charges resulted from a confession obtained through torture in the Israeli military court.
In Odeh’s first trial, prosecutors were barred from using the word “terrorism,” because Judge Gershwin Drain agreed the word would bias the jury. This approach made sense at the time given the government claimed that this was a simple case of immigration fraud. Now with this new indictment, Odeh will be presented to the jury as an accused terrorist from the very beginning of the trial.
All of the information of the new indictment was available at the time of Odeh’s original indictment in 2014, but the prosecution used none of it. The defense team argument that this is “vindictive and politically-motivated” is supported by the fact that this “evidence” from the Israeli military court has been available for years even before Odeh was originally charged in 2014.
Why is it being brought up now?
“They are switching course because they know that a jury will believe Rasmea,” says Nesreen Hasan of the Rasmea Defense Committee and its lead organization, the U.S. Palestinian Community Network.
“We have always said, from day one, that this is a political case, and that the government is prosecuting Rasmea as part of a broader attack, the criminalization of the Palestine liberation movement. This new indictment is literally the same charge, with the same evidence – immigration forms. Only now, they want to paint Rasmea, and all Palestinians, as terrorists. The real criminals in this case are the Israelis who brutally tortured Rasmea 45 years ago, as well as those in the U.S. government who are trying to put her on trial for surviving the brutality committed against her.”
Government Tries to Bolster Weak Case
It is likely that the prosecutors knew they had a weak case to counter the defense contention that Odeh’s PTSD, confirmed by both prosecution and defense experts, affected her ability to answer questions related to her torture and false imprisonment by the Israelis. No longer a “simple case of immigration fraud” – the government needed to establish from the beginning that Odeh did indeed participate in “terrorist activities” and was involved with a “designated terrorist organization.” Just as it’s the first statement listed in the new indictment, the prosecution wants it to be the first thing the new set of jurors hear.
Since the government was losing its battle to keep details about an Israeli military court system whose conviction rate tops 99% and includes a long history of using torture, it was important to establish Odeh had committed “terrorist activity” and was a member of a “designated terrorist organization.” All of this “new” evidence in the indictment is from only one source, the compromised, unjust, Israeli military court system that allows convictions based upon confessions extracted through torture. Palestinians cannot avoid being convicted in a system that provides them few legal rights and is designed to convict them at a rate of 99%.
Impact of Trump Administration and New Attorney General
Given the incoming Trump administration with its emphasis on fighting terrorism, acceptance of profiling, attacks on Arabs and Muslims, and pro-Israel stance, the prosecution is also cynically relying on the change in atmosphere to support a continuing investment in prosecuting the alleged “terrorist” Rasmea Odeh.
Odeh’s case was initiated under Attorney General Eric Holder who pro sided over a regime that targeted Palestine activists, Arabs and Muslims for surveillance and investigation. Senator Jeff Sessions, President-Elect Trump’s pick for Attorney General, is already being questioned about his “30 year record of racial insensitivity, bias against immigrants, disregard for the rule of law, and hostility to the protection of civil rights” – Palestinians and their supporters can only expect even more repressive assaults on their first amendment rights.
Rasmea Odeh Defense Team and Supporters Respond
Odeh’s legal team has filed a motion to postpone the January 10 trial date, so they can prepare a defense against the new allegations. According to lead defense attorney Michael Deutsch, “We also intend to challenge this indictment as vindictive and politically-motivated.”
The Rasmea Defense Committee has been urging supporters to continue to call or tweet U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade and demand that the charges against Odeh be dropped. The Committee will be continuing fundraising, scheduling educational events, and planning for supporters to come to the new trial when it is scheduled.
“We have people ready to come from across the Midwest to stand with Rasmea in Detroit on January 10, but we are also prepared to adjust those plans to be there whenever we are needed,” says Jess Sundin of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression. “We will redouble our organizing and fundraising work, and make certain Rasmea has the best defense possible.”
Visit www.justice4rasmea.org for more information.