February 26, 2016

Rasmea Defense Committee celebrating today, planning next steps

Rasmea Defense Committee
February 26th, 2016

Yesterday’s ruling from the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals represents a great victory in the case of Rasmea Odeh, the legendary Palestinian American icon who was convicted of a politically motivated immigration violation in 2014, and sentenced to 18 months in prison and deportation last year.

There were some early press and other reports yesterday that were erroneous, stating that the “conviction was overturned” altogether, but that is not the case. The 3-judge appeals panel determined that Gershwin Drain, the trial judge who sentenced Rasmea, wrongfully barred expert torture witness, Dr. Mary Fabri, from testifying at the trial. According to lead defense attorney Michael Deutsch, “The case will be remanded [sent back to Drain] for a determination as to the admissibility of the expert testimony. The appellate court has essentially ruled that it was an error for Drain to have kept that testimony out.”

Judge Drain originally ruled that Fabri’s testimony was not relevant because the violation was a “general intent” crime as opposed to a “specific intent” one, stating that her state of mind does not need to be considered. The appellate panel disagreed: “Regardless of whether [it] was a specific or general intent crime,” the ruling states, “Dr. Fabri’s…testimony is relevant to whether Odeh knew that her statements were false. The district court accordingly erred in…excluding this testimony.”

If Judge Drain cannot determine if there are other legal avenues that will allow him to exclude the expert testimony, Rasmea will be granted a new trial, which will finally allow her to tell the entire story of Israel forcing her to falsely confess to bombings in 1969, when she endured over three weeks of vicious sexual, physical, and psychological torture at the hands of the Israeli military.

That Israeli military court “conviction” is what ultimately led to the U.S. federal charge against her almost 45 years later. In the appeal, Rasmea’s lawyers had also argued that the prosecution should not have been allowed to use documents from the Israeli military court during the trial, stating that the details from that court were “prejudicial” and “irrelevant” in a case dealing with alleged immigration fraud. In the ruling, one of the appellate judges agreed that those details should have been excluded.

U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel, who are responsible for the original indictment against Rasmea in 2013, can file a motion asking the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision. Barring that, Judge Drain must make a determination, which could mean another evidentiary hearing in Detroit.

“This isn’t a full victory yet, of course,” said Nesreen Hasan of the Rasmea Defense Committee in Chicago, “but it really is what we were hoping for and anticipating at this stage. The conviction wasn’t overturned altogether, but at least Judge Drain will be forced to rethink his decision on the torture evidence. And we are confident that Rasmea will get a new trial!”

Organizers with the defense committee, which represents over 50 institutions across the country, have been waiting for a decision in the appeal since last October, and are celebrating the result today. If the court had upheld the conviction, Rasmea’s supporters were prepared to carry out emergency response protests in dozens of U.S. cities.

“With this decision, instead of emergency protests, we’re doing everything we can to ensure that Rasmea finally gets the chance to tell her story in court,” said Frank Chapman, another leader of the committee and a prominent Black police accountability and anti-torture organizer in Chicago. “When the evidence is heard, Rasmea will be exonerated, because a jury will recognize that the only crimes in this case are Israel’s war against the Palestinian people and our U.S. government’s complicity.”

Considering that there will be much more legal and community-based organizing work ahead, the Rasmea Defense Committee is asking for continued financial support.

“Rasmea and we are celebrating our victory today, and are thankful for the work of our great lawyers and the thousands of people across the U.S. and the world who have stood with her,” said Lara Kiswani of the committee’s Bay Area chapter. “And besides fundraising, we want everyone to continue to organize educational events, like our International Women’s Day celebrations honoring Rasmea in San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, and other cities.”