July 11, 2017

Rasmea Odeh appeals unjust conviction & sentencing

For media inquiries: Hatem Abudayyeh, Rasmea Defense Committee, 773.301.4108, [email protected] 

On Tuesday, June 9, lead defense attorney Michael Deutsch filed a brief with the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, to appeal the conviction and sentencing of Palestinian community leader Rasmea Odeh. The appeal urges the court to reverse the conviction, arguing that Odeh was denied her right to present her complete defense, and that the trial court was wrong to allow prejudicial documents from Israel’s military court.  It also calls on the appeals court to resentence her to no additional prison time (she was jailed for 5 weeks after the November conviction).

The case against Odeh claimed that she had unlawfully gained U.S. citizenship by allegedly giving false answers on her visa application in 1995 and again on her naturalization application in 2004.  The government claimed that she failed to disclose that she had been convicted by the Israelis of participating in bombings in 1969.  This conviction in a military court was the result of a false confession made after she was viciously tortured and raped by Israeli military authorities for weeks.  As a result of that torture, Odeh has been diagnosed with chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which “blocked her from understanding the time frame in the questions that were answered falsely.”

After initially ruling in favor of the defense that the government would need to prove Odeh had intentionally given false answers on her immigration application documents, Judge Gershwin Drain reversed his own decision, denying her right to present a full defense at her trial.  That ruling barred the testimony of torture expert Dr. Mary Fabri, who was prepared to present a “solid, science-based, direct explanation and corroborations of [Ms. Odeh’s] state of mind, as a matter of fact, which would have established that she did not knowingly lie on the application.”

Judge Drain further restricted Odeh’s testimony in her own defense, disallowing her from making any statements “about the torture she endured, the symptoms she has chronically suffered as a result of her torture, or her recent diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Nor was she allowed to testify that she was innocent of the Israeli charges, or [about] the complete lack of due process and fundamental fairness in her arrest, trial and imprisonment by the military occupation courts.”

The appeal brief states, “For a jury to fairly evaluate Ms. Odeh’s testimony that she believed the questions only referred to her history in the U.S., and that she blocked out any thought of her history under Israeli military occupation, requires an explanation of how her chronic condition could have affected her thinking, so the Jury could fairly decide whether or not her defense was believable. The jury was denied this critical evidence, and Ms. Odeh’s fundamental constitutional right to present her defense was thereby arbitrarily denied.” 

The brief also argues that the trial court was wrong to allow documents from Israel’s military court, because they were products of torture and a denial of due process and fundamental fairness, and because they contained inflammatory language that unduly biased the jury against Odeh.

“The prosecution’s case against Ms. Odeh was based in substantial part upon 45 year-old documents created by a military occupation legal system imposed on the Palestinian people living in the West Bank region, after invasion, and conquest by Israel in 1967,” states the brief.  He adds that these documents should have been excluded because “the military judicial process imposed on the people of the West Bank was based on the systematic use of torture, forced confessions, and other procedures wholly inconsistent with Due Process and U.S. principles of Fundamental Fairness.”

The brief continues: “Ms. Odeh was tortured and sexually abused for weeks, denied access to a lawyer for 45 days, and [denied] the right to remain silent. She was forced to confess, which directly led to her ‘indictment,’ returned by soldiers acting as a grand jury, and trial by soldiers acting as judges. Her conviction and imprisonment were the direct result of torture, and coerced confessions by her and her co-defendants.” 

Finally, Deutsch argues that the 18 month prison sentence should be thrown out, because Judge Drain failed to apply standard sentencing guideline adjustments in consideration of Odeh’s age, her chronic PTSD, and her exemplary contributions to her community. 

“Rasmea Odeh is a hero, our hero, and as we’ve said for almost two years, she has come under attack only because she is a Palestinian who has dedicated her life to the liberation of Palestine,” said Nesreen Hasan, a leader of the Rasmea Defense Committee.  “We expect that the appeals court will hear oral arguments in Cincinnati in September, and hundreds of her supporters will be there with her, as we were throughout the trial.  She is so loved and respected that the legendary Angela Davis will be in Chicago June 28 to offer her public support as well.”

On Thursday, June 11, Deutsch will appear with Rasmea via livestream, to further explain the appeals process and what’s next in the fight for #Justice4Rasmea.   After filing today’s brief, he told the Rasmea Defense Committee that “justice requires Rasmea’s conviction be reversed and she be afforded a fair trial.”

For more information and background on Odeh’s case, visit www.justice4rasmea.org.