July 9, 2015

Rasmea's prosecutors tell appeals court: deny a full defense to survivor of rape and torture

Rasmea Defense Committee
Thursday, July 9th, 2015

Federal prosecutor Jonathan Tukel filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit yesterday, opposing Rasmea Odeh’s call to overturn her conviction and sentencing on immigration charges.  He argues that the lower court was right to deny Rasmea her full defense, including decisions to bar the testimony of a torture expert, to restrict Rasmea’s own testimony, and to allow documents obtained via torture by the occupying Israeli military. 

At trial, Rasmea testified that if she had understood the immigration forms to be asking about what the Israelis did to her in Palestine, she would have volunteered that information. Renowned torture expert Dr. Mary Fabri was prepared to testify that survivors of torture like Rasmea, living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), will unintentionally and automatically “narrow their focus to keep painful memories back.” Tukel’s brief takes a bizarre turn when it supports the exclusion of Dr. Fabri’s testimony because, as the government claims, it would undermine Rasmea’s defense and “contradict” her testimony.  We have heard and seen much of Tukel’s refusal to understand and accept the testimony of this mental health professional, and this is just another example of the prosecution’s complete and callous disregard for Rasmea’s story as a torture survivor.

As Rasmea’s appeal argued, a jury could only give her a fair hearing if they could hear testimony to explain how her chronic condition could have affected her thinking.  Allowing testimony about the torture she survived at the hands of military occupation soldiers would have put the crimes of Israel on the record, and supported the defense’s argument that she never knowingly made false statements to immigration officials. That is why the government wants Rasmea’s defense silenced.

The government’s brief also defends the use of documents from the Israeli military court, arguing that they “were no different than any other business record which is offered to prove a historical fact.”   But in reality, there was never any dispute over whether Rasmea had been imprisoned by the Israelis, so the prosecution did not need documents produced from “evidence” gained by torture to make its case.  The only advantage to using them was to portray Rasmea as dangerous in front of the jury, which, as the defense has claimed, was clearly prejudicial.  Ignoring the weeks of unspeakable torture that produced these documents is another shameful case of the government trying to cover up the crimes of the occupation, and especially the crimes against Rasmea.

As many times as the government brief called Rasmea a liar, Tukel is the one covering up his support of Israel and its crimes against her and the Palestinian people as a whole.  This case should never have gone to trial, and because Rasmea was refused the right to a full defense, the conviction should be thrown out.  She was prosecuted by the U.S. government only because she is Palestinian, and only because she has organized for decades for Palestinian liberation and self-determination, the Right of Return, and an end to U.S. funding of Israeli occupation.

The fight for #Justice4Rasmea continues.  Rasmea’s defense gets to respond to Tukel’s brief by July 22nd, and we expect oral arguments on the appeal to be heard in the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati sometime in September (or maybe earlier).  Stay tuned at www.justice4rasmea.org.