Rasmea Odeh returns to court next month
Palestinian community organizer Rasmea Odeh will return to court in Detroit on June 13th, following up on a February ruling that the Chicago-based activist was improperly convicted of immigration naturalization fraud in November 2014.
The February decision came from the Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals, and held that potentially exculpatory evidence in the form of expert testimony on Odeh’s experience, which caused Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, was wrongly excluded from consideration.
The appellate court held that the testimony of Dr. Mary Fabri, an expert in PTSD, was improperly excluded from Odeh’s trial. According to an email to Palestine in America from lead defense attorney Michael Deutsch, at the new hearing Judge Gershwin Drain will “decide what if any further evidence he will receive in deciding whether or not our PTSD expert will be allowed to testify at trial before a jury. If he decides that the expert is qualified and should be allowed to testify, Rasmea will receive a new trial.”
As representatives of the Rasmea Defense Committee explained in an email, “Dr. Fabri’s testimony represents the core of Rasmea’s defense: she was tortured into a false confession by the Israelis and suffers acute PTSD from that torture.”
Judge Drain ruled in November that testimony relating to PTSD was inadmissible because naturalization fraud is not a “specific intent” crime, for which the accused must willingly carry out acts that they know to be criminal, but is instead a “general intent” crime, where the accused need only have been aware and purposeful in actions defined as a crime by law, regardless of their intent or state of mind.
However, the appellate court pointed out that Dr. Fabri’s evidence, as described in Odeh’s defense briefs, would bear on Odeh’s full awareness of the truth or falsity of her statements during her naturalization process, and therefore could be exculpatory of the charge of knowingly providing false information, regardless of the charge’s status as a general or specific intent crime.
The appellate court did not, however, uphold Odeh’s appeal that the admission of documents into her trial from Israel’s discriminatory military courts was “unduly prejudicial” to the jury, or her legal team’s argument that her sentence was unfair.
The Defense Committee maintains that the documents from the West Bank occupation courts, which have a 99 percent conviction rate for Palestinians like Odeh, are not only false and based on torture, but introduced undue bias into the proceedings, especially while Dr. Fabri’s testimony was kept out.
“Without hearing from a health professional about the torture,” the defense committee explained in an email, “the jury simply was presented the Israeli documents without any context and Rasmea was not allowed to properly defend herself.”
Deutsch said he is confident Odeh will receive a new trial, and he is prepared to take further denials or maneuvers from Judge Drain back to the Court of Appeals where he foresees being successful.
Meanwhile, Odeh’s supporters are approaching the struggle with an attitude reflecting her roots in community organizing. They emphasized they believe “mass based popular political defense will secure the justice we need for Rasmea.”
They also remain intent on getting her message out in the face of criminalization. The Rasmea Defense Committee believes that while her prosecution “was meant to have a chilling effect on Palestinian organizing in the U.S.,” it has instead become a rallying point “at the intersection of immigration, political repression and U.S. foreign policy.”
Her supporters also emphasize that her return to the witness stand along with Dr. Fabri will allow her defense to highlight the way that colonial oppression in Palestine “takes on a gendered nature especially through sexualized violence by the Israeli soldiers and prison system.”
The United States Palestinian Community Network—which Odeh helped create—and organizers of her defence committee, took the occasion of Nakba Day to urge supporters to register to join them in solidarity in Detroit for the June hearing and to announce a new campaign to educate and advocate for Palestinian political prisoners, making clear they “reject the criminalization of our resistance,” from Chicago to Palestine.