Report from the Rasmea Defense Committee:
Appealing the November 2014 federal conviction of prominent Palestinian-American activist Rasmea Odeh, lead defense attorney Michael Deutsch gave a powerful oral argument in front of a panel of three judges—Alice Batchelder, Karen Moore, and John Rogers—in Cincinnati, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.
Hammering home the point that Rasmea never received a full and fair trial in Detroit last year, Deutsch deftly addressed the judges’ questions, and made a compelling argument that, at her trial for Unlawful Procurement of Naturalization, she should have been able to testify about her state of mind when she filled out her citizenship application in 2004.
The Department of Homeland Security arrested Odeh on October 22, 2013, and charged her for allegedly failing to disclose, in that application for U.S. citizenship, that she was arrested in Palestine in 1969 and tried in an Israeli military court that convicts 99.74% of Palestinians who come before it. Odeh’s conviction in Palestine in 1970 was based on a forced confession that was obtained after she was viciously tortured and sexually assaulted by the Israelis.
Odeh suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of this torture, which according to world renowned psychologist, Dr. Mary Fabri, caused her to suppress the horrible recollection of the arrest when she answered questions in the application. Fabri testified in a pre-trial hearing, prompting Judge Gershwin Drain to initially rule that she can testify at trial. But he almost immediately reversed himself after a prosecution filing, and ultimately disallowed any evidence about the rape and torture. Deutsch was convincing in his claims that this was a legal error, and that Rasmea must be afforded the chance to tell her story.
Prosecutor Jonathan Tukel, who supporters of Rasmea remember as the lawyer who tried to bully her during the trial, continued with his tired arguments, claiming that testimony from a psychologist should be inadmissible and could not stand up to scrutiny. The judges responded by pointing out that the legal precedent he was citing was an unpublished opinion, not any kind of legal precedent the court is bound to uphold.
Rasmea’s supporters were silently thrilled to watch the judges press Tukel, who was unable to offer any reason that she should not be entitled to have an expert testify in her defense. Instead, Judge Rogers’ remarks reinforced the idea that expert testimony could potentially establish reasonable doubt that Rasmea knowingly misled immigration officials.
Following the thirty-minute hearing, Rasmea, her attorneys, and her supporters joined a number of additional followers outside the courthouse for a rally featuring Deutsch, Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Brian Taylor of Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, Jess Sundin of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, and others. Visibly excited and motivated by what they had heard in the appellate court, the crowd of over 100 held posters, raised chants, and echoed Rasmea’s own determination to beat back this attack on her and on the Palestine liberation struggle.
Chapman, a veteran Black organizer who is extremely popular with Palestinians in Chicago, and who has traveled to almost all of Rasmea’s court appearances, said, “Make no mistake; this is a racist, political prosecution against Rasmea because she is a Palestinian who organizes for her people’s liberation.”
Deutsch thanked the crowd and explained how important it is to fill the courtroom. “It means a lot to Rasmea, and also shows the court that she is loved and respected,” he said.
He then answered questions about the appeals process, saying that a decision could be rendered between one and four months from now. If the court agrees with the defense and overturns the conviction and the sentencing, the case gets sent back to the prosecution to possibly re-file charges, whereupon the entire trial process begins anew. But this time, evidence of torture, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), etc., would be allowed into the courtroom. Also, the court, without reversing the conviction, could simply compel Judge Drain to allow for another evidentiary hearing with Dr. Fabri. Alternatively, if the court upholds the conviction but disagrees with the sentence, the appellate judges send new sentencing guidelines back to Drain for re-sentencing.
In the worst possible scenario, her conviction and sentencing would be upheld, meaning that she would have to serve 18 months in prison and then be deported. If this happens without the decision being unanimous, the defense could ask that all of the 6th Circuit appellate court judges, not just the three panelists, review the case. If this does not work, then a last ditch effort could be an attempt to appeal to the Supreme Court, which hears only 2% of cases filed.
The Rasmea Defense Committee organized two busloads of Chicagoans to Cincinnati, as well as dozens of other supporters from Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. We have succeeded in building a national movement to stand by Rasmea, to protest this attack on her, to stand with her at every court date, and to fully fund her defense. We call on everyone to continue supporting ourfundraising, organizing public events, and pitching Rasmea’s story to media across the country and the world.
There is still much more organizing to be done!
The Rasmea Defense Committee is led by United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN), Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR), and Coalition to Protect People’s Rights (CPPR).