USC Students for Justice in Palestine

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EI: “‘A political prosecution’: inside the trial of Rasmea Odeh”

Posted by uscsjp on November 10, 2014

“The Rasmea [Odeh] Defense Committee has asserted that the US attorney’s prosecution of Rasmea is a political prosecution — it’s because Rasmea is this iconic and legendary Palestinian figure,” reporter and contributor to The Electronic Intifada Charlotte Silver said on Friday from Detroit after the week-long trial of Palestinian American human rights activist Rasmea Odeh concluded. Jurors have begun deliberation.

Odeh was indicted last year “for allegedly giving false answers on her application for citizenship, which she was granted in 2004. The four questions she is alleged to have answered falsely inquired about her criminal record,” Silver reports.

“You have to really think about the fact that the Detroit US attorney’s office [has] been working for four years with the Department of Homeland Security to build this case against Rasmea Odeh,” she told The Electronic Intifada on Friday.

Silver has been reporting each day from the week-long trial in Detroit for The Electronic Intifada and other media outlets.

Verdict expected on Monday

In her latest report, published on Saturday, Silver writes that “After a week in court, the last day brought some relief to Odeh and her lawyers, who have been preparing for this trial for a year.”

Silver added in her report that “Before the jury entered Judge Gershwin A. Drain’s Detroit courtroom on Friday morning, Odeh’s lead attorney Michael Deutsch asked the court to have a directed verdict of not guilty; this was was denied by Drain. A directed verdict is when a presiding judge decides that no reasonable jury could arrive at a guilty verdict.

“For the last week, her defense team has stoutly contested the allegation that Odeh ‘knowingly’ answered falsely, arguing instead that her brother first filled out her application for a visa in 1995 and that she misinterpreted the questions on her application for citizenship in 2004.”

The jurors are expected to return a verdict on Monday.

Listen to the interview via the media player above, or read the following transcript.

“Peoples’ hopes are high”

Charlotte Silver: What the trial has been focused on is Rasmea’s immigration applications — her visa application that she filed in 1995 and her application for naturalization that she filed for nine years later, in 2004. The judge has made the parameters of the case extremely narrow, so really the jury is just supposed to look at her application, look at the four questions she’s alleged to have answered falsely, and determine if she knowingly answered them falsely.

So whereas before, the defense had a very extensive argument to make in Rasmea’s defense as for why those four questions were answered the way they were, they’ve had to really focus on proving that Rasmea Odeh’s interpretations of those questions — or the questions as they’re written — are ambiguously written. So it’s been very focused on that.

The prosecutor, the US government, has brought into court nearly 100 Israeli documents that were used to convict Rasmea Odeh in 1969 of participating in two bombings, a series of bombings in Jerusalem — one which resulted in the death of two people.

Rasmea Odeh was convicted of this charge after enduring 25 days of torture by Israeli security, and this has been documented several times over the course of the last 45 years. She gave a testimony in Geneva about this torture, she has spoken to various media outlets, to various human rights organizations about the torture she endured, and again she told a clinical psychologist, Mary Fabri, who’s based in Chicago, has worked with torture victims for over thirty years, told how she was tortured in 1969 to Mary Fabri, and none of that is being allowed into the trial.

Yet, the jurors are hearing over and over again that Rasmea Odeh was convicted of bombings that killed two people. What I think is significant is that in the gallery, there are dozens of supporters of Rasmea. There is also the brother of one of the victims of the bombing in 1969, and he’s sitting on the bench of the US attorneys, not at the table, but at the bench in the gallery that’s been reserved for US attorneys. And he has been following this case very closely, and he’s obviously in close contact with the US prosecuting attorneys — so even though the judge has strictly instructed the court to minimally refer to the 1969 conviction that Rasmea Odeh is now being brought up against, it’s very clear that the prosecutor is being motivated by this charge that was brought about by 25 days of torture.

And on the part of the defense, Rasmea Odeh has worked in the Chicago community of Arab and Muslim immigrant women since 2004, in this sort of spectacular way. And yesterday, testifying for the defense was Nadine Naber, who’s a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, who testified to Rasmea Odeh’s incredible work helping immigrant women from Arab and Muslim communities integrate among themselves and mount this challenge of isolation. Rasmea Odeh has been working with the Arab American Action Network for nine years with women, but also more generally with the youth, trying to reduce violence in the community, and this is why she has dozens of people driving out from Chicago, staying in Detroit to watch this trial, to support her throughout this. Because she has become such a prominent leader in the Chicago Palestinian and Arab community.

And it’s why the Rasmea Defense Committee has asserted that the US attorney’s prosecution of Rasmea is a political prosecution — it’s because Rasmea is this iconic and legendary Palestinian figure. You have to really think about the fact that the Detroit US attorney’s office has spent four years, they’ve been working for four years with the Department of Homeland Security to build this case against Rasmea Odeh.

They filed this indictment nine years after she filed her immigration forms, after she became a citizen. The defense wrote that this was an example of selective prosecution, specifically for Rasmea exercising her First Amendment rights, which was being an active participant in the Palestinian American community. And none of that is being allowed in.

So the jurors don’t know that the FBI had conducted this mass investigation into Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists in Chicago, and that’s how they discovered this very small false answer on her application. All of that’s being excluded from the trial — but it’s important background for people outside of the trial to understand.

Nora Barrows-Friedman Finally, Charlotte Silver, today, Friday was the last day of the trial — there was a cross-examination and now the jury has gone into deliberation. In speaking with her supporters and Rasmea Odeh’s lawyers, what do people expect? I know it’s always hard to speculate in terms of what a jury decides, but based on your experience inside the courtroom this week, what are her supporters and her lawyers expecting?

CS: Well, peoples’ hopes are high. I think that the defense has done a really fantastic job developing a defense strategy given the constraints that they were under, and I think they’ve done a very good job at presenting Rasmea Odeh as who she really is in the community, as not a criminal. They have been able to touch on the background to her conviction in 1969, and they have been able to put forth an argument that she could reasonably have misinterpreted the questions as she answered them, so that she did not knowingly give false answers, she misunderstood the questions that were provided and answered them according to how she interpreted them. And they’ve been able to show inconsistencies within the application and the language of the application itself, and also over the different versions of the applications.

They’ve developed what I think is a strong argument to be made. Of course, there are no Muslim or Arab jurors — it’s eight women and four men, mostly white, and so those are the demographics of it. But it’s hard to know how they are going to rule.

The jurors will return to deliberate on Monday.

–Nora Barrows-Friedman, The Electronic Intifada, Sun, Nov 9, 2014

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