By MARK UGOLINI
— CHICAGO — On Aug. 29, the defense case of 69-year-old Palestinian rights activist Rasmea Odeh took an unexpected and potentially ominous turn when presiding Federal Judge Gershwin Drain ruled that Odeh will be subjected to up to 18 hours of intensive psychological testing by an appointed government forensic examiner whose job is to undermine her legal defense and bolster the prosecution case.
A prominent figure in the Palestinian national liberation movement, Odeh was wrongly convicted in 2014 of immigration fraud for failing to disclose a conviction by an Israeli military court more than 40 years ago. She was later sentenced to 18 months in prison, her U.S. citizenship was revoked, and deportation to Jordan was ordered.
In 2015 Odeh appealed her conviction, charging that Judge Drain had issued rulings that blocked her from presenting her case. She and her legal team have effectively argued that the charges against her were politically motivated; and in February 2016, Odeh won an important victory when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated her immigration fraud conviction. The court ruled that Judge Drain was wrong in his handling of the case, especially his refusal to allow the defense to present medical evidence that Odeh had suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Odeh suffered from PTSD during interrogations in which she was accused of intentionally deceiving immigration authorities of her unlawful conviction and imprisonment while under Israeli occupation.
Through multiple rulings favorable to the prosecution during the trial, Odeh was prevented from telling her story. While a political prisoner under Israeli occupation in 1969, after being subjected to over three weeks of brutal sexual, physical, and psychological torture, she was coerced by the Israeli military into a false confession of involvement in Jerusalem bombings.
The Aug. 29 decision by Judge Drain to subject Odeh to new psychological interrogation allows the prosecution an attempt to discredit the detailed evaluation already conducted by noted clinical psychologist Mary Fabri, an expert with an extensive background in treating victims of torture. After an extensive examination of Odeh, Fabri concluded that her PTSD could have prevented her from recalling many important details while under questioning of Israeli and immigration authorities.
Michael Deutsch, lead defense attorney for Odeh, reacted to Judge Drain’s decision: “While Rasmea has become the most famous target of a political trial in the U.S. today, she has always avoided discussion of the crimes committed against her in that Israeli prison in 1969. The government case against Rasmea is based on the word of her Israeli captors, and yet at every turn, Judge Drain has denied her defense the right to challenge those statements in his courtroom. Once again, his latest decision favors the prosecution’s endless attempts to cover up the crimes of Israel against Rasmea.”
Judge Drain also cancelled a scheduled Sept. 22 hearing at the Detroit courthouse, where the Rasmea Defense Committee had been planning a rally of supporters from throughout the Midwest.
Nesreen Hasan of U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) told Palestine America: “It’s unfortunate that the judge sided with the prosecution, but we’re still going to fight. … [I’m] concerned for the health of Rasmea because the psychological evaluation will be a triggering process. The ruling just goes to show that the prosecution doesn’t care about her health and doesn’t care that they are causing her to relive her trauma.”
The government’s legal offensive represents a political attack on Rasmea Odeh and the broader movement for Palestinian rights. “The case against Rasmea is a thinly veiled political prosecution,” said Dima Khalidi, director of Palestine Legal. “And the Appeals Court’s decision to send the case back confirms that the District Court inappropriately excluded expert testimony about the trauma Rasmea continues to endure from the torture she suffered while in Israeli prison. … Judge Drain’s latest ruling, allowing the government to put her through hours of interrogation from a hostile government expert, could enable him to again exclude this testimony, and thereby affirm the previous conviction against Rasmea. The prosecution has stopped at nothing to keep the fact of Israel’s well-documented torture practices from consideration in Rasmea’s case, and it’s clear that they are intent on continuing to victimize her, and shielding Israel from scrutiny.”
Rasmea Odeh’s case in the U.S. is closely linked to the fate of Palestinian prisoners and detainees currently under Israeli military occupation. B’Tselem reports that as of the end of April 2016 nearly 6300 security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons.
USPCN, the Rasmea Defense Committee, and other supporters of Palestinian rights will be mobilizing throughout the Midwest to protest outside the court hearing in Detroit on Nov. 29, when government prosecutors will be challenging the expert defense testimony.
In a statement released this week, Jeff Mackler, Socialist Action candidate for U.S. President expressed full support for Rasmea: “The continued prosecution of Rasmea Odeh is an outrage for all who oppose political repression and defend democratic rights. We stand up for Rasmea and all Palestinian political activists and prisoners under continuous assault by the Zionist Israeli state and the U.S. government. We support and join in building the protest in Detroit on Nov. 29 to drop all charges against Rasmea.
Our job as supporters of Palestinian rights in the U.S. is to mobilize to demand freedom for Rasmea Odeh, and beyond that, to direct our fire against massive U.S. military support, over $3 billion per year, to the racist, apartheid state of Israel, a state built and maintained on the brutal colonial oppression of the Palestinian people. We demand self-determination for Palestine. End All U.S. aid to apartheid Israel! For a democratic, secular Palestine. with the right of all Palestinian refugees to return!”