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  March 13, 2015

Immigration Activist Rasmea Odeh Sentenced to 18 Months

After she serves her sentence, she is to be deported, says Charlotte Silver
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Charlotte Silver is a journalist and associate editor for The Electronic Intifadas. She is based in Oakland and has reported from the Israel and Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter: @CharEsilver.


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The Palestinian-American Rasmea Odeh was sentenced to 18 months in prison. And then she is to be deported. Odeh was found guilty of committing fraud on her 1994 U.S. visa application and her 2004 for naturalization application.

The United States of America v. Rasmea Yousef Odeh said that the 67-year-old Palestinian-American intentionally failed to disclose her conviction in an Israeli military court for her participation in two 1969 bombings in Jerusalem that killed two Israeli civilians. Her supporters say her conviction was based on a confession extracted through torture.

Now joining me to discuss all of this is Charlotte Silver, who has been closely following the case. And she is an independent journalist based in Oakland, California, who writes regularly for Electronic Intifada.

Charlotte, thank you so much for joining us today.


PERIES: So, Charlotte, tell us more about what her supporters, supporters of Ms. Odeh, is saying about her conviction.

SILVER: Well, when she was found guilty by a jury last November, her supporters were of course very disappointed, but were not necessarily surprised, as the trial that took place over the course of four days in Detroit didn't look very much like what her defense had hoped it would. They had hoped to put forward a very strong defense that included evidence that Rasmea was tortured by Israeli interrogators before convicted by an Israeli military court, which has a record of almost always convicting Palestinian defendants, nearly 100 percent--has a nearly 100 percent conviction rate. And so her defense had wanted to include this as evidence that she had not actually committed the bombings that the Israeli military court had convicted her of, and also to put forth that she suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder and was suffering from PTSD when she applied for her visa and naturalization. And that was the reason why she had failed to disclose her criminal background with the Israeli military court system.

PERIES: Now, Charlotte, lying on your immigration application and your naturalization application is a serious crime. We know that war criminals who had been allowed into the country for having done the same thing--and I'm not saying that Ms. Odeh here is a war criminal, but there are certain circumstances about her case that needed to be revealed in court. What do we know about that?

SILVER: Well, I think the problem really begins with how this information about Rasmea was unearthed. Her supporters have traced it back to 2010, when a couple of dozen Palestinian and Palestinian-American and also non-Palestinian-American activists working in solidarity with Palestine, they were raided, their offices, their homes were raided with search warrants, looking for evidence that they were participating in terrorist activities or helping terrorist activities take place. And this, what they called a fishing expedition, resulted in no charges except, in 2013, Rasmea Odeh, who had not been one of the original targets in 2013. She was indicted for this crime. And so her supporters have maintained that her charge was a political prosecution because of the sort of original source of this information and intent to root out and criminalize Palestinian-American activists.

And then, more broadly, I think that this case is, in the case of Rasmea Odeh, is very emblematic of the way the U.S. courts take for granted that Palestinians are terrorists without ever examining the way Israeli institutions systematically terrorize Palestinian life.

PERIES: And what evidence do we have that she was tortured here?

SILVER: Well, she has--after she was indicted, she was reviewed by specialists, who interviewed her, had her walk through what happened to her in 1969, and then reviewed her behaviors. They testified and wrote a signed affidavit to the effect of her that she was tortured and she does continue to this day suffer from PTSD as a result. That wasn't allowed to be shown at trial. The jury did not see that at trial.

And more generally, Israeli interrogators torturing Palestinians has been proven repeatedly, has been reviewed by various human rights organizations, including the State Department, which in the 1970s published a report about how Palestinian Americans applying for visas almost routinely reported torture at the hands of Israeli interrogators. And the State Department found that these testimonies neared each other so closely that they were certain that it was systematic and that no one was lying.

PERIES: And in this case why did the judge instruct her not to talk about her torture in her hearing?

SILVER: Well, the judge, Gershwin Drain, maintained that he didn't want the trial to become a sort of political theater. And so he didn't want the defense to introduce this argument that her conviction took place by an occupying force, by an Israeli military court. He didn't want that context to enter into it. And he also said that he didn't want to be retrying whether or not she actually did commit the crimes. That wasn't his interest. What he wanted to focus on in the trial was whether or not she lied on her immigration forms.

But this was sort of an impossible task, to ignore the context of the immigration forms. As a result, his decision weighed in the favor of the prosecution. The prosecution was allowed to include a lot of evidence of this crime, the crime that took place, very prejudicial information about how many people were injured and killed. It was presented to the jury while the sort of other side of the fuller picture wasn't allowed in.

PERIES: Now, is there any effort to appeal this sentence?

SILVER: So, today she was sentenced to 18 months in prison, and that sentence is [incompr.] closely to what the sentencing guidelines recommended. The prosecutors had argued--and Judge Drain agreed agreed with them--that the guidelines should be slightly enhanced due to the fact that they say--what they say: she obstructed justice. During trial she referred to her torture, which she was not supposed to when she testified. And so Judge Drain sentenced her to 18 months, which was--as very disappointing and horrifying to many of her supporters, 18 months in prison for a 67-year-old woman, is, it's better than what the prosecutors had pushed for, which was five to seven years in prison. And they argued that her sentence should be so much more enhanced from the normal sentencing guidelines for unlawful procurement of citizenship because of what she had concealed from U.S. immigration authorities, that she was a convicted terrorist. And the prosecutors really used a tool which we've come to expect in most cases prosecuting terrorists, which is sort of whipping up this fear of needing to set a deterrence. And in their recommendation, they referred to if--they said that if a lenient sentence is passed down to Rasmea Odeh, it would send a signal to foreign fighters and ISIS that they could come over, lie on the immigration forms, and would only get a slap on the wrist. So they were pushing for very harsh sentencing by sort of utilizing this culture of fear, of terrorism, and terrorism spreading if the U.S. courts don't sort of use an iron fist to squash it.

PERIES: Charlotte, thank you so much for joining us today, and I hope you keep us abreast of what developments occur in this case.

SILVER: Thank you so much for having me.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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