On October 14, 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit will hear an appeal concerning the conviction of Rasmea Odeh. Supporters of Rasmea will pack the courtroom and hold a vigil outside. The Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation (BORDC/DDF) are two national organizations that work to realize the rights promised by U.S. Constitution. As organizations concerned with civil liberties, particularly the right to dissent, we are deeply supportive of Rasmea Odeh.
Odeh’s attorneys are raising several issues on appeal, such as what level of intent the prosecution was required to show for a conviction, the exclusion of evidence of Odeh’s PTSD and torture, and the admission of inflammatory Israeli military documents. These issues strike at the heart of the question—did Odeh get a fair trial?
BORDC/DDF strongly supports the Constitutional safeguards meant to ensure fair trial for everyone. We are also concerned with the implications this case holds for the right to dissent: it looks, smells, and tastes like politically motivated selective prosecution of the kind that has contributed to the continuous criminalization of dissent in the United States.
Odeh is a well-known community organizer in Chicago. She has worked for the Arab-American Action Network and received an Outstanding Community Leader Award from the Chicago Cultural Alliance. Since 1994 she has lived in the United States and has been a naturalized citizen since 2004. In September 2010 the FBI raided the homes of anti-war activists across the Midwest. The warrants said the FBI was conducting an investigation into material support for terrorism, but to date no one has been charged with this crime. While Odeh was not part of the original investigation, her co-worker at the Arab-American Action Network, Hatem Abudayyeh, was. This illicit investigation set into motion Odeh’s prosecution, as per her attorneys, it was through this investigation that the government discovered her naturalized citizenship, leading the Justice Department to contact the Israeli government for information about her.
What the government discovered was that in 2004 when she was asked whether she was ever convicted of a crime, Odeh did not mention her conviction in an Israeli military court that was predicated on a coerced confession. She was charged with and convicted of “unlawful procurement of naturalization.” As an article on the Dissent NewsWire explained:
The US government did not have to do much investigating to discover Rasmea’s arrest by the Israeli military. At no point in her life has Rasmea ever hidden it. She testified before the UN about the torture she endured at the hands of the Israeli military. The very same year she applied for citizenship she recounted her torture as part of a documentary film.
While the defense was unable to submit information about the torture Odeh endured, the prosecution was free to portray her as a violent terrorist and even, during sentencing, went so far as to opine about what effect her sentence would have on potential ISIS fighters seeking citizenship in the United States.
What we know is that Odeh’s conviction was the fruit of an FBI witch hunt. The government’s interest in her is not motivated out of a concern with immigration fraud, but rooted in an attempt to stifle dissent. It is for this reason that BORDC/DDF stands with the Justice for Rasmea movement.