Rasmieh Odeh Prosecution: Justice Demands Extraordinary Sentence
In a memorandum loaded with staggering new disclosures about her terrorist past, prosecutors are asking a Federal judge to sentence Rasmieh Odeh to at least five years in prison for naturalization fraud.
Jurors in Detroit convicted Odeh, 67, in November, finding that she lied on her application to become an American citizen. She failed to disclose an Israeli conviction for her role in a 1969 Jerusalem supermarket bombing that killed two university students and claimed to never have been arrested, convicted, or imprisoned.
Immigration officials testified that Odeh never would have been allowed into the country, much less naturalized as an American citizen, had they known about her terrorist conviction.
Her sentencing is scheduled for March 12 in Detroit.
The prosecution memo offers evidence challenging Odeh’s entire narrative – that she was unjustly convicted after being tortured by Israeli officials – and offers new details about the “exalted role” she held within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The group named a terrorist unit in her honor while she was in Israeli prisons.
The defense, in contrast, repeats the unsubstantiated torture claims and casts the government’s posture as an act of subservience to Israel.
Given her one-count conviction and criminal history in the United States, sentencing guidelines recommend that Odeh serve 12-18 months in prison. But the nature of her lie, hiding her direct involvement in a lethal terrorist attack, means that such a sentence “would grossly fail to promote respect for the law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel wrote in a memorandum filed Wednesday.
A relative “slap on the wrist” for Odeh, followed by deportation after enjoying 20 years of life in America looks like an attractive exchange for a hypothetical person who fought for ISIS or other terrorist groups who might try to come here. “Only a significant sentence, which shows that there is a serious price to pay for committing such fraud on the U.S. immigration system, will reflect the seriousness of the offense and provide deterrence to others who may be contemplating such a move and are weighing the possible costs and the possible gain,” the prosecution memo said.
In their sentencing memorandum, defense attorneys asked that Odeh be spared any prison time. They repeated her claim that her Israeli conviction was unjust and the product of a confession brought about through torture. They call the prosecution’s request for a sentence far above normal guidelines a political maneuver aimed at pleasing “their American Zionist constituents and obfuscat[ing] 67 years of Israeli terrorism.”
“Now, with the bodies of hundreds of innocents slaughtered in Gaza in August fresh in the minds of all who bother to care about humanity, the prosecution here demands a wholly unjustified, draconian sentence, for illegitimate political purposes, against this woman who has suffered so much and given so much,” the defense sentencing memo said. “The real motivation behind the prosecution’s interest, in seeking a prison sentence well beyond what is reasonably appropriate under the sentencing factors, is not to deter others who may lie to obtain admission to the United States, but to raise the specter of Palestinian terrorism—using this 45 year old case—as a cover for and distraction from our own Government’s billions of dollars of military and other material support for Israel’s remorseless tyrannies against Palestine and Palestinians.”
That argument may not sit well with U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain, who recently slammed a defense motion for a new trial, which also was based on previous arguments he had already rejected. In addition, Odeh and defense attorney Michael Deutsch drew several admonitions from Drain during the trial when they defied his pre-trial orders and tried to argue the Israeli conviction was unjust.
Whether it was a valid conviction didn’t matter, Drain ruled. Odeh’s failure to disclose her record accurately was the only issue for jurors to consider. After the verdict, Odeh spoke to supporters and called the outcome “racist.”
The defense sentencing motion acknowledges Odeh violated the court’s orders during the trial and that the jury’s verdict indicates they think she lied during her testimony. But that should not be held against her.
Odeh would have faced a maximum of six months in prison had she accepted a plea offer from the government, Deutsch wrote. Her life in the United States has been unblemished, and featured “amazingly imaginative, effective, selfless community organizing she has been engaged in for the last ten years with [the Arab American Action Network].”
But prosecutors had to prepare evidence to support the Israeli conviction in case Drain ruled differently before the trial, and they used some of it to call for a sentence significantly higher than the normal guidelines.
Odeh initially confessed after just one day in Israeli custody, the memo said, not after weeks of mistreatment. Taken together, “there can be no question as to the role Odeh played” in the bombings, the prosecution memo said.
Among the examples cited are excerpts from a 1994 documentary sympathetic to Odeh’s cause. In those excerpts, she and an accomplice are seen discussing their roles in the 1969 bombing at a Supersol store in Jerusalem. Two Hebrew University students died in that attack.
The details Odeh and her accomplice described in the film match Odeh’s confession to Israeli officials, Tukel wrote.
In a 1980 article in the Journal of Palestine Studies that remains online, Odeh is quoted discussing her involvement in a subsequent bombing attempt at the British Consulate in Jerusalem. “Actually we placed two bombs,” she said, “the first was found before it went off so we placed another.”
In a separate documentary, taped two years before Odeh came to America, archival footage from a 1970 hijacking is shown, with the female PFLP terrorist identifying her group as “Task Force Rasmieh Odeh.”
Odeh’s case triggered a national campaign to pressure prosecutors into dropping the indictment against her. Dozens of people traveled from Chicago, where Odeh now lives, to Detroit, to pack the courtroom during the trial and demonstrate in front of the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse. The Investigative Project on Terrorism showed the deceptive nature of that campaign in a five-part series, “Spinning a Terrorist Into a Victim,” which can be seen starting with Part 1 here.
Odeh’s memo taps into that support network with 70 letters from religious, academic and community representatives. Most cite her claim of enduring torture as established fact and say her near-certain deportation would be punishment enough.
Among those who submitted letters are Ahmed Rehab of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Chicago office, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Muslim Legal Fund of America national Director Khalil Meek, and Jamal Said, imam of Bridgeview’s Mosque Foundation.
Steven Emerson is the Executive Director the Investigative Project on Terrorism (www.investigativeproject.org) where this article first appeared.