New Filings Show Odeh Case Remains Contentious Despite Pending Plea
Days before Rasmea Odeh is expected to walk into a federal courtroom and plead guilty to naturalization fraud, her attorneys demanded that a judge strike the prosecution’s language detailing her direct involvement in two 1969 Jerusalem bombings that killed two people.
According to a stipulation filed last week, Odeh has signed a plea agreement with the US government. The Chicago-based Palestinian activist was indicted in 2013, with prosecutors alleging that she lied on her application to become an American citizen, by failing to disclose her terrorist past. Truthful and complete responses would have rendered her ineligible to enter the United States, immigration officials said.
Odeh was sentenced to 18 months in prison, to be followed by deportation after a jury convicted her in 2014. But in December, US District Judge Gershwin A. Drain granted her a new trial after a Federal appeals court ruled that she should have been allowed to present testimony that her omissions on the immigration forms may have been caused by post-traumatic stress.
Odeh claims that she only confessed to the Jerusalem bombings after enduring 25 days of Israeli torture. The resulting PTSD, she claims, may have caused her to think immigration form questions about any criminal history applied only to her time in the United States.
But there is no evidence to support Odeh’s torture claim. To the contrary, records from the Israeli prosecution indicate that Odeh confessed the day after she was arrested. Investigators also found explosives in her bedroom.
After Judge Drain granted Odeh a new trial, a grand jury issued a superseding indictment that placed greater emphasis on her membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which was responsible for the Jerusalem bombings. Regardless of whether a jury would have accepted Odeh’s torture/PTSD claims, membership in a terrorist organization is sufficient to deny her entry into the United States — and her naturalization application.
Odeh’s new trial was scheduled to start on May 16. Odeh took a plea deal instead.
On Friday, prosecutors filed a memorandum requesting that “additional facts” be added to the record at this Tuesday’s plea hearing, detailing what they say they could have proved at trial. Those additions include Odeh’s PFLP membership. Preoscutors also state that she helped plan the bombing at the Supersol grocery store that killed students Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner and that she “personally placed a bomb at the British Consulate” in an attack that caused property damage, but no injuries.
Defense attorneys immediately moved to strike the prosecution’s memo. Odeh denies the prosecution’s “highly prejudicial allegations” and “has repeatedly refused to have such claims included” in her plea, the motion said.
The prosecution memo also asks that, at Tuesday’s plea hearing, Odeh be specifically asked if she understands that she has the right to present the post-traumatic stress testimony that was kept out of her 2014 trial. Those questions, prosecutors say, would make it clear that Odeh made “a full and knowing waiver of all of her rights, including the right to present the specific defense which was the subject of the [appeal].”
In public statements, Odeh and her supporters claim that she is not pleading guilty because she believes she is guilty. Rather, they say that she cannot get a fair trial under the Trump administration’s Justice Department. The Rasmea Defense Committee announced the plea agreement last month, citing “the regime of racist Attorney General Jeff Sessions … There is the great likelihood that a jury would be prejudiced by hearing the zionist Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Tukel call Rasmea a ‘terrorist’ and her supporters ‘mobs and hordes,’ as he has done many times before. As a Palestinian who has dedicated her life to the cause of liberation, it is impossible for Rasmea to expect a fair trial in US courts.” [Emphasis original]
It is unclear whether the government wants Judge Drain to consider the additional facts in determining whether to accept the parties’ joint sentencing recommendation, or whether it simply wants to establish a record of Odeh’s terrorist history.
At sentencing, the prosecution must prove its allegations by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than the reasonable doubt standard required for criminal convictions. The court may also consider evidence from Odeh’s 2014 trial.
In a speech earlier this month to the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace, Odeh described her prosecution as yet “another torturous ordeal.”
Her case has generated national attention, with campaigns aimed at pressuring prosecutors into dropping the case and support from the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and others. Odeh was also named as an organizer of the recent “Day Without a Woman” protest.
For greater detail on the Odeh case, her elevation to hero by Palestinian advocates and the impact on her victims, please watch the Investigative Project on Terrorism’s five-part video series, “Spinning a Terrorist Into a Victim.”