Rasmea Odeh prosecution moves to suppress claims of innocence and torture allegations

In a recent court filing made in the federal prosecution of Palestinian-American activist Rasmea Odeh on immigration fraud charges, US Attorneys are pushing for the court to declare inadmissible assertions by Odeh’s defense team that she was innocent of the crime Israel convicted her of in addition to accounts of her torture at the hands of Israeli interrogators. The motion argues that since the indictment specifically accuses her of lying about being convicted and sentenced by Israeli authorities for acts of terrorism, claims about her actual innocence and the conditions of her interrogations are “irrelevant.”

As Charlotte Kates wrote about the experiences of Rasmea Odeh in Jacobin, 17 January 2014:

In 1969, Israeli military forces arrested Odeh herself in Ramallah. She and her sister Aisha were taken to Moskobiyeh detention center, where they were subject to torture and sexual assault. Odeh has recounted her experiences under Israeli captivity:

The first time they stripped me and threw me on the floor, the room was full of men — civilians and soldiers. They laughed at my nakedness and kicked me, beat me with sticks, pinched me all over, especially on the breasts; my body was covered with bruises. Then they got a wooden stick, not a smooth one, and pushed it into me to break the hymen. They brought my father and fiancé to see me. I lost consciousness and when I woke I was in another room, lying on the floor with a blanket over my legs but my body still naked.

Odeh was charged with membership in the PFLP, and with organizing two Palestinian military operations on behalf of the Front. Like 99.74 percent of Palestinians facing Israeli military courts, she was convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Rasmea and Aisha’s home was destroyed by occupation authorities after this verdict.

Even more outrageous is the filing‘s claim that:

Even if the evidence is relevant, it nevertheless should be excluded under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, because any probative value would be significantly outweighed by the risk of misleading the jury, confusing the issues, and wasting time. Permitting evidence regarding factual guilt or innocence of the foreign charges would lead to a trial about a trial which took place 45 years ago, under very different procedural rules and in a foreign language. Similarly, claims of torture, whether true or not, have no direct application to the offense charged here. Rather, such evidence would suggest to a jury that it render its verdict based on whether it believed defendant had been mistreated or tortured overseas, instead of whether she violated United States immigration law here.

This argument is later expanded upon in an attached brief in support of the government’s motion (PDF page 14, brief page 10):

Even if such evidence were relevant, it nevertheless should be excluded at trial under Fed. R. Evid. 403. To begin with, the mere fact of imprisonment in a country in which innocents are imprisoned without due process of law[3] does not mean that everyone imprisoned or even tortured there was in fact innocent. For instance, even in a lawless totalitarian state such as the Soviet Union, political prisoners were not the only ones in the Gulag; actual criminals also were inmates. (See U.S. National Park Service Gulag Factsheet, http://www.nps.gov/malu/parknews/upload/Gulag_Fact_Sheet.pdf). Thus, whether or not defendant was “tortured” would not, by itself, make actual guilt or innocence “more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”
[Footnote 3] As previously noted, the nation in which defendant was convicted, Israel, does not fall in that category.

So we have it asserted here that:

  1. Soviet Gulags had genuinely guilty people in them; and
  2. Being tortured does not make one more or less likely to be innocent.

The first statement is technically true (but problematic in the context of a US federal court filing), the second statement is incredibly misleading (and incredibly problematic in any legal system in the world). The assertion being made by Odeh is that she confessed to Israeli interrogators and was ultimately convicted because of she was tortured by the Israelis. I’m fairly certain most nations considered liberal democracies have laws and legal precedents explicitly prohibiting the use of evidence obtained through torture even if such stipulations aren’t always followed..

Still, good job on pointing out that Israel doesn’t qualify as a “lawless totalitarian state” in a footnote.

On an additional note, I don’t think federal prosecutors would go through all the trouble of trying someone accused of lying on immigration papers about being convicted by a government the US is on less friendly terms with. Remember that anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles was ultimately acquitted because jurors were allowed to determine for themselves whether or not they thought he was guilty of terrorism against Cuba and had nothing to do with claims made by Cuba or Venezuela.

Released documents show thinking behind censorship by US occupation in Iraq

During the first months of the US occupation of Iraq, it was occasionally reported that the US occupation authorities had given itself the right to ban media outlets and seize newspapers it accused of inciting violence against US troops and of promoting the Iraqi Baath Party. According to Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order 14, signed by CPA leader L. Paul Bremer on 10 June 2003:

Media organizations are prohibited from broadcasting or publishing original, re-broadcast, re-printed or syndicated material that:

a) incites violence against any individual or group, including racial, ethnic or religious groups and women;
b) incites civil disorder, rioting or damage to property;
c) incites violence against Coalition Forces or CPA personnel;
d) advocates alterations to Iraq’s borders by violent means;
e) advocates the return to power fo the Iraqi Ba’ath Party or makes statements that purport to be on behalf of the Iraqi Ba’ath Party.

A newly released PDF (mirrored here) posted on the Defense Department’s FOI site alongside other documents relating to the US occupation of Iraq reveals the US media strategy for Iraq. There are a couple of pages I found to be particularly interesting. They relate to the March 2004 closing of the Shia news weekly Al Hawza, which was associated with the nationalist, anti-US cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

On pages 68 and 69 of the PDF, there is a “draft letter” by Bremer addressed to Al Hawza‘s chairman:

This action is based upon my determination that Al-Hawzah has printed numerous articles that have falsely claimed wrongdoing by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and Coalition Forces and that the repeated nature of these false articles demonstrates intent to cause public unrest and to incite violence against Coalition Forces and CPA personnel in violation of CPA Order Number 14, as evidenced by the facts set forth below.

On February 26, in an article on “Terrorist Operations in Iraq that Targeted Iraqi Army Volunteer Centers,” Al-Hawzah claimed that the February 10 explosion in Al-Iskandariyah was triggered by a missile “launched by an Apache helicopter” and not by a car bomb, “as the US Forces announced.” In fact, the report is false; no U.S. forces attacked the building.

In the same issue, an article entitled “Bremer in the Footsteps of Saddam” stated that the Coalition is “pursuing a policy of starving the Iraqi people to make them preoccupied with procuring their daily bread” so that they do not have “the chance to demand their political and individual freedoms.” Again, this report is false. The Coalition has undertaken unprecedented efforts to feed and care for the people of Iraq, restore and improve the country’s infrastructure, and lay a foundation of political, economic, and individual freedom hitherto only dreamt about in Iraq.

Al-Hawzah’s false articles about the CPA and Coalition Forces are not of recent origin. As long ago as August 7, 2003, the paper charged that the U.S. “did not come just to overthrow Saddam or take oil,” but also “to destroy the whole cultural, moral, and humanitarian structure of the Iraqi people’s civilization.” Again, on August 21 of last year, Al-Hawzah decried a Coalition incursion into Baghdad’s Al-Sadr City, charging: “The U.S. administration has not ceased fighting Islam and its symbols wherever they may be. Last Wednesday’s incident has proven its insistence on its despicable crimes.” Again, the claims are totally baseless.

Bremer’s defense of the CPA’s reconstruction efforts is rather hilarious considering all of the accounts of corruption and malfeasance in mainstream Western publications and the numerous reports of the US government’s own Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The only factually incorrect claim made by Al-Hawzah that Bremer objects to is its allegation that the 10 Feburary 2004 explosion was caused by US forces. Bremer’s other examples of purported falsehoods are standard anti-imperialist claims that appear to be backed up by the US’ documented efforts to forcibly liberalize Iraq’s economy and open up its oil fields to foreign (mainly Western) companies and investors.

On page 15 of the PDF there are two emails from US diplomat Richard Jones that show his thinking on the matter.

Here is one sent on 9 March 2004:

This rag belongs to Muqtada; I’m tempted to say we should go for stronger measures, but I hope that by the end of 30 days we’ll have taken other measures against him anyway. What do you think?

Here is another sent on 10 March 2004:

I’m totally convinced we should hit them as hard as we can. But the stress is on the “we.” I think we should simply shut them down ourselves rather than wait for the GC [Iraqi Governing Council] which may be hesitant to appear so blatantly and publicly on our side. It’ll just make them seem more like our lackeys and open them to attack from other similarly scurrilous newspapers. Plus, us moving against MAS’ paper will send a good strong signal that we may move more aggressively against him …

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights accuses Donetsk leader of incitement without naming names or sources

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 4 July 2014 (mirrored here):

Following the end of the ceasefire on 30 June in Ukraine, the UN human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine has reported numerous cases of death of people in Donetsk and Luhansk who are caught in the middle of the ongoing security operations, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned on Friday. [...] Pillay said she was particularly disturbed by a message on the website of one leader of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, which states that underage children and women are legitimate targets and that the goal is to ‘immerse them in horror’. “Such blatant incitement to violence is utterly reprehensible and a clear violation of international human rights law,” she said.

I personally find it curious that Pillay refused to give us the name of the leader responsible or the web site this message was posted on. I suppose I am not one to judge since I don’t know Ukrainian or Russian. If anyone reading this post could clear this mystery up it would be greatly appreciated.

The scandal of releasing concentration camp inmates: Bergdahl and the bizarro discourse of national security cultism

The entire discourse surrounding the Obama administration’s prisoner swap with the Taliban should be incredibly disheartening to anyone who cares about civil liberties and human rights. Republicans are talking about impeaching Obama for purportedly circumventing the law in releasing the Gitmo detainees. A common cry is that it’s an Nixonian “abuse of power” on the part of the Obama administration’s “imperial presidency.” What is so strange about this is that Obama isn’t being accused of acting like a dictator for doing what a dictator typically would do, in fact it’s just the opposite. If anything, releasing men who were held without charge from an offshore, military-run, concentration camp known for its torture and abuse of inmates is a slow step away from tyranny.

Barack Obama, much like most previous US presidents, has undoubtedly committed numerous abuses of power such as war crimes, infringements on civil liberties and violations of human rights. Specifically, there is the drone program’s killing of thousands of Yemenis and Pakistanis without due process, the signing of the NDAA with its provisions legalizing the indefinite detention of US citizens, the NSA’s global surveillance operations, the FBI’s seemingly constant harassment of Muslim-Americans and Palestinian solidarity activists, the unprecedented mass detentions and deportations of immigrants (and of US citizens by “mistake”) and–of course–the maintenance of the notorious Guantanamo Bay concentration camp despite its notoriety and explicit promises from Obama to close it. Since most of these atrocities are done in the name of national security and counter-terrorism, they enjoy widespread bipartisan approval despite violating numerous values Americans pride themselves on supposedly holding dear. Very few, if any, voices have suggested impeaching Obama over any of the above. The drone program may have been mentioned a couple of times, but only in relation to the authority to assassinate US citizens.

So now we are faced with a media frenzy surrounding Obama’s latest alleged “crime”: releasing five detainees from Gitmo in exchange for a US soldier. More than 2,000 US soldiers have died from Obama’s escalated war in Afghanistan. The number of Afghan civilians killed directly and indirectly from US military operations likely dwarfs this. There are no calls for impeachment over this of course. The real atrocity is bringing back one US soldier alive and freeing five men from a torture chamber. There are no words to adequately describe how absurd the focus of our national conversation is these days. That’s what happens when an entire society becomes a willing captive of the cult of national security.

Ex-Israeli amb. to US: Israeli diplomats all around the world should push to have pro-Palestinian groups “outlawed”

From a 20 May Facebook post by Danny Ayalon (bolding added by me):

In the past two days, a video where two Palestinian teens are supposedly seen collapsing in front of cameras next to Camp Ofer has been spreading across the social networks. Palestinian commentators explain that the boys were intentionally shot, for no reason at all, by IDF soldiers. [...] The organization for the “protection of Palestinian children” stands behind this latest video, as they were behind the Muhammad al-Durrah video. The organization is a part of a network of Palestinian NGOs who work to isolate Israel and attack her diplomatically. [...] When it is revealed that this video is fabricated, we must hit these organizations where it hurts them the most: the tax-exempt fundraising. Israel ambassadors in countries where these organizations seek funding, mainly the USA, should work to have these organizations outlawed, denying them their ability to raise tax-exempt donations.

A screenshot of this post can be found here and an archived version here.

Considering that the IRS has already threatened the tax-exempt status of a Christian charity for sending aid to the besieged Gaza Strip and that US government officials are constantly falling over themselves to placate Israel and its US supporters, I’d say this policy proposal would have a chance of succeeding in the US.

US military training material appears to cast suspicion on CAIR for supporting due process and opposing drone strikes

US Department of Defense has just today declassified a batch of materials related to the numerous training programs on Islam the US military and law enforcement have been using in the past (see “Course Materials Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism” PDF files). Some of these documents are incredibly offensive and paranoid PowerPoint presentations that have already been covered by Spencer Ackerman at Wired‘s Danger Room blog.

One of them in particular, with only two slides, invites curiosity:



It appears that the author of these slides want us to be suspicious of CAIR simply for supporting due process and opposing the use of assassination as a tactic in counter-terror efforts. While there is no surrounding context for these two slides, it is doubtful that this is intended to reflect positively on CAIR. THe numerous other presentations are filled with Islamophobic stereotypes, conspiracy theories and familiar arguments that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim.”

Plus, one of the slides on this presentation gives us the following blunt statement:


In 2006, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister admitted that the West Bank had an “apartheid” road system

US Embassy Tel Aviv, 29 December 2006:

Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh briefed the Ambassador and Pol Couns December 26 on the MOD’s plans to reduce obstacles to movement in the West Bank and to improve the Palestinian economy. [...] The IDF also wanted to implement an old plan for a NIS 70 million separate underpass and road system for Palestinians (Sneh called this “Apartheid roads”).

Israeli officials admitted that Gaza is “a huge concentration camp” and that “the occupation will continue” after disengagement
Israeli Bypass Roads: Separate But Unequal