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.


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