Statement on Rasmea Odeh’s Departure From The United States

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Rasmea Odeh, a Defending Right & Dissent Patriot Award winner, is leaving the United States as a result of the culmination of a years long, politically motivated witch hunt. Rasmea, became a naturalized citizen in 2004, but was stripped of her citizenship and sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2014 after being convicted of unlawful procurement of naturalization in a politically motivated trial that was marred by due process errors. Due to these errors Rasmea was granted a new trial, but in a retaliatory move the prosecutor brought a superseding indictment adding that Rasmea had failed to disclose she was a member of a terrorist organization. Given the political climate, Odeh pled guilty to unlawful procurement of naturalization on the agreement that she would leave the country without facing prison time.

We are deeply saddened to see Rasmea leave and are angered by the circumstances under which she departs. Rasmea has worked tirelessly as a community organizer. Even the last few months, she has continued to fight for social justice, acting as one of the organizers of the March 8 International Women’s Strike.

It is shameful that instead of honoring Rasmea’s contributions to the community at large, the US government instead chose to go to elaborate lengths to persecute her, remove her citizenship, and then deport her from her home of over 20 years.

Defending Rights & Dissent gives Patriot Awards to individuals and organizations who have dedicated themselves to fighting for civil liberties, social justice, or human rights. Recipients have included grassroots organizers, federal whistleblowers, and others who courageously speak truth to power. Regardless of what federal prosecutors may think,  Rasmea embodies the ideals of our Patriot Award and it was an honor to bestow it upon her.

Related: Rasmea Odeh Named December 2015 Patriot Award Winner

Background on Rasmea’s Case

In 1969, as the result of a confession coerced through torture, Rasmea was convicted by an Israeli military court, which have a 99% conviction rate, of a supermarket bombing that killed two people. Odeh was released a decade later as part of a prisoner exchange. In the following decades, she was outspoken about her experience as a torture survivor.

Rasmea immigrated to the United States in 1994 and became a US citizen in 2004. During this time, she was a community activist. She helped found and run the Arab Women’s Committee of the Arab American Action Network, which serves over 600 immigrant women in the Chicago area. She also during this time continued to speak out about being a torture survivor.

In September 2011, the FBI raided the homes of anti-war and socialist activists. Osteniablly these raids were about “material support for terrorism” and were based on the claims of an undercover FBI infiltrator, who had concocted a phony story about how her deceased father wished to give a $1,000 to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the State Department has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The activists all refused to testify before a grand jury and to this date no charges have been brought.

Related: Solidarity Foils the FBI’s Material Support Habit

Rasmea was not one of those targeted by the FBI raids, but one of her co-workers was. It is believed that it was during this fishing expedition that federal authorities first became aware of Rasmea. Federal authorities discovered that in spite of the fact that Rasmea answered on her naturalization form that she had never been arrested, she had been tried and convicted (based on a confession coerced through torture) in an Israeli military court. This didn’t require much effort on the part of federal officials, as Rasmea had always been outspoken about her experience of being tortured.  

Rasmea was barred from presenting evidence about her torture to the jury nor was a PTSD expert allowed to testify on behalf of the defense. Prosecutors, on the other hand, were allowed to put into evidence inflammatory Israeli military documents. Rasmea was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison, as well as to lose her citizenship.

Following a successful appeal, Rasmea was set to have a new trial, during which an expert witness on PTSD  was to be allowed to testify. However, given the prosecutor’s new superseding indictment and the worsening political climate in the US, along with the chance that Rasme, a torture survivor with PTSD, could be incarcerated and then deported, Rasmea agreed to a plea deal.