Rasmieh Odeh, a convicted Palestinian terrorist whose case has become a cause celebre among radical Palestinian advocates, will get a new trial in the United States for naturalization fraud.
US District Judge Gershwin A. Drain ruled on December 6, 2016, that there is no legal basis to prohibit Odeh from presenting testimony that she suffered from post-traumatic stress when she applied for naturalization as an American citizen — and failed to disclose her Israeli conviction for two 1969 bombings in Jerusalem.
One of those bombings, at a Supersol grocery store, killed American college students Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner.
Odeh confessed to the attacks, but claims that her admission was a false statement triggered by weeks of alleged torture in Israeli custody. Israeli court records prove otherwise, US prosecutors say. Odeh actually confessed on her first day in captivity and helped identify dozens of other operatives in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group who were responsible for the bombings.
Judge Drain did not allow the psychological testimony during Odeh’s 2014 trial, where she was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison, loss of her citizenship and deportation. But the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in February that Drain erred in barring that testimony, incorrectly finding that it was not relevant due to the nature of the charge. Drain might find other reasons to keep the testimony out, the appellate court ruled, or he could order a new trial allowing it.
In Tuesday’s ruling, he opted for a new trial, which is scheduled for January 10.
Defense lawyers had argued that Odeh’s post-traumatic stress may have caused her to misunderstand questions in naturalization forms and during an interview with an immigration official asking whether she ever had been arrested or imprisoned. Odeh said no, despite her terrorist record and her 10 years in an Israeli prison.
She testified that she interpreted the question to apply only to her time in the United States. That was contradicted by Jennifer Williams, the immigration officer who interviewed Odeh before she was granted naturalization. Williams was trained to always ask applicants whether they ever were arrested or convicted “anywhere in the world,” she testified.
Judge Gershwin Drain, nominated by Barack Obama and confirmed by the US Senate in 2012
Odeh never would have been allowed into the country, let alone naturalized as a citizen, had she answered the questions honestly, according to immigration officials who testified during the 2014 trial.
But Odeh’s psychologist, Mary Fabri, claims that Odeh’s mistake could have been an honest oversight, saying “avoidance and sometimes even denial of thoughts, feelings, and activities associated with the trauma” may have caused Odeh to filter out the experience when she was asked about it.
The prosecution in the first trial won court approval to have its own psychologist examine Odeh. He concluded that she did exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress, a finding that Drain twice noted in his ruling.
“Both experts determined that Defendant most likely suffered from PTSD at the time of the charged offense,” he wrote.
He rejected prosecution arguments that Fabri’s theories have not been adequately tested and were not sufficiently reliable to present to a jury.
Fabri’s opinion “is relevant to whether Defendant ‘knowingly’ provided a false statement on her naturalization application,” Drain wrote. He also rejected arguments that by allowing the psychological testimony, which is predicated on an uncorroborated torture claim, the trial’s focus will stray far from the issue of whether Odeh was honest and instead become about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The Court disagrees that Dr. Fabri’s testimony will likely confuse the jury or that it would unnecessarily lengthen the presentation of the evidence,” Drain wrote.
Odeh’s supporters, who automatically accept her claims and believe every alleged horror about Israel, describe her as a “legendary Palestinian American icon.” That is a view shared by other terrorists. Footage from a 1970 hijacking showed a female PFLP terrorist identifying her group as “Task Force Rasmieh Odeh.”
Her supporters steadfastly refuse to believe that she had a hand in the 1969 bombings even though Odeh and a co-conspirator appeared in a documentary discussing them. In a 1980 Journal of Palestine Studies article that remains online, Odeh provided details about the Supersol bombing: “Actually we placed two bombs,” she said, “the first was found before it went off so we placed another.
Buoyed by Drain’s ruling, Odeh’s supporters plan to bombard the US Attorney’s Office in Detroit demanding that it drop the case.
Editor’s Note: For greater detail on the Rasmieh Odeh case, her elevation to hero by Palestinian advocates, and the impact on her victims, please watch the Investigative Project on Terrorism’s video series, “Spinning a Terrorist Into a Victim.”