Odeh with her interpreter before Judge Drain (sketch by Jerry Lemenu)
At Thursday's sentencing hearing, both the courtroom and media overflow rooms were filled to capacity with over a hundred supporters from the larger Arab American community attending the hearing. Her support base anxiously tweeted a rolling commentary on the verbatim transcript of court proceedings being relayed to them online. "Just f..k the US justice system." "The appellate judge(s) better be wiser than this douchebag" #RasmiehOdeh.
Odeh never would have been allowed into the United States, and never would have been naturalized as an American citizen, had immigration officials known about the 10 years she spent in Israeli prisons for helping bomb a Jerusalem supermarket, killing two Hebrew University students. But Odeh, 67, failed to disclose that history, checking "no" on her immigration and naturalization applications to questions that asked if she had ever been arrested, convicted or imprisoned.
Those false answers allowed her to live an idyllic life in America for 20 years. Her lies ultimately caught up with her, and the prosecutors, to their credit, initiated an investigation and prosecution that resulted in her conviction on one count of naturalization fraud last November.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism exposed Odeh's terrorist history and spin strategy in a five-part video series, "Spinning a Terrorist Into a Victim."
U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain said Thursday that Odeh's case was about "lying under oath" but had been "politicized" to make the Palestinian-Israeli conflict the "rallying point to engender sympathy."
Regular naturalization fraud guidelines, in this case, recommend that Odeh serve 15-21 months in prison, but prosecutors urged Judge Drain to go far beyond those guidelines due to the nature of the crime she hid from authorities. A sentence of five to seven years fits the crime, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel argued, saying the original guideline range would fail to deter other terrorists who might consider seeking entry into the United States by failing to disclose their terrorist backgrounds.
Judge Drain cited the prosecution's deterrence argument saying he wanted to "impose a sentence that will make people think twice before lying under oath to enter the country." He chided Odeh saying, "you don't have respect for the law." He added that "people are watching this case" and he wanted to set a precedent that "promotes respect for the law."
Judge Drain also said that Odeh not only committed perjury in how she filled out the application, claiming she thought it only applied to her time in the U.S., he also pointed out that she testified about her alleged "torture" and Israeli conviction despite repeated instructions by the court not to do so. For these actions, he not only revoked her citizenship, he sentenced her to 18 months in prison – still far below a prison term of five to seven years that the prosecution requested.
Odeh apologized for knowingly disobeying the judge's instructions during her trial, explaining that the words just "came out on their own." Yet she continued to speak at length at her sentencing about her "difficult and harsh" childhood growing up under "Israeli occupation."
She justified her membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, (PFLP), a known terrorist group, as understandable: "As a woman in an occupied territory, everyone struggled against occupation and I was one of them," she said, adding that it was not her fault if people made her into an "icon."
"Every time I do something, something happens and takes me to the zero point," Odeh said, citing her birth in Palestine and refugee experience in Jordan, while denying responsibility for the murders she participated in.
Footage from a 2004 film, "Women in Struggle" and from a 1993 video, entitled, "Tell Your Tale Little Bird" revealed incriminating evidence of Odeh's role in the Supersol supermarket bombing in 1969. Footage from a 1970 hijacking showed a female PFLP terrorist identifying her group as "Task Force Rasmieh Odeh."
Defense attorneys did not want Odeh to have to serve any prison time. They emphasized her community activism in Chicago and persisted in attacking the credibility of Odeh's conviction in Israel.
In their sentencing memorandum, Odeh's attorneys wrote that the government's recommendation was a "draconian sentence, for illegitimate political purposes" designed to "curry favor with their American Zionist constituents and obfuscate 67 years of Israeli terrorism."
Odeh's principal attorney, Michael Deutsch who has defended Islamic terrorists for years, emphasized Odeh's "extraordinary" work within the Arab American and larger community in Chicago. Unfortunately, he said, the sentencing guidelines "do not talk about a person's contributions to society. But here was a woman who came to the country, she had not taken but given of herself to make this a better place for the immigrants who come here." He cited her age and "physical and psychological conditions" as reasons justifying a more lenient sentence. Odeh has been "punished enough" and "to use the fact that 45 years ago that she may have been involved in resistance activity seems to me to be unfair and unnecessary," he said.
"Deutsch's description of [Odeh's] participation in the killing of two civilians as 'resistance activity' is nauseating, revolting, appalling and reflects the same justification invoked by terrorists around the world when they kill innocent civilians," said Steven Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Odeh is the associate director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago. Her prosecution sparked a campaign by colleagues and supporters aimed at pressuring the U.S. Attorney to drop the case. Dozens of people traveled from Chicago, where Odeh now lives, to Detroit, to pack the courtroom during the trial and demonstrate in front of the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse.
Among the groups who protested Odeh's prosecution and organized demonstrations claiming she was innocent are the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Muslims for Palestine, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a group of 124 feminist academics.
Despite his recognition of Odeh's repeated flouting of U.S. law, Judge Drain also nodded to the influence of her campaign of supporters.
To the dismay of anti-terrorism experts who have been following the trial, Judge Drain applauded Odeh's social activism within the Arab American and larger community, stating that Odeh was once a "terrorist," but "that was a situation decades ago." He said that today she was a "reformed" person: "No doubt in my mind she [Odeh] has changed and reformed." She is engaged in "positive and constructive activities right now."
Even still, Judge Drain pointed out that Odeh's background did not excuse her involvement in terrorist acts and subsequent lies. "You grew up in a war environment. It's not a whole lot different from a lot of people I see in some ways," he said.
Odeh was automatically stripped of her citizenship and faces deportation after completing her prison sentence. She will remain free on bond while she appeals her conviction and sentence—which she promises she will do, saying, "I want to say about today and the future, I hope to find justice with you."
If her conviction is ultimately upheld, she will be summarily deported to Jordan—her former country of citizenship—when she completes her incarceration.