Attorneys for Rasmieh Odeh appealed her naturalization fraud conviction with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday, saying pre-trial rulings let in questionable evidence and improperly prevented testimony about claims she was tortured by Israeli authorities in 1969.
Odeh, an associate director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago, was convicted last November and sentenced to 18 months in prison in March, though she is free pending the appeal. She also will be stripped of her citizenship and faces removal from the United States.
Her 2004 application to become an American citizen – and her claim she was never arrested, convicted or imprisoned – was the key element in the case. Odeh was convicted, and confessed, to a 1969 Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine bombing of an Israeli grocery store that killed Hebrew University students Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner.
Defense attorneys wanted the Israeli records kept out of Odeh's trial, casting the Israeli courts as unreliable. They also wanted her to be able to testify about her unsubstantiated claims that her confession was the result of torture, and present a psychologist who would testify that her false answers on immigration forms were the product of post-traumatic stress.
"Certainly, a U.S. court would not have admitted documents created by a Nazi court operating in occupied France that convicted partisans resisting occupation," Deutsch's appeal brief said. "How then is it proper to allow, documents here which are similarly the product of torture and illegal occupation?"
While Odeh is the only source for the torture claim, other evidence connects her to the bombing. Israeli investigators found explosives in Odeh's home that were similar to those used at the grocery store.
And footage from a 2004 film, "Women in Struggle" showed Odeh and an accomplice discussing their roles in the bombing. Odeh became so revered as a result of the 1969 Jerusalem attack, footage from a 1993 video, "Tell Your Tale Little Bird," showed a female PFLP hijacker identifying her group in 1970 as "Task Force Rasmieh Odeh."
The most significant legal issue raised involves the nature of the crime and the burden of proof required to convict. U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain reversed an earlier decision and found this was a "general intent" crime, which did not require proof Odeh had a specific intent to break the law by lying to immigration officials.
That ruling led Drain to block testimony about alleged torture. During the trial, he said the case was not about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but whether Odeh lied in the naturalization process. He ruled that the prosecution "need only prove Defendant made a false statement knowing it to be false" saying he originally was misled about a precedent cited by the defense.