A federal jury on Monday found a Chicago activist charged with immigration fraud guilty for failing to disclose her conviction and imprisonment in a Jerusalem supermarket bombing that killed two people.
Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, 67, was charged for not revealing an Israeli military court conviction for several bombings in 1969. She served 10 years before being released in a prisoner swap with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Odeh is associate director of Chicago’s Arab American Action Network. She is widely respected in Chicago for her work with immigrants, especially Arab women.
Fearing her flight, U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain revoked her bond and ordered her detained until her scheduled sentencing March 10. Defense attorney Michael Deutsch argued Odeh wasn’t a flight risk and, in fact, had turned down an earlier opportunity to plead guilty and leave the U.S.
Deutsch said he plans to appeal the conviction and file a motion to reconsider Odeh’s detention.
The criminal case against her angered pro-Palestinian activists who accused the U.S. government of trying to silence critics of Israel. Dozens of supporters traveled from Chicago to watch the trial, either in the courtroom or in a separate courtroom that carried a video feed.
Many also gathered outside the downtown courthouse and marched along a sidewalk in protest after learning about Odeh’s conviction and detention.
Odeh had said Israeli authorities tortured her to get a confession. But Drain barred reference to that at trial. He said what happened in Israel was not relevant to whether she lied on the citizenship form.
“I think your verdict is a fair and reasonable one based on the evidence that came in,” Drain said.
After Drain ordered Odeh detained, an officer led her out of the courtroom in handcuffs. “I’m very strong,” Odeh told supporters.
One woman inside the courtroom with the video feed sobbed inconsolably while another called the judge’s order “haram,” the Arabic word for “sinful” or “forbidden.”
Following her conviction but before she was ordered detained, Odeh told her supporters to be “strong.” Many were in tears but they cheered and chanted her name as she spoke and responded with “naam,” which is “yes” in Arabic.
“I felt the verdict is not justice,” Odeh told The Associated Press. “The government did not allow us to defend ourselves.”
She faces up to 10 years in a U.S. prison and loss of her U.S. citizenship.
“An individual convicted of a terrorist bombing would not be admitted to the United States if that information was known at the time of arrival,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in a statement. “Upon discovery that someone convicted of a terrorist attack is in the United States illegally, we will seek to use our criminal justice system to remove that individual.”
Deutsch said he was upset that jurors spoke to government lawyers for a half-hour after the verdict but declined to meet with defense attorneys. He also was displeased that the judge took the “very unusual” step of commending the jurors’ verdict.
“That was a window into the judge’s thinking about this trial,” Deutsch said. “We feel we have some very strong issues for appeal, and we hope somebody will listen to us.”
Odeh and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel clashed during her testimony last week when she insisted she didn’t believe the criminal history questions extended beyond the U.S.
She was interviewed in 2004 by a Detroit immigration officer, Jennifer Williams, who told jurors she always tells citizenship applicants that criminal history applies to “anywhere in the world.” Odeh, however, testified that Williams didn’t use those words.
Odeh’s supporters remained defiant after the verdict. Hatem Abudayyeh, an activist who helped bring supporters from Chicago to Detroit to follow the case, accused Drain of denying Odeh a fair trial and the U.S. Attorney’s office of being an arm of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
“Rasmieh’s story is the story of millions of Palestinians, and of millions of freedom-loving defenders of justice everywhere,” he said.
Contributing: Kim Janssen, Chicago Sun-Times
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