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Prosecutors Try to Refocus Rasmieh Odeh Case

December 14th 2016

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Attorneys for Palestinian bomber Rasmieh Odeh want to delay her re-trial on naturalization fraud for two months, pointing to a superseding indictment in the case.

The new charging document, which has not yet been filed publicly, still includes just the one count of naturalization fraud against Odeh, who has become a heroic figure among Palestinian advocates. But it includes "additional facts to support the charges," a press release Tuesday from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit said.

The original indictment emphasized Odeh's "no" answers to immigration officials when asked several times whether she ever had been arrested, convicted or imprisoned. During her 2014 trial, Odeh claimed she thought the question only applied to her time in the United States. In fact, she was arrested and spent 10 years in an Israeli prison for her role in two 1969 bombings, one of which killed two college students.

"The new indictment ... also alleges that Odeh, in seeking naturalization, also falsely answered two additional questions on her application form relating to her association with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a designated terrorist organization," the government news release said.

By emphasizing Odeh's membership in a terrorist organization, the prosecution appears to be trying to narrow the focus of the case just a week after a federal judge's ruling broadly expanded it.

U.S. District Judge Gershwin A. Drain granted Odeh a new trial, this time allowing testimony claiming Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, triggered by alleged Israeli torture, caused her to "filter" out her terrorist past when answering the immigration questions.

Drain kept that testimony out of Odeh's 2014 trial, which ended with her conviction and an 18-month prison sentence. But the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to Drain's court, saying he ruled in error.

Prosecutors telegraphed the move in a previous motion arguing against the PTSD testimony. Allowing it, they wrote, would mean they would have to prove Odeh's membership in a terrorist organization. They pointed to several published documents which help do that, including interviews in which Odeh and an accomplice discussed their roles in the bombings. In addition, the terrorists who attacked Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games "demanded the release of hundreds of prisoners in Israel in exchange for the athletes, included a demand to release Defendant Odeh. The PFLP would not demand the release of anyone not affiliated with the organization," prosecutors wrote. Similarly, a series of 1970 PFLP airline hijackings were claimed by the PFLP's 'Task Force Rasmieh Odeh.'

"The PFLP would not name a crew of hijackers after someone not affiliated with the organization," they wrote.

Even if jurors believed Odeh's claim that she confessed to the Israeli bombings only after enduring weeks of torture, and that experience led to her post-traumatic stress, evidence that she was a member of a terrorist organization – the PFLP – would be enough to disqualify Odeh from entering the United States or becoming a citizen.

"So, this is a very important move [by] the prosecution, and makes the PTSD defense much less critical to the case," wrote Cornell University Law Professor William A. Jacobson.

Odeh's attorneys asked that the case be delayed until mid-March. Judge Drain has not ruled on that request.

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