The United States government in the case of Palestinian American Rasmea Odeh has requested that a court “empanel an anonymous jury” and order the US Marshal Service to partially sequester jurors during her trial. The government contends that a prominent Palestinian organizer has engaged in a “concerted effort to improperly influence the criminal proceedings” by building public support for Odeh.
Odeh is the 67-year-old associate director of the Arab American Action Network in Chicago. She has been a naturalized citizen in the US since 1995. But, on October 22, 2013, the Department of Homeland Security suddenly had her arrested.
The federal government accused Odeh of neglecting to disclose on naturalization forms that she had been imprisoned by Israelis in Palestine for decades for terrorism-related offenses. She now faces up to ten years in prison if convicted and immediate deportation after her release.
The motion [PDF] submitted to the US District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan suggests, “Since defendant’s indictment, Hatem Abudayyeh has engaged in a concerted effort to improperly influence the criminal proceedings before the court. Specifically, through the aid of the AAAN (www.aaan.org), as well as the Committee to Stop FBI Repression (CSFR) (www.stopfbi.net) and the U.S. Palestine Community Network (USPCN) (www.USPCN.org), Hatem Abudayyeh has organized a campaign designed to improperly sway the jury that will be empaneled to hear this case.”
Abudayyeh is the executive director of AAAN. The Justice Department has been investigating Abudayyeh and other members of CSFR since 2010. Abudayyeh and several members of CSFR had their homes raided by the FBI in September. They were issued grand jury subpoenas and accused of providing “material support” for terrorism.
Together, Abudayyeh and others in CSFR have worked to mobilize support for Odeh because they believe her indictment is politically motivated and linked to their cases. (Note: Odeh’s attorneys believe there is a connection too.)
This statement from September 10, 2014, which Abudayyeh made at AAAN headquarters is presented as evidence that he has tried to “specifically” recruit individuals to “demonstrate outside the courthouse for the purpose of swaying the jury in defendant’s favor.”
We need to fill that courtroom everyday…. Filling that courtroom every day and rallying outside that courtroom every day with our posters and our banners and our chants about, you know, justice for Rasmea, those are, those are really, really important things that happen in the courtroom because they, they sway, they could potentially, you know, umm, sway the opinions of the jurors, this woman is not isolated, this woman is not a criminal, this woman has massive, you know, massive community support, right. An acquittal on this case is more than just a case of this individual activist. . . . This is really, truly a case about Palestine as well. . . . You know, we believe that like you know putting that putting her on trial is putting Palestine on trial. Winning this thing on our end is another victory for the Palestinian people.
A statement by an organizer named Sarah Martin on packing the courtroom with people is interpreted as one of intent to disrupt proceedings, “We will be back here of course for the trial and we’ll fill that courtroom…and everybody here bring 5 people because…if people can’t get in that’s great, that’s great.”
The motion continues to single out Abudayyeh as some kind of ringleader. “It is his goal, and that of his supporters, to tamper with the prospective and seated jurors in order to sway the jury in defendant’s favor. Further, defendant and her supporters have previously attempted to flood Department of Justice telephone lines in an attempt to influence these proceedings.” (The calls have been made to push prosecutors to drop the charges.)
“There is every reason to think they will do so with regards to jurors if the jurors’ names are made public; at a minimum, given the publicly stated goal of swaying the jury by other means, it is the prudent course to make any such attempt impossible,” the motion additionally argues.
The motion describes the people demonstrating for Odeh as a “hoard of supporters” and a “protesting mob.” Such language suggests a certain amount of prejudice toward the people organizing in support of Odeh, people who are predominantly Palestinian or Arab.
“The fact that Abudayyeh’s protests and pickets have been timed to occur only on the dates of actual proceedings in the Odeh case simply reinforces his publicly-stated intent to influence those proceedings,” the government argues in a footnote. But, for the most part, many of the people who have been supporting Odeh are based in Chicago and travel every morning that she is scheduled to have a hearing in her case.
Perhaps, they are only there on the days that she has legal proceedings because it makes sense to show support for someone when they are actually expected to have a proceeding in the courthouse that day. In fact, if a “mob” or “hoard” of people was there every single that day, how would the government use that against Odeh?
It seems the government intends to use any public show of support for Odeh against her because they would prefer that Odeh simply plead guilty, serve her time in jail and then accept deportation to the West Bank.
When “anonymous juries” are empaneled, names and identities of jurors are shielded to protect their safety and can have the effect of heightening jury emotions
“Anonymous juries” are “rare in criminal cases,” although they are “used in high-profile, organized crime trials,” according to Human Rights Watch [PDF]. They have been used in a number of terrorism cases. In fact, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day underwear bomber, is invoked in the government’s motion.
According to her attorney, Michael Deutsch of the People’s Law Office, Odeh was arrested in 1969, “along with 500 other Palestinians.” It was “just after the 1967 war when the Israeli military occupied the West Bank and Gaza and they setup these military tribunal courts and military occupation. She was “horrifically tortured for 25 days. She was denied access to a lawyer for 45 days.” She confessed under torture to being involved in acts of terrorism then recanted her confession but still spent ten years in prison until she was released in a prisoner swap.
Both her father and brother were US citizens. She came to Detroit 19 years ago to live with them and then moved to Chicago, where she became more involved in community activism.
Odeh is not accused of any terrorism offenses in this case, but if the government is successful in convincing a judge to “empanel an anonymous jury,” it will take on a key feature of terrorism trials.
Throughout the motion, there is language strongly accusing Abudayyeh of committing a crime by mobilizing supporters to show a jury that Odeh is not some isolated person.
“Such conduct is without a doubt an improper influence on a jury, which, as the court instructs, is to make its decision based only on evidence presented at trial and nothing else. In addition, such conduct is almost certainly criminal and is not constitutionally protected,” the motion states.
If the government truly believes Abudayyeh has committed a crime, then why haven’t they arrested him and charged him? Why hasn’t any member of law enforcement confronted Abudayyeh outside the courthouse to warn him that he is violating the law? Why have police and Department of Homeland Security agents on patrol allowed this activity to go on if it is not protected First Amendment activity? Why is the government, instead of prosecuting Abudayyeh, seeking to take action that could undermine the due process rights of Odeh?
Maybe the reason is because Abudayyeh and his “hoard of supporters” have done nothing criminal, and this is all a charade to send a message to activists that the government is not going to tolerate their presence. They pose a threat to the legitimacy of prosecutors involved in Odeh’s case, they are afraid and they intend to handle that threat through this multi-faceted motion that demonizes supporters while also hyping some largely non-existent threat to jurors.
What is clear is that this criminalization of protest confirms to Odeh’s supporters that their actions are having an impact. The message is getting through to government officials, even though officials continue to prosecute her for alleged immigration fraud. They will continue to speak out for Odeh and use this motion as evidence that the government is fearful that Abudayyeh and others might convince the public that this really is a political prosecution.