Rasmea Odeh was brutally tortured into confessing a crime she did not commit. After 10 years of imprisonment, Odeh was exiled from her homeland, eventually immigrating to the United States from Jordan in 1994 as a legal resident and later becoming a naturalized citizen. For the past decade, she has gained the admiration and adulation of the Chicago community she selflessly serves, working as the associate director of the Arab American Action Network to defend civil liberties and promote immigrant rights. Last year, the Chicago Cultural Alliance bestowed on her its Outstanding Community Leader Award in recognition of her devoting "over 40 years of her life to the empowerment of Arab women."
Last October, Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Odeh at her home after the Department of Justice dusted off her 10-year-old naturalization application to charge her with "unlawful procurement of naturalization" for allegedly omitting mention of her time in Israeli prison. The spuriousness of this charge is evident by the fact that Odeh has been quite frank in her public retelling of the torture she faced during her time in Israeli prisons.
In 1979, Odeh testified before a UN special committee in Geneva that as a 21-year-old university student, she was arrested from her home in Ramallah in the middle of the night by Israeli soldiers who "beat me without asking me a single question." She was brought to an Israeli jail in Jerusalem where "they beat me with sticks, plastic sticks, and with a metal bar. They beat me on the head and I fainted as a result of these beatings. They woke me up several times by throwing cold water in my face and then started all over again."
In addition to this physical torture, Odeh also faced sexual torture. Her father, a U.S. citizen, was also arrested and beaten, "and once they brought in my father and tried to force him under blows to take off his clothes and have sexual relations with me." Later, interrogators "tore my clothes off me while my hands were still tied behind my back. They threw me to the ground completely naked and the room was full of a dozen or so interrogators and soldiers who looked at me and laughed sarcastically as if they were looking at a comedy or a film. Obviously they started touching my body." In her father’s presence, interrogators threatened to "violate me" and "tried to introduce a stick to break my maidenhead [hymen]." Shackled naked from the ceiling, interrogators "tied my legs, which were spread-eagled, and they started to beat me with their hands and also with cudgels."
Odeh testified that these tortures lasted 45 days. Finally, fearing "that my father might lose his life from one moment to the next" because of the tortures he was enduring, Odeh readied herself "to make the confession that they wanted, so that they would leave my father alone." Her interrogators accused her of planting a bomb in a Jerusalem supermarket, an act which Odeh testified she "never carried out." The interrogators "realized that perfectly well" because they brought her to the supermarket "and asked me to point out where I had put the explosive. Of course, I didn't know the place and I said 'where exactly do you want me to show you where I put this explosive charge?' So they showed me where the explosion had taken place and I actually pointed out that place without being able to give any details of the operation. I didn't even know how the operation had taken place."
The Obama administration's prosecution of Odeh vitiates the president's stated commitment "to taking concrete actions against torture and to address the needs of its victims." If Obama truly believes that "torture violates United States and international law as well as human dignity" and that the United States "must stand against torture wherever it takes place," then he should make good on this pledge to address the needs of torture victims by dropping the spurious charges against Rasmea Odeh.
Ruebner is author of Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace and policy director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.