Securing a visa to live in the United States, and ultimately to become an American citizen, is a great privilege for immigrants seeking a safer, more prosperous life.
It is not, however, a right open to all comers. Neither is it a system to be gamed.
Josh Reubner’s column Tuesday in The Hill's Contributors Blog, “Why is Obama's DOJ prosecuting a torture victim?” betrays an ignorance of the law and misleads about the facts in the case against Rasmieh Odeh.
Odeh is a Palestinian woman charged with naturalization fraud. At issue are her answers on immigration forms to straightforward questions asked of all immigrants seeking visas and naturalization: Were you ever arrested? Convicted? Jailed?
Odeh answered no to these and other relevant questions when she sought a visa in 1994, her indictment says. The same answers were given in 2004, when she applied for naturalization as an American citizen.
She never told immigration officials about her 1969 arrest, conviction and subsequent 10 years spent in an Israeli prison for her role in bombing a Jerusalem supermarket where two men died. She was sentenced to life, but was released in a 1979 prisoner exchange.
That seems like the kind of information that an immigration official might want to consider in evaluating an applicant. Reubner asserts that Odeh “was brutally tortured into confessing a crime she did not commit.” Odeh’s word is the only basis for the torture claim. And not only is there no basis to say she didn’t do it, there’s video evidence placing her in the bombing conspiracy.
Rasmieh “was more involved than I was [in the grocery store bombing],” said Aysha Odeh, who apparently is not related, but also served 10 years in prison for the attack, “… I only got involved during the preparation of explosives.” The comments appear in a documentary called “Women in Struggle.”
It was Rasmieh who “dragged me into military work,” Aysha said. Rasmieh Odeh doesn’t disagree. She also talks openly about life in Israeli prison.
It was “a harsh place,” she said, “you can’t see further than the wall surrounding you.”
And, Melchior pointed out, Aysha Odeh admits she ultimately did confess, telling interrogators “where the weapons were stored.” Reubner is right in saying that the women claim this came only after they were allegedly tortured. But they never claim the confession was false. Rather, Aysha talked about her role in planning it.
But that’s not why Rasmieh Odeh faces trial. She’s not charged with murder or terrorism. She is charged with naturalization fraud.
The case will depend on Odeh’s paperwork. Thus far, she and her allies have not argued that the government is misrepresenting her statements on the immigration forms. They don’t say she was forthcoming about her record. Rather, as Reubner’s column illustrates, they’re saying that those things shouldn’t matter.
The indictment was issued because “Odeh is Palestinian and her oppressor is Israel,” Reubner writes. Had her arrest and alleged mistreatment been from “a regime that the United States deemed hostile, then President Obama would be saluting her from the House gallery as an exemplar of humanity while members of Congress feted her with a standing ovation.”
This assertion ignores the universe of similar cases brought against people of all backgrounds. The Justice Department still has a unit devoted to hunting down war criminals including Nazis. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch of Homeland Security has a Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit which has arrested more than 250 people in the past decade, many from Latin America, who managed to make it to the United States despite their records of human rights abuses.
In this case, a Palestinian who clearly was involved in a deadly supermarket bombing is being prosecuted for allegedly failing to provide honest answers to straightforward questions asked of all immigrants. Reubner calls the charges shameful, spurious. But what he advocates amounts to special treatment for Palestinians who may have violent pasts.
To Reubner, whatever Odeh says must be true. And anything the Israeli “oppressor” says is a vicious lie.
He isn’t responsible for the comments readers post under his column. But they are telling in terms of blatant anti-Semitism leaping out from the shadows in response to cries of the Israeli boogeyman:
“Shit like this gives a lot of credence to the notion that a Jewish cabal has taken control of America,” wrote someone who identified himself as Gene Starwind. “It has! They operate in the open under the name AIPAC. The Israelis are the true savages.”
Commenter Chasdurham, a fan of all-caps ranting, wrote that, “HITLER SAID HE SAVED SOME JEWS SO PEOPLE COULD UNDERSTAND. THOSE MAKING HATE COMMENTS ARE PROBABLY THE ONES SAVED.”
If Reubner wants to argue that a woman who helped carry out a terrorist attack 45 years ago should still get to stay in the country, go ahead. It’s up to the courts, not him or us. But he should be honest, at least more honest than Odeh appeared to be when she sought the privilege of life as an American citizen.
Emerson is executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (www.investigativeproject.org) and the author of 6 books on terrorism and national security. Most recently he produced a documentary called “Jihad in America: the Grand Deception” (www.granddeception.com)