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Sixth Circuit Allows|Israeli Torture Claim

CINCINNATI (CN) - A Muslim woman who lied on her U.S. citizenship application about her decades-old terrorist-bombing conviction in Israel can testify that Israeli guards tortured her into making the confession, the Sixth Circuit ruled today.

The woman, Rasmieh Odeh, faces deportation and 18 months behind bars for lying on U.S. immigration forms about her indictment and imprisonment for her role in a 1969 bombing. Odeh has argued that torture at the hands of Israeli military led to the confession, and also that she forgot about the incident while filling out the immigration forms because she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 1969, Israel authorities accused Odeh, a former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - which has been labeled a terrorist organization - of participating in the bombing of a supermarket and the attempted bombing of the British embassy in Jerusalem.

The supermarket bombing caused the deaths of two Israelis and several injuries.

Though given two life sentences in Israel for the bombings, Odeh was released after 10 years as part of a prisoner exchange. After her release, Odeh claimed she had nothing to do with the bombings and that she confessed only after the Israeli military tortured her.

In addition to claiming that she had been sodomized with a wooden stick, beaten, shocked with electricity during the five days of interrogation, Odeh has said that Israeli guards tried to force her father to have sex with her.

Odeh moved to the United States in 1995 and she was naturalized in 2004. In her application for U.S. citizenship she falsely denied ever being arrested, convicted, or imprisoned. If Odeh had answered correctly, she would not have been granted U.S. citizenship.

By the time immigration officials discovered the lie and indicted her, Odeh had become a leader of Chicago's Palestinian community. Her attorneys have said the case was borne purely out of overzealous suspicion of the Arab community.

A federal judge nevertheless forbade Odeh from testifying about the alleged torture, ultimately revoking her citizenship and sentencing her to 18 months in prison.

In her appeal to the Sixth Circuit, Odeh said she should have been allowed to present evidence of the alleged torture and testimony about her PTSD from a clinical psychologist specializing in treating torture survivors.

Odeh also claimed Israeli military documents showing her admission to the bombings were not admissible since Israel's occupation of the West Bank at the time was illegal and that the Israeli military used torture.

The government had opposed both Odeh's testimony and that of the psychologist, saying they would have contradicted each other.

Though the psychologist would presumably say Odeh blocked out her torture when answering the application questions, Odeh's claim was that she merely misunderstood the questions as referring only to her time in the United States.

In its ruling Thursday, the Sixth Circuit decided to allow both testimonies. Judge John Rogers for a three-person panel that both Odeh's testimony and the torture expert's are relevant to the case because they can prove whether Odeh knew her statements were false.

As to whether Israeli military documents should be allowed, Rogers wrote merely that the court would not decide whether the confession and conviction were fair, and that since the documents were authenticated they could be admitted in court.

Judge Alice Batchelder, who concurred with the court's opinion, took issue with the jury hearing about Odeh's alleged role in the bombing, as well as the names of the two Israelis killed in the 1969 bombing and the prayer "may their memory be a blessing."

Batchelder said those issues might have unfairly prejudiced the jury against Odeh, especially since she was not allowed to testify about her claims of torture in Israeli prison.

"If this case is just about lying under oath, then I agree with the majority that there are no due process issues in admitting the Israeli court documents," Batchelder wrote. "But if this case is only about lying under oath, then I cannot see how allowing any of the objected-to portions of the Israeli indictment to go before the jury was not an abuse of discretion."

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