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Torture & Terror at Heart of Immigration-Fraud Appeal

CINCINNATI (CN) - A Muslim woman convicted of terrorism in Israel told the Sixth Circuit on Wednesday that she should have been allowed to present evidence about the torture-induced disorder that made her mislead U.S. immigration officials.

Decades before Rasmieh Yousef Odeh immigrated to the United States, an Israeli military court convicted the Palestinian woman of several 1969 bombings, one of which left two dead.

Going on to become a leader of Chicago's Palestinian community, Odeh has long maintained that she never committed the bombings. In 1971 she testified before the United Nations that the Israeli military tortured false confessions out of her.

The Hill has quoted Odeh as saying interrogators tried to maker her father have sex with her, and that they beat her while she was shackled naked, legs spread-eagled, to the ceiling.

Though the Israelis sentenced Odeh to life in prison, she was released after 10 years as part of a prisoner exchange.

She immigrated to the United States in 1995 and was naturalized in 2004, but a federal jury found last year Odeh had acquired that U.S. citizenship through fraud.

This past March, U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain handed Odeh an 18-month prison sentence and revoked her citizenship.

In her bid for a reversal, Odeh claims that the trial improperly excluded an expert witness who would have testified about her post-traumatic stress disorder.

Arguing in front of a packed courtroom Wednesday, Odeh's attorney, Michael Deutsche, said the excluded witness would have explained that torture-induced PTSD created a "memory block" that caused Odeh to misinterpret a question regarding any previous convictions or jail time prior to her immigration into the United States.

"PTSD caus[ed] a disassociation," Deutsche said, adding that Odeh "didn't consciously lie" when asked about past prison time.

Judge John Rogers asked Deutsche if the situation was "analogous to someone being asked a question in a foreign language?"

Deutsche agreed, and said that only specific questions would "break the blockage" and allow Odeh to remember specific traumatic events that led to her condition.

Jonathan Tukel, from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, meanwhile argued that the expert testimony would be admissible only if Odeh sought an insanity defense.

Tukel claimed there was "no innocence in [Odeh] withholding information" from immigration officials.

Trying to turn Odeh's expert witness against her, Tukel noted that "the expert says she did not understand the nature of her actions, and the Insanity Reform Act provides the framework for this type of defense."

Deutsche was quick to counter Tukel's claims in his rebuttal. "This is not an insanity case," the attorney said. "She has a mental disorder. [PTSD] disassociates and blocks and filters out traumatic events."

Judge Alice Batchelder appeared skeptical. "She is very selective about what she filters out," the judge remarked.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore rounded out the panel, which did not set a timetable for a decision.

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