In 1969, when she was 21, Rasmea Odeh was arrested at night from her home in Ramallah. After twenty-five days of interrogation and alleged torture, including rape, by Israeli military, she confessed to two terrorist bombings in Jerusalem. In court, Rasmea renounced her confession, but was convicted and spent ten years in prison.
In 1995, Rasmea immigrated to the United States (U.S.) and obtained her citizenship nine years later. But in 2013, she was charged and convicted of providing false statements on her naturalisation forms because she hadn’t disclosed her past conviction.
Dr Mary Fabri, a clinical psychologist with the Marjorie Kovler Center (an IRCT member centre) submitted an affidavit in Rasmea’s defence. Dr. Fabri diagnosed Rasmea with chronic PTSD, which may have affected her statements. The judge in Rasmea’s case barred the expert evidence, however, on the basis that Rasmea’s state of mind was irrelevant to the charges against her.
Utilising the knowledge and experience of IFEG experts, the IRCT, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and four other organisations, intervened in Rasmea’s case.
“Torture survivors adopt strategies to psychologically navigate everyday situations and, particularly, situations that could trigger memories of, or are associated with, the circumstances that gave rise to torture. Under international standards, psychological evidence, including evidence of such responses, is now considered a key component of proving torture and interpreting the actions and testimony of victims.”
— Amicus (friend of the court) brief led by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the IRCT and four other organisations.
On 26 February 2016, a U.S. court of appeals ruled that the evidence of Rasmea’s torture and PTSD should not have been categorically excluded, and it vacated her immigration fraud conviction. The court’s ruling is a triumph for anti-torture groups. It affirms the seriousness of torture and its wide-reaching effects on victims and that those effects cannot be ignored. Rasmea’s case is set for retrial.