US District Judge Gerswhin Drain allowed clinical psychologist and torture expert Dr. Mary Fabri to testify as an expert witness in the trial of Ramsea Odeh.
In October 2013, federal prosecutors indicted 69-year-old Palestinean leader Ramsea Odeh, associate director of the Chicago nonprofit the Arab American Action Network, for unlawful procurement of naturalization, nine years after she became a US citizen and just one year short of the statute of limitations.
Odeh’s indictment followed a series of FBI raids on the homes of community and political activists in Chicago and other cities that led to the subpoena of Arab American Action Network records. Six years after these raids and subpoenas, no indictments have ever been filed against any of the original targets.
Although Odeh was not one of the original subjects of the investigation, her 45-year-old record from Israel was discovered in thousands of documents the US government obtained from Israeli authorities.
In 1969, Odeh was convicted by an Israeli military court of helping to coordinate a series of bombings in Jerusalem that killed two young men. She served 10 years in an Israeli prison before being released in a prisoner exchange. Her attorneys have maintained that she was convicted based on a confession that followed prolonged torture.
When Odeh filled out her 2004 application for US citizenship, she responded “No” to a series of questions asking if she had “ever” been arrested, charged, convicted or imprisoned.
Odeh’s First Trial
In November 2014, Odeh was tried in a week-long trial in federal district court in Detroit, Michigan. In March 2015, Odeh was found guilty of immigration fraud. Odeh was sentenced to 18 months in prison. She was subsequently to be stripped of her citizenship and deported.
During her trial, Odeh’s defense team attempted to present Dr. Mary Fabri as an expert witness. Dr. Mary Fabri is a torture expert and psychologist. Fabri examined Odeh over the course of several months in 2014 and concluded that Odeh suffers from PTSD as a result of torture, including rape, by Israeli interrogators nearly 50 years ago.
Based on her examination, Fabri believes Odeh could have filtered out the traumatic memories when she filled out her immigration and naturalization applications.
Odeh’s legal team argued that, as a result of her PTSD, Odeh understood the questions to be asking whether she had any criminal record in the United States.
Odeh filed an appeal, arguing that the district court has erred by not allowing Odeh or her expert to testify about her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The prosecution argued against allowing a new trial, arguing that Fabri’s testimony was irrelevant and that Fabri was not a qualified expert.
In February 2016, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district court had erred by barring Fabri or Odeh from testifying during the trial about Odeh’s post-traumatic stress disorder as part of her defense. The appellate court held that the expert testimony was “potentially admissible because it is relevant to whether Odeh knew that her statements were false, which is an element of a prosecution.”
The appellate court sent the case back to Judge Drain to decide whether Fabri’s expert testimony would satisfy federal standards of admissibility. Contending that PTSD cannot cause people to filter their memories, prosecutors continued to object to Fabri’s testimony. Recognizing that Fabri’s opinions concerning the relationship between PTSD and memory are widely accepted by neuroscientists and mental health professionals, the judge deemed the government’s objection to be “puzzling.” The judge also rejected prosecution claims that Fabri is not qualified to give expert testimony.
Odeh’s new trial is scheduled to begin in January 2017.