DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A judge sentenced a Chicago activist to 18 months in federal prison Thursday for failing to disclose her convictions for bombings in Israel when she applied to be a U.S. citizen.
Rasmieh Odeh, 67, also was stripped of her citizenship and eventually will be deported. But she will remain free while she appeals the case.
Odeh helps run Chicago’s Arab American Action Network, an education and social services agency, and more than 100 supporters filled the courtroom or spilled over into another room to watch a video feed of the hearing.
In 2004, she answered “no” on her U.S. citizenship application in Detroit when asked about any past criminal record. Odeh was convicted of two bombings in Jerusalem in 1969, including one that killed two people at a market.
She insists that she believed the questions were related to U.S. crimes, although the form said “EVER.”
Odeh’s attorney, Michael Deutsch, says the conviction was wrong and the sentence imposed was excessive.
“I don’t think she should have spent another day in jail – she’s not a criminal, she served in community for 10 years, she’s lived without any criminal activity for 20 years in this country, “said Deutsch.
Speaking to the judge in Arabic and English, Odeh said she’s not a “terrorist” or a “bad woman.” She recalled a tumultuous life overseas due to conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis and said it would be “torture” to the many Arabic women she has helped in the Chicago area if she is sent to prison.
U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain settled on an 18-month sentence, far below the five years recommended by federal prosecutors. He said he believes Odeh was a terrorist but has dramatically turned her life around in the last 20 years in the U.S.
Nonetheless, the judge said the case wasn’t about politics, community service or the Middle East.
“This case is about honesty and being truthful and saying the right thing under oath. … In some ways, Ms. Odeh, you don’t have a lot of respect for the law,” Drain said. “If you did, you would have been honest and truthful.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel said Odeh is seen as an “icon” among terrorists. He said her community work in Chicago was irrelevant.
“Every single day she has been in the United States has been illegal,” Tukel said. “Every single day has been based on fraud.”
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