26 Feb 2016
US Court of Appeals: Rasmieh Odeh must be allowed to submit psychological evidence of torture

The IRCT is pleased to see that a United States Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of alleged torture victim Ms. Rasmieh Odeh, who is accused of providing false statements on her immigration and naturalisation forms. The court ruling follows an intervention from the IRCT and five other organisations, including IRCT member Bellevue/NYU Programme for Survivors of Torture, arguing that evidence of Ms. Odeh’s torture traumatisation should be admissible in the court’s determination of her ability to engage with the immigration process.

Her case now returns to the District Judge for a possible retrial and may have far-reaching implications for the way PTSD is understood and evaluated in torture related proceedings.

Ms. Odeh alleges that Israeli authorities tortured her and forced her to confess in 1969. She subsequently moved to the United States and obtained citizenship in 2004. In November 2014, she was convicted of providing false statements on her immigration and naturalisation forms.

She argues that chronic PTSD from torture, which is characterised by symptoms such as involuntary avoidance and dissociation, has caused her to negate the traumatic events of her past. An expert clinical psychologist submitted an affidavit in her defence and concluded that Ms. Odeh suffers from chronic PTSD, which may have affected her statements. However, the District Judge refused to admit any evidence of torture and the impact of PTSD in the trial.

Upon overturning this decision, the Court of Appeals argues that the District Judge erred in categorically excluding the testimony of torture and PTSD and that the testimony of the clinical expert is relevant to whether Ms. Odeh knew the statements she made on her immigration and naturalisation papers were false. The IRCT welcomes this decision and will continue to make our expertise available to ensure that Ms. Odeh’s case is adequately assessed.

“We are very pleased to note that the Court of Appeals has accepted that Ms. Odeh’s torture traumatisation is a relevant factor in assessing her capacity to effectively engage in the immigration and naturalisation process. From our 150 member organisations supporting victims of torture, we know that they can find it extremely difficult to speak about their experiences. Around the world, courts and administrative bodies are finally starting to recognise this fact and give consequence to it by ensuring that their processes reflect the specific psychological situation and needs of victims,” said IRCT Secretary General, Victor Madrigal-Borloz.

The IRCT’s engagement in the case dates back to June 2015, when it submitted an amicus curiae intervention to the Court of Appeals, along with five other organisations, detailing the long-term psychological impact of torture. The intervention argued that torture victims often develop psychological symptoms and responses, such as avoidance and dissociation, to avoid retraumatisation. It also said that such psychological responses serve as defence mechanisms that compel victims to act based on involuntary and unconscious motivations, even in common and everyday situations, to protect themselves from retraumatisation.

“Rehabilitation helps restore the physical and mental state of torture victims.” - Olga Sadovskaya, Deputy chair of the Committee Against Torture

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