The prospects of Robert “Bob” Manning being transferred to Israel to serve out the rest of his life sentence chilled supporters of Alex Odeh, a Palestinian-American activist killed by a rigged pipe bomb when he opened the door to his Santa Ana office on Oct. 11, 1985. Manning, a member of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) at the time, never faced charges for the still-unsolved murder but was convicted of a 1980 letter bombing that killed Patricia Wilkerson, a Manhattan Beach secretary.
In late 2016, Manning sued the United States Department of Justice over a transfer request to Israel they initially approved for him the year before only to suddenly revoke it two weeks later. “This ability to give and take away may have been viable in the France of Louis XVI,” Paul Batista, Manning’s attorney, argued in court documents. “It is not viable here.” But last month, a federal judge in New York dismissed the case in its entirety.
“Because there is no legally protected interest in international prison transfer, Manning cannot demonstrate constitutional standing,” Judge Andrew L. Carter Jr. wrote in his Dec. 15 opinion. Though the judge could’ve ended on that point, he expanded further saying the convicted bomber couldn’t show “prudential standing,” either. “The benefit that Manning was granted before being revoked was just that: a benefit, but not an entitlement. Manning lacks standing and is thus without recourse to remedy his grievance.”
U.S. authorities originally secured Manning’s extradition from Israel to stand trial in 1994 for the Wilkerson murder. Once convicted, the FBI approached him seeking information on the deadly Odeh bombing that ripped through the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) office where the slain activist worked as the group’s West Coast Regional Director. In his suit, Manning denied having any knowledge about, much less participation in, the crime.
“If there’s any little evidence Manning knows about my dad’s case, it’s time to be forthcoming,” Helena Odeh, Alex’s eldest daughter and current ADC-OC board member, tells the Weekly. “He has nothing to lose.”
But Manning, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, will be taking his efforts to return to Israel outside the court system after the judge’s decision in the suit. “We have decided that the best course to secure his transfer to adequate humanitarian care in Israel is by diplomatic means,” Batista wrote the Weekly in an email. “Although Judge Carter’s decision was based solely on the frankly incomprehensible concept that Mr. Manning lacked the right to sue even though the United States flagrantly broke its promise to transfer him to Israel, it is apparent that the courts will likely evade responsibility. Judge Carter is a fair minded, high caliber jurist, but we believe he wanted to exempt the courts from this diplomatic struggle.”
Manning’s supporters argue that approving the transfer allows the inmate in his mid-60’s access to better health care for his alleged ailments and to be closer to his family there. He was denied parole in 2015, but is scheduled for release in March 2021, a date Batista considers too far in the future to be considered anything but a “cruel hoax” given his client’s condition. “One can only hope that President Trump will demonstrate the same admirable compassion and strength that he did several weeks ago when he commuted the sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, another victim of an inordinately punitive system of American justice,” he adds.
None of the arguments finds favor with the Odeh family. “There would be no justice for the Wilkerson family if Manning is allowed to be transferred to Israel,” Helena says. “This is where he needs to pay for his crime.”
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!