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News ::
30 Jul 2003

By Leslie Feinberg
New York
Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the July 31, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper


By Leslie Feinberg
New York

In a rebuke to the Ashcroft Justice Department, charges of "supporting
terrorism" against lawyer Lynne F. Stewart were dropped by a federal
judge on July 22.

Stewart has been legal counsel for Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind
cleric convicted by the U.S. government of conspiracy to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993. The progressive attorney was charged with using her position to pass messages to his followers.

At her arraignment, Stewart pleaded "emphatically not guilty."
The charges against Stewart were lodged by Attorney General John
Ashcroft at a news conference in April 2002. Ashcroft called the case
the first use of a new rule allowing the Bureau of Prisons to tap
conversations between lawyers and prisoners who the government alleges
could commit "future acts of violence or terrorism."

Ashcroft's ballyhoo in the media came at a time when a movement of
solidarity with the besieged Palestinian people was surging in the
streets in this country and around the world.

The government move was clear: to menace any lawyer who dared to defend someone caught in Big Brother's political dragnet.

In his July 22 ruling, Judge John G. Koeltl of the United States
District Court characterized the terrorism charges against Stewart and
translator Mohammed Yousry as unconstitutionally vague. Koeltl said
Ashcroft's announced statute could not apply to a lawyer working with a client.

Stewart's attorney, Michael E. Tigar, had argued in motions that the
"anti-terrorism" statute violates the First Amendment. Hearing the July 22 decision, Tigar reasserted that the edict "endangers the rights of people, lawyers, journalists and citizens to assert certain political views."

Stewart herself assailed the Ashcroft decree after the July 22 ruling.
"It's so broad that you can sweep anybody under its rug. A conduit of
communication. How could you not be if you're taking phone calls from
your client?

"We tried to mount a real defense and organize as many people as
possible to understand that what was at stake here was the ability of
defense counsel to fully represent and make decisions concerning
political clients."

Stewart still must defend herself against remaining lesser charges of
making false statements and conspiring to defraud the government.

Prosecutors said they were exploring the possibility of appealing the
July 22 ruling.

- END -

(Copyright Workers World Service: Everyone is permitted to copy and
distribute verbatim copies of this document, but changing it is not
allowed. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY,
NY 10011; via e-mail: ww (at) Subscribe wwnews-
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