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News :: Human Rights
The Intolerable Conviction of Lynne Stewart
17 Feb 2005
<blockquote>
<p>"I see myself as being a symbol of what the people rail
against when they say our civil liberties are eroded. This case
could be, I hope it will be, a wakeup call to all of the citizens
of this country and all of the people who live here that you
can’t lock up the lawyers. You can’t tell the lawyers
how to do their job. You’ve got to let them operate. And I
will fight on. I am not giving up. I know I commited no crime. I
know what I did was right."</p>

<p class="quotesource">Attorney Lynne
Stewart, after her Feb. 10 conviction on felony charges</p>
</blockquote>

<p>In April 2002, then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft personally
announced to the news media that the government had indicted radical
civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart on serious charges of
"conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists and
defrauding the U.S. government."</p>
<blockquote>
<p>"I see myself as being a symbol of what the people rail
against when they say our civil liberties are eroded. This case
could be, I hope it will be, a wakeup call to all of the citizens
of this country and all of the people who live here that you
can’t lock up the lawyers. You can’t tell the lawyers
how to do their job. You’ve got to let them operate. And I
will fight on. I am not giving up. I know I commited no crime. I
know what I did was right."</p>

<p class="quotesource">Attorney Lynne
Stewart, after her Feb. 10 conviction on felony charges</p>
</blockquote>

<p>In April 2002, then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft personally
announced to the news media that the government had indicted radical
civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart on serious charges of
"conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists and
defrauding the U.S. government."</p>

<p>Almost three years later, on February 10, Ashcroft’s
successor—Alberto Gonzales—spoke to the national media to
hail the conviction of Lynne Stewart on all five counts that she
faced.</p>

<p>The extraordinary attention focused on this case by Ashcroft and
Gonzalez points to the stakes involved—and the stakes are very
high. The conviction of Lynne Stewart is <em>very bad</em> —for
defense lawyers, for those who oppose this government, and for the
people generally.</p>

<p>The government set its sights on Stewart because of her determined
work as a defense attorney for her client, fundamentalist Islamic
cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted and sentenced to life in
1996 for seditious conspiracy related to alleged plots to attack New
York landmarks. But as the National Lawyers Guild said after the
verdict, this case was "an attack not only on our cherished
colleague and fellow NLG member but also on all members of the legal
community who represent unpopular clients and causes."</p>

<p>Defense attorney Ron Kuby said, "It’s a dark day for
civil liberties and for civil liberties lawyers in this country. In
the post 9/11 era, where dissidents are treated as traitors,
it’s perhaps no surprise that a zealous civil rights lawyer
becomes a convict."</p>

<p>Carl Dix, national spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist
Party, said: "Lynne Stewart’s actual ‘crime’
was aggressively defending a client who was on the wrong side of the
U.S.’s ‘war on terrorism.’ Her conviction
underlines the ugly reality the rulers are determined to
create—one where any opposition to their aims has been
criminalized. This represents a dangerous legal precedent that must
be opposed."</p>

<p style="text-align: center">****</p>

<p>The guilty verdict on Lynne Stewart came after a seven-month trial
and 12 days of deliberation by the jury. The same jury also came out
with guilty verdicts on all charges against Mohammed Yousry (a
translator for Rahman) and Ahmed Abdel Sattar (a paralegal).</p>

<p>Stewart, who is 65 years old, faces a possible maximum sentence of
45 years.</p>

<p>The government alleged that Stewart helped to communicate a
message from Rahman to his organization in Egypt, the Islamic
Group—by passing on a press release expressing his opposition
to a ceasefire with the Egyptian regime. The government claims that
this violated the "Special Administrative Measures" (SAMs)
against Rahman. SAMs severely limit the ability of certain federal
prisoners to communicate with the outside world.</p>

<p>The <em>New York Times</em> noted, "The government never
showed that any violence resulted from the defendants’ actions.
The Islamic Group never canceled the ceasefire. The defendants were
not accused of terrorism in the United States." The judge
himself told the jury that bin Laden and al-Qaida were not at issue.
But the prosecution blatantly tried to pin a "terrorist"
label on Stewart—for example, by showing videotapes of Osama
bin Laden in the courtroom.</p>

<p>As Lynne Stewart pointed out, "If you mention Osama bin
Laden’s name, you don’t have to present any evidence. You
can tell the jury that he has nothing to do with the case, but
there’s been this discourse, this drumbeat, that makes it very
difficult for our voice to be heard."</p>

<p>Since 9/11, the Bush administration has been on a fascistic
offensive against the rights of the people. Such things as the right
to an attorney and attorney-client privilege that have been cosidered
established principles of this legal system are being undercut and
undermined. And the government’s trial of Lynne Stewart is part
of this reactionary offensive.</p>

<p>The hundreds of exhibits presented by the prosecution in the trial
consisted largely of secret government surveillance of Mohammed
Sattar’s communications—"telephone calls, monitoring
his Internet usage and his e- mail account and his fax machine."
This spying operation was then used as an excuse to extend the secret
surveillance to Lynne Stewart’s meetings with her client.</p>

<p>There is an Orwellian quality to all this. One of the
government’s accusations against Stewart is that she tried to
distract the guards so that others could communicate secretly with
Rahman. How do they supposedly know this? Because, they say, they
were <em>videotaping</em> the meetings between Stewart and her
client.</p>

<p>In an article on the Counterpunch website, legal scholar Jennifer
Van Bergen wrote, "The words she spoke to her client were meant
for her client alone and the one who has violated rights here is the
Department of Justice. They violated something so sacred that it can
hardly be spoken without somehow losing the value of it: they
violated the attorney/client privilege. The DOJ violated this
privilege by listening in on her conversations with her client, which
they then took out of context and tried to make into a monstrous
thing. But is anyone prosecuting them for this violation?
No."</p>

<p>In response to the government charges that she violated the
Special Administrative Measures against Rahman, Stewart has insisted
that her obligations as a defense attorney were what she considered
of primary importance.</p>

<p>Stewart told the radio program <em>Democracy Now</em> the day
after her conviction: "We thought about this for a while before
we made the press release [on Rahman’s views on the ceasefire],
and it was considered that it was important to him, considered
important to our handling of the case, that this press release be
made to keep him a figure on the world stage. If we had lost that, we
would not have had any bargaining power, we would not be able to do
anything that would move him from this really torturous situation in
which he was being held—a blind, sick man who did not speak any
English. These prison regulations, these SAMs, said, you know,
‘If you break these regulations, you may be cut off from your
client.’ That was our greatest concern, that we would be cut
off from the client. The idea of prosecution never entered our minds.
But the fact of the matter is, even with what has happened, it was
the right decision. You can’t start saying, ‘Well, maybe
I will do this, but I won’t do that.’ It has to be that,
within the rules of ethics, what vigorously and zealously defending a
client means. You carry through on it, and you do so
wholeheartedly."</p>

<p>Also on <em>Democracy Now</em> , Stewart’s attorney, Michael
Tigar, pointed to further implications of such government
restrictions on prisoner communications: "The only way that we
will ever get to the bottom of the American concentration camp abuses
at Gitmo [the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo, Cuba] and
Abu Ghraib is that if lawyers for these prisoners are permitted to
tell their stories to the world. If the government can shut off that
communication, which they have attempted to do over and over and over
again, these activities will continue in secret— blessed as
they are by the highest officials of government in a country which
has for the first time in its history given a cabinet job to a fellow
[referring to Alberto Gonzales—<em>RW</em>] who says that the
Geneva Convention is obsolete."</p>

<p style="text-align: center">****</p>

<p>Because of her conviction on felony charges, Lynne Stewart was
immediately disbarred, or deprived of her status as an attorney. She
told <em>Democracy Now</em> , "That is my greatest sense of
loss—that I will be cut off from this profession that I love
and that I feel I have served—and I have served people who had
no voice."</p>

<p>The conviction of Lynne Stewart is sending reverberations through
the entire legal community. Criminal defense lawyer Jed Stone said,
"This verdict is a chilling attack on criminal defense lawyers.
The government is telling us, ‘Don’t get involved in
cases of people alleged to be terrorists. If you do, you will pay a
heavy cost.’ Whatever you think of the individual or the
allegations, just like everyone, these people need a defense lawyer,
perhaps even more so. But the government doesn’t want lawyers
to handle those kinds of cases."</p>

<p>In the face of this "chilling attack," some are stepping
back, even saying that Lynne Stewart may have "crossed the
line." Others are taking a principled stand of supporting
Stewart and condemning the conviction.</p>

<p>Defense lawyer Stanley Cohen said, "I don’t think that
there’s a political lawyer in this country who doesn’t
believe that the government has a plan to target the lawyers who do
what we do and to silence us. If anything, it [Stewart’s
conviction] will make us more determined."</p>

<p>A statement issued by the National Lawyers Guild on February 10
quotes Guild President Michael Avery: "The U.S. Department of
Justice was resolute from day one in making a symbol out of Lynne
Stewart in support of its campaign to deny people charged with crimes
of effective legal representation. The government is bent on
intimidating attorneys from providing zealous representation to
unpopular clients. The National Lawyers Guild strongly urges its own
members and other defense lawyers to continue to proudly represent
clients who are openly critical of government policies. We will not
be intimidated and this prosecution has only strengthened our resolve
to oppose the repressive attacks this government has made on the
civil liberties of everyone in this country. We will also continue to
stand by Lynne Stewart."</p>

<p>The National Lawyer’s Guild has called for a National Day of
Outrage in response to the Lynne Stewart verdict for Thursday,
February 17.</p>
<hr style="text-align: left" width="60%" />

<h4>Online resources:</h4>
<ul>
<li><a href="http://www.lynnestewart.org";>lynnestewart.org</a>
(updates on the case)</li>

<li><a href="http://www.nlg.org";>nlg.org</a> (National Lawyers
Guild website)</li>

<li><a href="../../s/elect.htm#stewart">rwor.org</a> (background
on Lynne Stewart case)</li>
</ul>

<div class="footer">
<hr class="footer" />
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary
Worker Online<br />
<a href="http://rwor.org";>http://rwor.org<;/a><br />
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654<br />
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
</div>

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