Revolution #208, July 25, 2010
Vicious Government Attack on Lynne Stewart
10 year sentence meant as warning to other lawyers
On July 15, a well-known people's lawyer, Lynne Stewart, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Stewart, who is 70 years old and recovering from breast cancer treatments, has devoted her life to the legal defense of poor people and unpopular defendants.
This jailing of Stewart is an outrage. It sends an ominous message to other lawyers: "Take up the defense of opponents of our empire or people we label as 'terrorists,' and this might happen to you."
The story behind Stewart's prosecution reveals the political motives of the government in going after Stewart. In the 1990s Lynne Stewart worked as a defense attorney for 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, including the World Trade Center. The government's allegation against Stewart is that she and two co-defendants, a translator and a paralegal, helped to communicate a message from Rahman to his organization in Egypt, by passing on a press release to a Reuters reporter indicating his opposition to a ceasefire with the Egyptian regime.
One might think this was an exercise of free speech. But the government claims that this public communication violated the "Special Administrative Measures" (SAMs) that had been placed on Rahman. SAMs began during the Clinton era and permit the government to isolate and silence any prisoner considered a threat to the security of the empire.
Stewart's alleged offense occurred in 2000, yet the government took action against her in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks. At that point, Attorney General John Ashcroft rushed to New York to announce on television the sudden arrest of Stewart, calling her a "terrorist lawyer." This was at a moment when the government was conducting mass round-ups of young men from Muslim countries and did not want lawyers interfering.
Most of the government's case against Stewart was based on secret recordings of her meetings with her client and thousands of intercepted letters, faxes, e-mails, and phone calls to and from her office and her employees. This was made legal through the new fascist legal powers taken by the government in the wake of 9/11, all of which are maintained and zealously employed by the Obama administration.
Stewart's 10 year sentence is actually a re-sentencing, since a federal appeals court ruled that her original 28-month sentence was too lenient. The trial judge complied by giving her the maximum sentence for the main charge against her, providing "material support to a terrorist conspiracy," and tacked on two additional years of "supervised release." The message was sent to lawyers who dare to defend anyone the government brands "terrorists"
This new 10 year sentence is especially outrageous – given how they have already brutally treated Lynn Stewart in prison. The appeals court that ordered Lynne Stewart's resentencing last year revoked her bail, and ordered that she be taken into custody immediately. After her incarceration, a regularly scheduled breast cancer check revealed a spot on her liver. She requested that the needed biopsy be done by her own doctor and at her own hospital, which had her medical records. Instead it was performed at an inferior facility selected by prison authorities. Except during the actual examination and procedure, she was shackled and handcuffed for the hospital visit.
Stewart has been disbarred and now faces almost 8 more years in prison, even with time off for good behavior and credit for time served. Because she is a beloved figure among the people's movements, the packed courtroom burst into applause when Stewart entered the room. Many attorneys were present in her support, in addition to her defense counsel, Jill Shellow and Sarah Kunstler (daughter of the late William Kunstler). Almost 300 more people filled an overflow room in which the proceedings were viewed by video.
More information about the case and what you can do to support Lynne Stewart can be found at www.lynnestewart.org.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.