by C. Clark Kissinger
On November 17, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the conviction of defense attorney Lynne Stewart. Her bail was revoked, and as we go to press, Lynne Stewart has been locked up. In addition, the Appeals Court ordered the judge in Lynne Stewart’s original trial to consider increasing her 28-month sentence, based on Stewart’s testimony in her own defense at her trial.
All this is an outrageous attack on a courageous attorney, and a chilling attack on the supposed basic legal right of every defendant, including those demonized by the powers-that-be, to have a vigorous legal defense.
At a press conference held immediately after the ruling, Lynne Stewart said, “The timing of this particular opinion, coming as it does on the eve of the arrival of the tortured men from the off-shore prison in Guantánamo, at a time when lawyers I think will be appointed for these men, [reaffirms] our original assessment of my case, which was that this was a warning to lawyers to do it the government’s way, to pay attention to what the government rules are, not to even stray up to the line, otherwise you will end up like Lynne Stewart.”
The government set its sights on Stewart right after 9/11 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. Her actual “crime” was doing what a defense attorney is supposed to do, aggressively defending her client.
The “evidence” the prosecution presented during Stewart’s trial consisted largely of extensive secret government surveillance of communications by a co-defendant, nearly 75,000 pages in all and including his phone calls, Internet usage and e-mails, and his fax machine. This was then used to extend the secret surveillance to Stewart’s meetings with her client Rahman, which were recorded and videotaped. Stewart’s conviction was the first major case under the authority given by Congress to secretly record conversations between a lawyer and client. Attorney-client confidentiality has supposedly been a bedrock principle of law in this country. Now, clients and their lawyers can never know when the government might be sitting in on their conversations.
At her trial, the government alleged that Stewart helped to communicate a message from Rahman to his organization in Egypt, the Islamic Group—by passing to the media 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.
The New York Times 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.
At a press conference following release of the Appeals Court decision, Lynne Stewart told the media and a crowd of supporters: “We are not sure yet what our next move is. But one thing I can promise you: I will go on fighting. This is a case that is bigger than just me personally. I am no criminal. And I will fight it for all the lawyers, some of whom are here, and the Lawyers Guild, which has supported me from day one. All of us know that when you become a criminal lawyer, you sign on to represent your client with zeal. That’s all I was doing. I was never doing anything else.”
Lynne Stewart is 70 years old, and in recent years has been treated for breast cancer. She was scheduled for minor surgery on December 7, and her request to have the surgery done before reporting for jail was denied. She has called on people around the country to demonstrate at local federal courthouses.
Revolution will have ongoing coverage of the jailing of Lynne Stewart at revcom.us. For background on the Lynne Stewart case, see “Radical Civil Rights Lawyer Lynne Stewart Sentenced to Prison,” Revolution #67, October 29, 2006.
Also see Free Lynn Stewart! on Next Left Notes web site