One the web: Lynnestewart.org
NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – They call her “Mother Courage.” A 69-year-old civil libertarian and activist lawyer, Lynne Stewart was arrested and disbarred in 2002, when the government accused her of “providing material support” to terrorists in Egypt, and defrauding the U.S. government. A federal court found her guilty of the charges in 2005 and the next year she was sentenced to 28 months in jail. She has been free on bail appealing her conviction.
Ms. Stewart recently returned to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, along with her Arabic translator and law clerk, seeking to have their convictions for acting as go-betweens for her client Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman overturned.
The three-judge panel hearing the case will decide whether the convictions should stand, and if so, whether the trial judge should give Ms. Stewart the longer sentence, as the government argues.
Prosecutors argue her sentence of 28 months was too lenient, and that she should do 30 years for the crime.
“Been trying to make people understand that the railroad they set in motion back in 2002, may be slowing down,” Ms. Stewart told a gathering of supporters at St. Mary’s Church in Harlem on Jan. 28. The next day she went to the appeals court.
“I have committed no crime, don’t deserve to spend one minute in jail,” she told friends and supporters. “Twenty-eight months is nothing to sneeze at, but I can do it, because I have the stamina, strength and the support to do that,” Ms. Stewart said defiantly.
Known for her outspoken political views and zealous representation of controversial, and often unpopular defendants, Ms. Stewart told the crowd the government had trashed and trampled the Bill of Rights. That, she said, is why she is facing jail time. Ms. Stewart also said her prosecution represented a government assault on defense lawyers willing to represent unpopular clients.
“Lynne Stewart became a criminal because of 9-11,” Claude Kissinger told the crowd. There is no more due process, he said. “Lynne Stewart defended an innocent man,” exclaimed Mr. Kissinger, leader of the anti-war group Not In My Name.
“(Lynne) is being criminally prosecuted for doing what lawyers do–advocating and speaking for her client,” he added. “Free Lynne Stewart!” shouted Mr. Kissinger as he stepped from the podium.
Sheikh Rahman was convicted in federal court in New York of helping engineer the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and a failed attempt to destroy landmarks in Manhattan, like the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, United Nations buildings and the George Washington Bridge. He was sentenced in 1995 to life imprisonment plus 65 years. Ms. Stewart continued representing the sheikh after he was imprisoned at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn. Throughout 2000, FBI agents, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, secretly videotaped Ms. Stewart’s legal visits with her client and wiretapped telephone conversations between the two. The outspoken attorney had to sign a Special Administrative Measure in order to continue the visits. That meant that she could only talk with her client about legal matters and barred her from giving messages from Sheikh Rahman to anyone outside the prison, including his family, friends and the media.
The FBI said Ms. Stewart, in a statement to a reporter in Cairo, Egypt, relayed that the sheikh was withdrawing his support for a ceasefire in Egypt. Prosecutors never linked the message with any specific act of violence.
“This is the case and the moment by which we may mobilize people nationally to understand that our human rights are at stake,” said Ward Churchill. Mr. Churchill, a writer and activist for Native American rights, explained that he attended the rally “because it was about Lynne Stewart, who is worthy of being defended for a lifetime of standing up for others.”
Looking back on what the government has done since 9-11, he said, too much has been taken silently. “We have a voice, we have strength, and we cannot let this one go down the way the government has scripted it.”
“The way Lynne Stewart responded gave us all hope. And, we have to have the courage to defend those who are standing up,” said Sara Flounders, co-founder of the International Action Network and the anti-war group Troops Out Now.
“(Lynne) stood up–didn’t make a deal–didn’t go quietly,” Ms. Flounders said.