In response to Stewart's resentencing, activists vow to continue fight
Published Jul 21, 2010
Following is a selection of responses from activists after the Lynne
Stewart resentencing hearing July 15, when the judge gave the
progressive lawyer and breast-cancer survivor a 10-year prison term.
The Lynne Stewart case proves that the desire for justice in the U.S.
is alive and well as seen by the constant support Lynne has received
over the many years of this case. The government's action is
discouraging. The continued response of the people is encouraging.
The struggle continues.
Ralph Poynter, Lynne Stewart's life companion
The death sentence imposed on a 70-year-old woman has sent a message
that the terms "terror" and "terrorism" will be used to stifle
dissent, to silence voices, to let the powers that be trample over
the rights of ordinary [people]. Those of us in the peace movement,
the anti-war movement, the anti-racism movement, the environmental
movement, the movement for a just immigration policy, must continue
our struggles. This is what Lynne Stewart wants us to do. Her
sacrifice will not be in vain if we continue these vital grass roots
movements for a just and humane society. We owe that to our beloved
Lynne Stewart, the people's lawyer. We got your back, Lynne. Aluta continua!
Vinie Burrows, U.N. Rep.,Women's International Democratic Federation;
founding member of the Granny Peace Brigade; and recipient of the
Paul Robeson Award from the Actors Equity Association.
WE MUST START FRESH!!! Imagine a world where Mumia, Peltier, the
Cuban Five, Mehanna and Lynne are among us. It's time to start
unsullied, introduce new and youthful ideas, blood and tools. Knowing
what I know about Lynne there will be a surge in jailhouse lawyers,
prison reform, anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist and anti-fascist
revolutionaries. One of my catchphrases for the last 20 years has
been, "This entire system was never designed to empower us."
Knowing this and being in media, everything I touch is aimed at
exposing, indicting and criticizing this system while creatively
designing a world without fascists, imperialists and dictators masked
in free enterprise. Lynne was not the only one indicted, tried,
convicted and sentenced; we all have been sentenced to a lack of
access to this beautiful bright light that made us better every day.
The fourfold increase in the prison sentence for Lynne Stewart to 10
years is a tragic miscarriage of justice. In sentencing, the court
relied on the guidelines as if they were the Ten Commandments, while
they are discretionary and have proved disastrous nationally to
federal justice, imposing and lengthening sentences that have
multiplied the federal prison population to the level of an
international disgrace. This sentence, if affirmed, will further
distort federal sentencing, diminish the imperative role of federal
trial judges in determining sentences, infect judicial decision
making with the fear of terrorism and inhibit all but the bravest of
the criminal defense bar from zealous advocacy on which the honor and
integrity of the rule of law in [the U.S.] depends.
Ramsey Clark, former U.S. attorney general, human rights lawyer and
Lynne Stewart's co-counsel in trial of Sheik Omar Rahman.
The corporate media does not mention the extraordinary support Lynne
got not just with hundreds showing up today for a three-hour court
hearing, but a long vigil last night, and a long program a week ago
at Judson Memorial Church. People call her "the people's lawyer,"
deeply appreciate her decades of contributions to the movement, and
express their love for her in so many ways. Supporters wrote letters,
contributed money and came to event after event. The love that poured
out for Lynne was truly inspiring. It's what motivates our movement
at its best and shows the kind of person and exemplary leader Lynne
is, in her high level of morality, commitment and ability to unify.
Suzanne Ross, co-chair, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC)
What the corporate media accounts omit is that there were hundreds of
supporters in court today so many that they had to accommodate most
of us in an overflow room on a different floor with a closed-circuit
TV broadcasting the proceedings. We all must denounce this outrage
committed against this wonderful 70-year-old person in fragile
health, and work harder than ever to organize to free her.
Bob Lederer, Justice and Unity Coalition, WBAI (NYC)
We have work to do. We must never give up! Instead we must organize,
organize, organize and resolve to fight now harder than ever! I
completely disagree with the judge and was extremely disappointed
with the resentencing. This is a horrible day for what is left of
this system of justice and is an attack on the legal system as it
sends a clear message that the U.S. is now going after the attorneys.
Everyone should be concerned about this and attorneys everywhere need
to come together and stand up to fight this horrible decision. Lynne
Stewart is a courageous woman and we need more attorneys like her.
Lisa Davis, Take Back WBAI
The full force of the U.S. criminal "justice" system came down on
innocent political prisoner, 30-year veteran human rights attorney
and radical political activist Lynne Stewart. We can only hope that
the winds of change that are stirring the consciousness of millions
today in the context of [U.S.] capitalism in economic and moral
crisis keep the movement for her freedom alive and well. The fight is
not over! What we do now remains critical. Lynne's expected appeal to
the U.S. Supreme Court cannot be written off as absurd and hopeless.
What we do collectively to free her and all political prisoners and
to fight for freedom and justice on every front counts for everything!
Jeff Mackler, West Coast director, Lynne Stewart Defense Committee
The Feds' targeting and extreme abuse of Lynne Stewart has everything
to do with her years of dedicated legal defense work for radical U.S.
political prisoners such as Sekou Odinga and David Gilbert, as well
as for Arabs and Muslims under legal attack. We all need to stand up
for this hero whose life is at risk.
Elspeth Meyer, Resistance in Brooklyn, member of Lynne Stewart
The price of defending terrorists
Former attorney Lynne Stewart faces a steep sentence for violating
security requirements in the case of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.
By Petra Bartosiewicz
July 15, 2010
This week Lynne Stewart, a former attorney who in the tradition of
activist lawyers spent her career defending cases of the indigent and
politically controversial, will learn if she will be sentenced to die
The charges against Stewart are related to a long-ago client, the
infamous "blind sheik," Omar Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian cleric who in
1995 was convicted of "seditious conspiracy" for encouraging his
followers to commit terrorist acts in and around New York City.
Stewart's offense came in 2000, as the case was on appeal. She
violated what were at the time a novel set of security requirements
known as Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs. The measures
included a communications ban on Rahman, which Stewart defied by
issuing a news release to Reuters on the sheik's behalf that urged
his supporters to reconsider their participation in a cease-fire with
the Egyptian government.
As a result, Stewart was disbarred and sentenced to 28 months in
prison. Citing the "deadly serious nature of her terrorist crimes,"
the Justice Department sought a far higher penalty: 15 to 30 years.
The outcome of that effort culminated in November when an appellate
court upheld the verdict against Stewart, revoked her bond and
ordered the original trial judge, U.S. District Judge John G. Koetl,
to reconsider his "breathtakingly low" sentence. Koetl's revised
sentence is expected at a hearing in federal court in New York on Thursday.
Ever since her indictment in 2002, Stewart's case has captured the
attention of defense attorneys and the support of groups such as the
National Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which filed amicus briefs
on her behalf, and George Soros' Open Society Institute, which
donated $20,000 to her defense. Supporters believe the government's
dogged pursuit of Stewart whose legal odyssey has now spanned three
presidents and five attorneys general is meant to have a chilling
effect. The Center for Constitutional Rights said the case represents
"an attack on attorneys who defend controversial figures and an
attempt to deprive these clients of the zealous representation that
may be required."
But Stewart's plight has larger implications for us all: It is a
bellwether of the increasingly stringent secrecy and security
measures imposed in federal courts, particularly in terrorism trials
all part of the systemic erosion of due process that reformers
expected would end with the election of Barack Obama, but which has
been only further institutionalized. Stewart's case has come to
symbolize the increasing difficulty attorneys face in zealously
advocating for politically unpopular clients a necessary component
of due process in an adversary legal system.
Critics say SAMs, which, along with a handful of other secrecy
measures, have been commonly invoked since the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks, can cripple an effective defense and violate a defendant's
right to confront the evidence against him. Defendants with no prior
criminal record are in some cases kept in prolonged solitary
confinement for years before reaching trial. In April, Syed Hashmi, a
U.S. citizen charged with aiding a terrorist (who later turned out to
be a government informant) pleaded guilty on the eve of trial, in
part, his attorney later said, because of his nearly four years of
pretrial solitary confinement.
Meanwhile attorneys are severely limited in the evidence they can
share with outside investigators who are part of the trial team, or
even with their own clients. The measures are largely invoked in the
name of national security with minimal public scrutiny, and include a
near-total ban on information that can be shared with the media,
sometimes encompassing material already in the public sphere.
Nearly anything an attorney says can be put under a microscope.
Stewart's case shows how intrusive the rules allow the government to
be: Her indictment was based on two years of government wiretaps of
attorney/client conversations that usually would have been privileged.
Stewart, who grew close to Rahman during his trial and came to see
him as a freedom fighter, has said she believed the communique she
issued was part of a protected "bubble" within the SAMs. She defends
her actions as an attempt to mitigate the near-total isolation of a
client who had already been sentenced to life in prison, and was cut
off from the world by his blindness and limited to very occasional
visits from his attorneys and a once-weekly 15-minute phone call with his wife.
That Stewart violated the SAMs is not now in question. It is her
misfortune that her pre-Sept. 11 infraction is being judged and
rejudged in a post-Sept. 11 context. Back in 2000, when she conveyed
the sheik's communication, terrorism trials and the enhanced security
measures that accompany them were still a new phenomenon in the
federal courts. Janet Reno, the attorney general under whose watch
Stewart's violation of the SAMs occurred, declined to prosecute.
Stewart's co-counsel in the Rahman case, former U.S. Atty. Gen.
Ramsey Clark, stated in court filings in defense of Stewart that he
repeatedly violated SAMs and the "U.S. has never complained." Among
the infractions were reading newspapers with political content to the
sheik and even, like Stewart, issuing a news release on Rahman's
behalf. But Clark was never prosecuted, perhaps in part because the
communique, which signaled the sheik's initial support for the
cease-fire, was more palatable.
Even former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft who first brought charges
against Stewart, calling her a "terrorist lawyer" has violated gag
orders like those imposed under the SAMs. In one of the earliest
post-Sept. 11 prosecutions (the case of the Detroit sleeper cell)
Ashcroft violated a court-ordered communications ban in the case not
once but twice by holding news conferences that relayed inflammatory
details about the defendants. After nearly being cited for contempt
of court, he got off with a reprimand from the judge.
By seeking what could be tantamount to a death sentence for Stewart,
who is now a 70-year-old grandmother, it seems clear the Justice
Department is intent on making an example of her. This is not just
because she breached the rules but because she has remained largely
unapologetic for her transgressions. Stewart, who over three decades
represented members of the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers
and even said she'd represent Osama bin Laden if given the
opportunity, spoke out immediately after her original sentence was
handed down in 2006. Standing before the courthouse, she told the
media that she could do the 2 1/2 years "standing on my head." When
she was finally ordered to prison in November to begin serving that
sentence, she told Democracy Now, "I'd like to think I wouldn't do
Petra Bartosiewicz is writing a book on terrorism trials in the
United States, "The Best Terrorists We Could Find," to be published next year.