News Hits has a new hero. Her name is Lynne Stewart, and, according to Attorney General John Ashcroft, she is a dangerous enemy of the state. Of course, in Ashcroft’s America, everyone who doesn’t automatically click heels and shout sieg heil upon command is an enemy. But Stewart is in a league all her own.
In her 60s, with seven grandchildren and the face of a slightly mischievous cherub, Stewart doesn’t appear to be much of a threat. But she is. The question is: To whom?
After listening to her speak to a group of about 60 students, activists, lawyers and supporters at the University of Detroit Mercy Law School on Saturday, we think the answer is pretty clear: It’s the forces of oppression that need to worry, because they took on the wrong grandma when they slapped the label of terrorist fellow traveler on this New York attorney.
Stewart is a criminal defense lawyer — a very good one, with a penchant for taking on high-profile clients whose alleged crimes are linked to their radical left-wing politics. During the course of her legal career, the one-time public school librarian has represented clients who belonged to such groups as the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground.
Her most notorious client — and the reason she herself is facing the possibility of imprisonment — is Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric convicted in 1995 of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks such as the George Washington Bridge.
Stewart, convinced of the sheik’s innocence, wept in court when the guilty verdict was handed down. Harsh restrictions limiting his ability to communicate with the outside world were imposed upon him. Stewart continued to meet with her client at the federal penitentiary in Minnesota where he was locked away, prohibited from receiving visits from anyone else but blood relatives, all of whom reside in his native Egypt and are unable to obtain visas to enter the United States
On April 9, 2002, Stewart was arrested at her Brooklyn home and charged with providing material support for terrorism and violating so-called Special Administrative Measures imposed by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and related to the gag order on the sheik.
The heart of the case against Stewart centers on her decision to issue a press release to the media announcing the cleric’s message to followers in Egypt that he no longer supported a cease-fire between that government and his group known simply as the Islamic Organization.
On the day of Stewart’s arrest, Ashcroft chose the weighty forum of “The Late Show With David Letterman” to discuss the case. “We simply aren’t going to allow people who are convicted of terrorism to continue to achieve terrorist objectives by sending messages and directing the activity from their prison,” our nation’s top law-enforcement officer told the comedian.
In court filings, government prosecutors described Stewart as “an indispensable and active facilitator of the terrorist communication network. …”
In July, the most serious charges against her — that she conspired with terrorists — were dismissed when a federal judge ruled that the law upon which they were based was unconstitutionally vague.
But she could still end up in prison for as long as 10 years if convicted of remaining charges that she made false statements and conspired to defraud the government by reneging on a signed agreement not to disclose statements from the sheik.
The way Stewart sees it, her prosecution is an attempt to scare other attorneys away from taking on clients accused of terrorism. Which is why she has decided to make her fight public and high-profile. Since her arrest, she has been touring the country, brining her message to any group interested in hearing it.
What impressed us most was the serenity and good humor she shows in the face of having the entire weight of the U.S. government bearing down on her in an attempt to deprive her of both her freedom and the ability to practice the profession she so clearly loves. It is the attitude of someone who relishes a righteous fight, and who believes that the causes she admires are more important that what happens to her individually.
During her talk, she noted that during a recent interview she was asked if the “message of her case was that what has happened to her can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.” That’s only part of it, she responded. But what people should fear even more than that, if the government is successful in scaring good attorneys away from controversial cases, is that when the police state does nab you, “there will be no lawyers worth calling.”
To find out more about her case, and how to assist in her defense, go to www.lynnestewart.org.
And then mail a few naked pictures of the “Justice” statue to Ashcroft, just to let the bastard know he’s not getting us down.Send comments to [email protected]