[Ppnews] Lynne Stewart The most dangerous woman in America?
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PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Mar 29 12:32:41 EST 2005
March 29, 2005
The most dangerous woman in America?
by sam knight, times online correspondent
Lawyer Lynne Stewart has been found guilty by a jury of five counts of
defrauding the government, conspiracy, and providing material support to
Last Wednesday, during an afternoon of unnerving sleet and rain, I went to
see one of the most dangerous women in America in her offices on Broadway.
"Hello dear," said Lynne Stewart, who is 65 and was wearing a red dress, as
she showed me into the room where she carried out some of the
terrorist-related dealings that have left her facing the rest of her life
Nearly two months ago, <http://www.lynnestewart.org/>Ms Stewart, a lawyer
who has acted for many unpopular causes over the last 30 years, was found
guilty by a New York jury of five counts of defrauding the government,
conspiracy, and providing material support to terrorism. Ms Stewart will be
sentenced on July 15 and could face up to 30 years in prison. "It's mind
boggling," she says.
Ms Stewart's story, which has split America's post-Patriot Act legal
community, goes something like this: as the court-appointed lawyer for
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omar_Abdel-Rahman>Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a
blind Egyptian cleric convicted in 1995 for his part of a conspiracy to
blow up the World Trade Center and a series of offices and tunnels in New
York, Ms Stewart was one of the only people allowed to visit the Sheikh in
Because the Sheikh retains enormous support among his followers in
Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya or "The Islamic Group", one of Egypt's most violent
extremist organizations, strict rules limit his contact with the outside
world. These rules, drawn up by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, are known as
Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs and, as the Sheikh's attorney, Ms
Stewart agreed to obey them.
But then, in May 2000, she broke them. Ms Stewart called a Reuters
journalist in Egypt to release a letter from the Sheikh, which said he was
withdrawing his personal support for a ceasefire that The Islamic Group had
signed with the Egyptian Government in 1997. When asked why she did it, Ms
Stewart has argued that keeping the Sheikh visible and politically active
was part of a long-term plan to have him returned to Egypt to serve his
Within days, the Sheikh's withdrawal had been picked up by CNN and
Al-Jazeera, a couple of wire services and Al Hayat, the London-based Arabic
newspaper, but then the story died down. The ceasefire remained intact.
A month after the news stories, Ms Stewart received a phone call from the
Justice Department, who told her off for breaking the rules and refused to
let her see the Sheikh. Then, after re-signing a modified set of SAMs in
October 2001, Ms Stewart was allowed to resume her visits.
"In my mind it was resolved at that point," said Ms Stewart. "It was like
an immediate reaction and then it was a 'Oh, this is not going to be a big
deal after all, if they're saying you can go back if you just sign on
again.' So then, of course, in 2002, to be arrested for it was quite a shock."
Ms Stewart, along with her translator and one of the Sheikh's followers who
had visited the prison with them, was arrested on the morning of
9 2002. FBI agents spent the day searching her house and offices and
Attorney General John Ashcroft flew to New York, first to announce the
capture of the Sheikh's "associates" and then to appear on the David
"It was a little bizarre," said Ms Stewart, of the moment when she realised
what she had been charged with and the penalties she faced. "I thought
the Government's run out of gas. They've got all this terrific law and
they've got nothing to show for it."
The first indictment against Ms Stewart was thrown out by a judge for being
too vague but, at
second attempt, she and her colleagues were charged and her trial started
in May 2004. Ms Stewart tried to have her case heard separately - mainly
because one of her co-defendants, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, was one of the
Sheikh's most fervent supporters in the US - but her motion was denied.
Jury selection started the day that the 9/11 Commission was in town, and
for the next seven months, a wide range of evidence was introduced to the
trial, including a lengthy, eyewitness account of the 1997 Luxor tourist
massacre, carried out by The Islamic Group, and an Osama Bin Laden tape
which was played three days before the third anniversary of 9/11. The USS
Cole bombing of October 2000 was also described. In the prosecutors'
summations, there were more than fifty references to killing Jews, because
Mr Sattar had once advocated it in a piece of propaganda for The Islamic
After three weeks of deliberations, all the defendants were found guilty on
all charges. "The verdict was not unlike being hit by a truck," said Ms
Her case is not simple. She is certainly not innocent - and in the
9/11-world her actions look more than reckless - but how guilty is she? As
guilty as Timothy McVeigh, say, or Richard Reid, the shoe bomber? Or Ramzi
Yousef, who carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing? Or any of the
15 or so others who have been convicted of terrorism charges in the
<http://cfrterrorism.org/responses/civilian.html>US courts over the last
Legal experts are divided. While acknowledging that Ms Stewart's situation
was "heart-wrenching", Steven Lubet, a professor of law who runs the
advocacy program at Northwestern University, says: "There's like a brick
wall between what she was convicted of and lawyer's advocacy. I mean, she
became a facilitator of her client's political objectives and there's
nothing about being a lawyer that requires that or calls for that."
Others see Ms Stewart's case as proof of a <http://www.usdoj.gov/>Bush
Administration Justice Department anxious to secure convictions on
terrorism charges wherever they can, and to intimidate lawyers from
representing alleged terrorists.
David Cole, a professor of law at Georgetown University and one of the
country's leading civil rights lawyers, has argued consistently that Ms
Stewart broke her contractual obligation to obey the SAMs, rather than any
laws. To get around this, the Government charged her with perjury (alleging
she never intended to obey the rules) and providing support to terrorism,
"both very hard claims", in Cole's words.
"And then they tried the case in the most prejudicial way possible,"
continued Professor Cole. "You expect a jury sitting a mile from Ground
Zero to carefully parse the evidence and work out exactly what she is
actually charged with?"
In the face of all this, Ms Stewart was surprisingly perky last week. But
just as her case has raised wider questions about the legal representation
of terrorists in America, so you get the feeling it has shaken more than
one part of Lynne Stewart, not least Lynne Stewart the lawyer.
Ms Stewart has always believed in the jury system. In 1986 she managed to
persuade a jury that a young black man who shot a white policeman did so in
self-defence because of the systematic violence that his community had
But now, feeling that her own jury were unable to shake off the fears
induced by "four years of unremitting orange alerts and a new Bin Laden
tape unearthed, etcetera, etcetera," she says, "I am struggling with that
underlying belief that is really the bedrock of my whole ability to practice."
There is not much she can do these days, except give interviews, make
appearances at rallies (last weekend she went on an anti-war march in New
York) and appeal to supporters and fellow lawyers to write to her judge and
request a light sentence. She blames her down moments on the new drugs she
is taking for her high blood pressure.
Ms Stewart repeated herself only once during our conversation. It was
towards the end, just after we had discussed her preparations for jail and
there was a pause. "Nothing happened," she said, just drifting for a
moment, "nothing happened."
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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