Swans Commentary » swans.com March 22, 2010  



The Lynne Stewart Story


by Martin Murie





(Swans - March 22, 2010)   Several years ago Lynne Stewart and her husband Ralph Pointer joined our antiwar group in Malone, New York. Malone is the county seat of Franklin County, which borders on the north with the Quebec line, one of the gateways to the Adirondack region. We became friends and colleagues with Lynne and Ralph. Whenever they came to the North Country for a few days of freedom from New York City life they joined our antiwar group at Veteran's Park at Elm and Main. We soon learned that Lynne had been granted freedom to pursue her appeal from the most ridiculous charge you could imagine. Here is an excerpt from her November 2009 interview with Amy Goodman on Pacifica's Democracy Now! program.

I represented Sheikh Omar at trial -- that was in 1995 -- along with Ramsey Clark and Abdeen Jabara. I was lead trial counsel. He was convicted in September of '95, sentenced to a life prison plus a hundred years, or some sort -- one of the usual outlandish sentences. We continued, all three of us, to visit him while he was in jail -- he was a political client; that means that he is targeted by the government -- and because it is so important to prisoners to be able to have access to their lawyers.

Sometime in 1998, I think maybe it was, they imposed severe restrictions on him. That is, his ability to communicate with the outside world, to have interviews, to be able to even call his family, was limited by something called special administrative measures. The lawyers were asked to sign on for these special administrative measures and warned that if these measures were not adhered to, they could indeed lose contact with their client -- in other words, be removed from his case.

In 2000, I visited the sheikh, and he asked me to make a press release. This press release had to do with the current status of an organization that at that point was basically defunct, the Gama'a al-Islamiyya. And I agreed to do that. In May of -- maybe it was later than that. Sometime in 2000, I made the press release.

So, at any rate, they made me sign onto the agreement again not to do this. They did not stop me from representing him. I continued to represent him.

And it was only after 9/11, in April of 2002, that John Ashcroft came to New York, announced the indictment of me, my paralegal and the interpreter for the case, on grounds of materially aiding a terrorist organization. One of the footnotes to the case, of course, is that Ashcroft also appeared on nationwide television with Letterman that night ballyhooing the great work of Bush's Justice Department in indicting and making the world safe from terrorism.

The course of the case followed. We tried the case in 2005 to a jury, of course sitting not ten blocks from the World Trade Center, and an anonymous jury, I might add, which I think went a long way to contribute to our convictions. And all three of us were convicted [for issuing the press release]. Since that time, the appeals process has followed. The appeal was argued almost two years ago, and the opinion just came like a -- actually like a thunderclap yesterday [28 months sentence]. And to just put it in perspective, I think, it comes hard on the heels of Holder's announcement that they are bringing the men from Guantánamo to New York to be tried.

Later she learned that authorities had spied on some of her confidential conversations with her client, Sheikh Omar, who was being tried for involvement in the 1993 bombing of the Trade Center. This was in the Clinton years. Clinton's Attorney General, Janet Reno, considered that Lynne's violation of the document she had signed was too trivial for prosecution.

Lynne is now in prison. She is seventy years of age. If the Second Circuit's "suggestion" to the lower court to be much more severe in sentencing a woman who gave material aid and comfort to a convicted terrorist is followed, it would also serve as a warning to trial lawyers who might think twice about defending accused terrorists.

In that same interview with Amy Goodman, Lynne stated clearly that she would do it again. Somehow, word got around that she showed no remorse for her act. Well, how could she show remorse when her presenting the press release was an act of compassion? Lynne's thirty years as a lawyer defending ordinary people who have somehow crossed the line of law is now convicted of ignoring a paragraph of a document that she had signed setting out proper behavior for trial lawyers.

Summing up, the Second Circuit court decision has very cleverly tuned into the supposed fear and anger against "terrorists," domestic or foreign, that has infected our nation since the attacks of 9/11. Needless to say, Lynne's and Ralph's friends are astonished at the acts of the Second Circuit and we are determined to set Lynne free. There is no more shameful example of the extremes to which judges can go to take advantage of the mood that now seems to rule our nation.

Lynne is cheerful and defiant, but a card or letter to her would give her courage to continue on the long road ahead -- to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Lynne's jail address:

Lynne Stewart
150 Park Row
New York, NY 10007
(snail mail only)

Web site: Justice for Lynne Stewart


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published March 22, 2010