FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ashcroft Loses Again in Lynne Stewart Case

by ELAINE CASSEL

John Ashcroft must be tearing out his primly coiffed hair about now. On July 21, Federal District Judge John G. Koeltl (Southern District of New York) dismissed the terrorist charges against New York attorney Lynne Stewart. In a 77-page opinion, Judge Koeltl agreed with famed civil rights attorney Michael Tigar’s argument that the anti-terrorist act under which she was charged was overly vague as applied to attorney speech and conduct related to client representation.

Stewart had been charged with aiding and abetting the terrorist activities of Sheikh Abdel Rahman, whom she, as court-appointed attorney, defended in connection with the 1993 bombings of the World Trade Center. After visiting her client in prison, Stewart answered a press question about Rahman’s support of a cease-fire of then ongoing terrorist activities, including the bombings of U.S. embassies. She said that he did not support a cease-fire. That statement was the basis of one of the charges that could have put her away for 15 years (she faced 40 years if convicted of all four charges). The other had to do with her supposedly being a “mouthpiece” to pass on messages from Rahman to the organization he was tied to, the Islamic Group, which is on the government’s list of terrorist organizations.

Judge Koeltl said that the provision in the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act that forbids providing communication methods and personnel to a terrorist organization did not give an attorney notice that communicating with our about his or her client could amount to conspiring to engage in terrorism.

“The Government accuses Stewart of providing personnel, including herself, to [the Islamic Group],” Koeltl said. “In so doing, however, the Government fails to explain how a lawyer, acting as an agent of her client, an alleged leader of an FTO [foreign terrorist organization], could avoid being subject to the criminal prosecution as a ‘quasi-employee’ allegedly covered by the statute.”

Attorney General John Ashcroft, in his ongoing war on defense attorneys, would have liked to be able to charge attorneys who represent alleged terrorism suspects with being terrorists themselves. According to his losing line of reasoning, Stewart’s providing her legal services to a terrorist and using the phone to communicate with him was a violation of the law that presaged loss of liberties under the USA Patriot Act (as with the Patriot Act, few people took notice of the Anti-Terrorism Act when passed).

Koeltl refused to find the material support for terrorism statute unconstitutionally overbroad, saying its prohibitions are content-neutral and its purposes are “aimed not at speech but at conduct.” He let stand charges that Stewart violated the conditions imposed upon her when she visited Rahman in his prison hospital cell. It was there that she is alleged to have used subterfuge so that her client could pass messages to the Islamic Group through an interpreter whom Stewart brought with her to translate her conversations with Rahman (Stewart does not speak Arabic).

Ashcroft signed an executive order giving him the power to order the Bureau of Prisons to snoop in on certain attorney-client conversations. Stewart was the first, and to date only, defense attorney charged with violating the conditions imposed on attorney-client communications. Known as SAMs (Special Administrative Measures), the conditions are arbitrarily imposed at the whim of the Attorney General. The defense lawyer only knows that he or she may be bugged while engaging in what used to be thought of as sacrosanct communication afforded the highest and oldest privilege under the law–the attorney client privilege. Stewart did not know she was under surveillance until she was indicted.

While not admitting that she violated the SAMs, Tigar argued that Stewart was forced to sign what the government put before her in order to fulfill her duty to her client. A strong argument could be made that the purpose of SAMs are to chill attorney-client conduct related to certain defendants. Under these onerous conditions an attorney has two choices: sign the SAM and see the client, or not-sign and abrogate their legal duty to the client. It is troubling that Judge Koeltl let these charges stand. A government win on this will strike a severe blow to defense attorneys. For while few defense attorneys may be charged as terrorists, any attorney representing anyone upon whom Ashcroft wants to conduct surveillance (or even the attorney herself) could be the target of a SAM.

The net result of Judge Koeltl’s decision is that while Stewart is not facing terrorist charges, she is being charged for other crimes arising out of the same acts–speaking to and about her client. The heart of the case against Stewart remains what it always has been–defending the 6th amendment rights of defendants to have a meaningful defense (hard to do with the government is listening to your conversations with your client) and the right of attorneys to diligently and zealously represent their clients, as lawyer conduct codes demand.

Stewart and Tigar were guests on the July 23 edition of Democracy Now, the Pacifica Radio Network show hosted by Amy Goodman. Tigar said that Judge Koeltl’s opinion protects not only lawyers from being charged as terrorists, but ordinary citizens from being prosecuted for speaking out against events such as aspects of the war on terror and the war in Iraq.

Not willing to call it quits just yet, prosecutors said they were exploring possibilities of an appeal. “We continue to believe that the statute prohibiting material support of terrorism is constitutional, and we are reviewing our appellate options,” said a spokesman for James B. Comey, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. She can be reached at: ecassel1@cox.net

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail