FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Lynne Stewart’s Big Win

 

Tuesday, July 22, marked a big victory against the Bush/Ashcroft assault on civil liberties, with a federal judge in Manhattan tossing out the terrorism charges the Justice Department had so theatrically leveled against activist attorney Lynne Stewart back in 2002.

Stewart, an attorney who has made a name for herself defending prominent leftists including black nationalists and members of organizations like the Weather Underground, was arrested at her home and charged with helping her client, jailed terrorist bomber Sheik Abdel Rahman, pass messages to his terrorist supporters, known as the Islamist Group, in Egypt. The charges were based upon anti-terrorism laws passed hastily by congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Attorney General John Ashcroft (after first notifying all the city’s media outlets so they’d be on hand outside her building), had personally announced the arrest of Stewart, which many activist and civil liberties lawyers saw as a blatant attempt to intimidate lawyers from defending anti-government clients being prosecuted under the so-called USA PATRIOT ACT. Ashcroft had hailed the arrest of Stewart as the first prosecution based upon a new federal policy permitting prison authorities to secretly monitor and tape formerly privileged jailhouse conversations between inmates and their attorneys.

Stewart and her attorney, Michael E. Tigar, had argued that the statutes being used against her were unconstitutionally vague and a violation of both the first amendment and the long-established fundamental right of confidentiality between attorney and client–one of the basic elements underpinning a free and fair judicial system.

Indeed, at one early hearing in the case, the government refused to promise, as requested by Tiger, not to monitor his conversations with his own client, Stewart. At the time, Stewart said she had been forced to communicate with her attorney “on the street, at public places like McDonalds, or on payphones.”

The government charged that Stewart, who has to communicate with Sheik Rahman through an interpreter, had deliberately diverted the attention of prison guards while Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for plotting to blow up New York landmarks, passed a message to his interpreter telling his minions in Egypt that they should cease adhering to a cease-fire in their fundamentalist terror attacks in that country. The government also alleges that Stewart, who had signed an agreement in 2000 with prison authorities agreeing not to pass information on from Rahman, had violated her agreement.

Stewart denies that she passed such information, and argues that her conversations with her client were protected.

The charges against her which have now been lifted, had carried a possible 15-year sentence.

Several lesser charges remain, including making false statements and conspiring to defraud the government. Meanwhile, James B. Comey, the U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case, says he is looking into whether to appeal the district court’s decision.

Federal prosecutors, in their complaint against Stewart, had called her “an indispensable and active facilitator of the terrorist communication network” and compared her to a bank robbery accomplice whose job it was to distract security guards while the actual robbers took the money.

Stewart called the rejected charges, “so broad that you can sweep anybody under its rug.” She asked, rhetorically, how an attorney could be anything but a “conduit of communication” if you were “taking calls from your client.”

Her attorney, Tigar, said he hoped to get the other charges against Stewart lifted by the court after further facts were presented in continuing pretrial hearings.

An obviously relieved Stewart said that the lifting of the anti-terrorism charges by the judge “augurs well for things returning to a normalcy where the judges and courts are able to take a good look at what the government is doing, and consider what it’s doing and stand up for the judicial branch and for justice.”

While Stewart is entitled to celebrate the decision, her statement may be an overly optimistic view of the current state of affairs. Significantly, her case is being overseen by a jurist, Federal District Judge John G. Koeltl , who was a 1994 Clinton appointee to the bench.

The Bush administration, for three years now, has been nominating judges to the federal bench who have a much more pinched and antagonistic view towards constitutional protections and lawyer-client privilege.

As the percentage of judges appointed by the Bush administration to all levels of the federal judiciary, from district court to the Supreme Court, rises, the odds of cases like Stewart’s being tossed out on summarily on constitutional grounds will plummet.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html

 

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail