USA: 40 years of prison for being defense lawyer of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman


The case of Lynne Steward

"I am here not because the government wanted to put me in jail for 40 years, but because I have fought for justice in the United States for 40 years." -Lynne Stewart

The case of Lynne Stewart, a civil rights attorney in the U.S. convicted on four counts of aiding terrorists, is a clear attempt to link the American left wing with terrorism, while continuing to destroy civil liberties and criminalize dissent. Stewart was convicted of relaying a message from her jailed client Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence on terror-related charges, to followers in Egypt through a press release read to Reuters. She faces 40 years in prison. Convicted with Stewart were her co-defendents Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a paralegal who is facing a life sentence, and Mohammad Yousry, the interpreter for Abdel Rahman who faces 20 years. These convictions send a clear message to attorneys in the U.S. that if they defend clients that the U.S. government deems undesirable, that they too can be criminalized for doing their job.

The passage of the Patriot Act has made it easier for the U.S. government to eavesdrop on privileged attorney-client meetings. The Special Administrative Measures (SAMS,) enacted in 1996, were amended in 2001 by Attorney General John Ashcroft, without notice to the public, allowing the Bureau of prisons to conduct audio and video surveillance, violating the right given by the 6th amendment guaranteeing a criminal defendants right to counsel. The evidence used by the prosecution included thousands of pages of Middle Eastern and US press clippings, wiretapped phone calls, intercepted e-mails and secret video and audio recordings of Stewart´s confidential jailhouse meetings with her client. Stewart´s Attorney, Michael Tigar says the conviction is "an attack on the first Amendment right of free speech, free press, and petition and on the right to effective assistance of counsel." The evidence in this case was gathered by wholesale invasion of private conversations, private attorney-client meetings and private faxes, letters and e-mails. I have never seen such an abusive use of governmental power."

The U.S. government is attempting to make an example of Lynne Stewart in order to frighten lawyers away from defending unpopular clients. It is using the "either you are with us or you are with the terrorist" rhetoric of the Bush administration to destroy civil liberties and to scare the country into complicity. The verdict was hailed by Ashcroft´s successor, Alberto Gonzalez who said that the convictions "send a clear, unmistakable message that this department will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist them with their murderous goals." It is apparent that the government wants to stifle dissent by exploiting September 11th and the fears of Americans. It is trying to make an example of Lynne Stewart because of her many years of fighting for justice, and in doing so, it is further eroding the few remaining civil liberties in the U.S.

Julia Daniels, Miami, Florida, USA