Stewart was released from prison on December 31, 2013 on a compassionate release order
Veteran New York criminal defense attorney Lynne Stewart was sentenced to 28 months in prison in the Southern District of New York for “providing material support to the Gama’a Islamiya”, which is on the Bush administration’s list of terrorist organizations. Stewart is counsel for Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the “blind Sheik.” In 1995, Rahman was convicted of conspiracy to bomb New York City landmarks.
The indictment alleges that Stewart and three others (one of whom is her interpreter) facilitated communication between leaders of the Gama’a Islamiya and the imprisoned sheik. The conditions of Rahman’s incarceration severely restrict his communication with the outside world, as well as with his lawyer. Violation of the regulations that restrict that communication, called the Special Administrative Measures, is the gravamen of the charged offenses.
“Whatever I did, I did as a lawyer. It’s nothing different than I have done for 20 years,” she told me. She believes that the indictment is fueled by the administration’s desire to demonstrate to a nervous public that it is winning the war on terrorism more than by legitimate law enforcement considerations. Attorney General John Ashcroft himself gave a press conference following her arraignment and later appeared on late-night television to talk about the case.
The violation of the Special Administrative Measures occurred in 2000. Stewart says she got a call from a U.S. attorney reprimanding her for telling a reporter for the Reuters news agency that the sheik was withdrawing his support from a cease-fire that had been effect in Egypt since 1988. Following the reprimand, the government began electronically monitoring Stewart’s prison visits with her client.
Because the case involves both First Amendment speech and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, it raises the same specter of civil liberties retreat as does the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act.
Stewart believes that her own radical politics and her representation of radical clients over the past 20 years make her a seemingly easy mark for indictment, especially when tied into the present preoccupation with terrorism. Her job, Stewart says, is “to give a voice to the voiceless.” In a day and age when the administration is urging indefinite and incommunicado detention for even American citizens, her principles cannot be faulted by students of the Sixth Amendment.
Support page: lynnestewart.org