Mobilize to Defeat the Witchhunt!Lynne Stewart Conviction Is Legal Terror
Basic Democratic Rights Under Attack
Lynne Stewart, flanked by her husband Ralph Poynter, speaks to the press after frame-up conviction,
10 February 2005. (Photo: Sue Kellogg)
The following leaflet was issued by the Internationalist Group on 16 February 2005:
The conviction of radical civil liberties lawyer Lynne Stewart along with court interpreter Mohammed Yousry and paralegal Ahmed Sattar is a major blow against fundamental democratic rights in the United States. On February 10, after a trial that lasted almost seven months and jury deliberations of almost two weeks, a verdict was read out declaring Stewart, Yousry and Sattar guilty on all counts of the government’s frame-up indictment. Stewart, who is 65, could spend the rest of her life behind bars, facing up to 30 years in jail for this bogus conviction. The government’s intimidation tactics, which included repeatedly flashing the image of Osama bin Laden on a screen in the courtroom, evidently worked on the jury. Following the verdict, Stewart walked out of the courthouse to face a phalanx of reporters, photographers and TV cameras where she courageously vowed to “fight on. I’m not giving up,” she promised. “I know I committed no crime. I know what I did was right.” “Our civil liberties are eroded,” she said, adding, “I hope this will be a wake-up call to all the citizens of this country, that you can’t lock up the lawyers.” As Stewart and her husband Ralph Poynter walked through the media gauntlet, supporters of the Internationalist Group led chants calling to “Free Lynne Stewart” and “The trial was a travesty, No police state!”
Stewart’s original indictment was announced on prime time TV by then attorney general John Ashcroft. Following the verdict, his successor, Alberto Gonzales, the former White House counsel who endorsed use of torture against prisoners in Guantánamo and Iraq, declared that the verdicts send a message “that this department will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist them.” The message was then trumpeted by the capitalist media. The next morning, the jingoistic New York Post splashed Stewart’s photo on the front page with the one-word headline “TRAITOR” and the kicker, “Terror Lawyer Lynne Guilty.” The Daily News headlined “Terror Helper.” The right-wing Sun and New York Times voiced the same theme in more staid language. The “embedded” bourgeois press marched in lockstep just as they did during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and in the anti-Soviet hysteria around the McCarthy-era trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were tried in the same courtroom. This is no accident, for the Stewart trial and conviction are a strategic element of the government’s wholesale assault on democratic rights as it seeks to regiment the population for Washington’s terrorist “war on terror” whose aim is to nail down U.S. imperialist world domination.
In its first attempt, in March 2002, the U.S. government accused the defendants of aiding terrorism. When Judge John Koeltl threw out the charges as unconstitutionally vague, the government came back with a “superseding indictment” in which it accused the three of “conspiracy” to aid terrorism, murder, kidnapping. For the government, draconian conspiracy laws have the inestimable advantage that they don’t have show proof of defendants actually doing something, only that they “conspired” to do it. Many of these laws were originally enacted on the pretext of going after drug trafficking “kingpins” and then widely used against labor leaders, radicals and others the government has targeted for repression. The latest batch of these laws, enacted under the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton and then expanded under Republican George W. Bush, purportedly go after “terrorists.” In fact, they are being used to jail lawyers, immigrants and anyone else who fits the feds’ “profile” of the “enemy within,” while not one person has been charged in connection with the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.
The first “amended” charge against the three defendants is for “conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government” to violate “Special Administrative Measures” (SAMs) imposed since 1997 by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons on the jailed sheik Abdel Rahman, whose court-appointed lawyer was Lynne Stewart. Using a Clinton-era “anti-terrorist” law, the government declares it has the right to simply decree a gag order on any prisoner it deems a threat to national security, putting them in solitary confinement, cutting off all contact with the press or any other “special measure” it deems appropriate. The evidence against Stewart and her associates came principally from secret wiretaps on their phones and secret television surveillance of Stewart and Yousry’s prison meetings with Rahman. Under U.S. law, lawyer-client communications are supposed to be confidential, and the government is not allowed to listen in. However, in the wake of the passage of the post-9/11 “U.S.A. PATRIOT Act,” Attorney General Ashcroft issued an order that henceforth the government had unlimited discretion to eavesdrop on confidential attorney-client conversations, with no judicial oversight, of anyone they have in custody.
Judge Koeltl ruled that the government had a right to impose the SAMs, and they were thus not challenged by the defense in the court hearings before the jury. Yet defenders of democratic rights must vigorously oppose and denounce these police-state measures. This is the domestic equivalent of the government’s assertion that it has the right to hold prisoners incommunicado indefinitely, without right to a lawyer, at the Guantánamo Bay naval base it stole from Cuba. It is part and parcel of the Bush administration’s claim that in conditions of wartime, the president under his authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces has an unlimited right to set aside any and all laws that he finds inconvenient for the prosecution of war. Hence, the government’s claim that it is not bound by Geneva Conventions against torture or maltreatment of prisoners of war. The conviction of Lynne Stewart and the other defendants on this charge of “conspiracy to defraud” for allegedly violating a blatantly unconstitutional government order is a measure of how far the U.S. has gone down the road toward a police state. Her supposed “crime” was to divulge a communiqué by Sheik Rahman. In contrast, in 1920 Socialist leader Eugene Debs ran for president from jail, having been locked up for his opposition to that imperialist war. Today, he would have been silenced by a “SAM.”
The charges against Stewart, Yousry and Sattar of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and instigate violence were all cooked up on the basis of the flimsiest “evidence.” The Rahman statement to the press withdrew the sheik’s endorsement of a “ceasefire” agreement between his Islamic fundamentalist supporters and the Egyptian government, which had several hundred of them in prison. For the government, this amounted to a call for “violence” even though, in fact, the “ceasefire” was never rescinded. The claim that this amounted to a conspiracy to commit murder was based on the indiscriminate terrorist attack by Islamists on European tourists in Luxor, Egypt, which took place two years before any of the actions alleged by the government against the defendants. A fatwa (religious decree), issued by Sattar in the sheik’s name in the wake of the September 2000 provocation by Ariel Sharon at the Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem, was taken by the government as supposed proof that defendants were calling to “kill Jews everywhere.” In fact, no evidence was presented that anyone was ever killed or harmed on the basis of the bogus “fatwa” – that’s the beauty of “conspiracy” laws for a government bent on repression. In contrast, following Sharon’s provocation hundreds of defenseless Palestinians, many of them young children, were gunned down by Israeli soldiers. Yet the wanton slaughter of Palestinians is not a crime in the eyes of the Zionists’ imperialist godfathers in Washington.
The government’s case was crude, and its courtroom tactics even cruder. Projecting the larger than life-size image of Osama bin Laden on a giant screen in the courtroom on more than one occasion, they were sending the “message” to the jury that the defendants were “enemies,” even “traitors,” and the judge’s admonitions that they were not being tried for any connection with bin Laden or 9/11 had no effect in disguising this blatant appeal. In his summary, the craven government prosecutor repeated, over and over, at least 50 times in succession, that the defendants allegedly wanted to “kill Jews wherever they are,” “kill Jewish people,” “murder Jews,” etc. Moreover, this came in the government’s “rebuttal” to the defense summation, to which the defense had no right to reply. Deliberately seeking to whip up an “anti-terrorist” frenzy, the prosecution’s case against Stewart is an ominous threat to any lawyers who dare to defend those accused of aiding “terrorism,” such as the thousands of immigrants (mainly of Near Eastern and South Asian origin) who were indiscriminately rounded up and jailed, and in many cases viciously abused, without ever being granted a right to a lawyer (and even refusing to give out the names of those it had picked up in its dragnet).
The prosecution, the rigged trial and outrageous verdict against Stewart, Yousry and Sattar will have more than a “chilling” effect on civil liberties in the United States. It effectively eliminates the Sixth Amendment constitutional right to an attorney, as the National Lawyer’s Guild underlined in condemning the verdict and calling for a “National Day of Outrage” over this atrocity. Stewart’s attorney, Michael Tigar, vowed to vigorously appeal the verdict and said he was confident it would be overturned. Yet the guilty verdict (against all the defendants, on all counts) shocked many in the courtroom, who may have had illusions that justice would be done. In the current climate, with the present courts (including the Supreme Court that in December 2000 installed George W. Bush as president and commander in chief of U.S. imperialism by fiat), there can be no confidence that the outcome will be overturned. In fact, the verdicts show once again that there is no justice for working people, immigrants, the poor and oppressed in the capitalist courts.
The trial of Lynne Stewart comes amid a growing climate of intimidation. Since the election of George Bush last November, two leading journalists have been ousted even though the substance of their reports has never been disproved: CBS-TV news anchor (and anti-Soviet Cold Warrior) Dan Rather, for broadcasting information about how Bush evaded National Guard duty during the Vietnam War; and more recently the CNN news director, for stating the obvious fact that more than a dozen newsmen had been shot down in Iraq by U.S. forces. Now appeals courts have decreed that prominent journalists are to be jailed for refusing to reveal their sources. Even though most states have laws protecting journalists’ right to maintain the confidentiality of their informants, in order to protect press freedom, the courts have ruled that this right is trumped by … “national security,” just as the government claims it can throw lawyer-client confidentiality out the window in the name of fighting “terrorism.” Yet by far the biggest terrorist of them all is the United States government, and the purpose of these prosecutions is precisely to terrorize the American population.
This is part of the imperialist war “at home,” which is at bottom a capitalist war against working people and the oppressed. The legal “injustice system” only serves to carry out this onslaught, as it has done in every imperialist war, from locking up reds in World War I, to locking up Japanese Americans and Trotskyists during World War II, and locking up immigrants in the current war. The response must be to mobilize independently of the capitalist politicians, who are all responsible for the wave of repression, as the Democrats try to “out-Bush Bush” in their calls for “anti-terror” repression on the docks, threats against North Korea, and the like. It must be clearly stated that the bourgeois state is not “neutral” nor can it be pressured into doing justice; on the contrary, with its courts, cops and armed forces, it is the armed fist of the capitalist class. The Internationalist Group, which has been active in supporting the defense, says that Lynne Stewart should be honored for her courageous battle to uphold democratic rights. We say that the fight against the frame-up prosecution and conviction of her and her co-defendants must be waged by mobilizing the class power of the international working class against the imperialist war and the domestic repression that is its internal front.
Free Lynne Stewart! Defeat the Witchhunt! No Police State! ■
To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org