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Lynne Stewart, Government Conspiracy Against All Our Rights

The verdict is a sign of these deeply reactionary times, and it is important to soberly assess this.
Government Conspiracy Against All Our Rights


Lynne Stewart, Mohamed Yousry, Ahmed Abdel Sattar Convicted

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 842, 18 February 2005.

The government’s victory in the Lynne Stewart trial is, as Stewart herself told supporters outside New York City’s federal courthouse on February 10, “a wakeup call? and “the beginning of a longer struggle.? All three defendants—leftist attorney Lynne Stewart, her translator Mohamed Yousry and paralegal Ahmed Abdel Sattar—were convicted on all counts in a frame-up trial. Stewart and Yousry face decades behind bars on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism and conspiring to defraud the U.S. government. Abdel Sattar could face life imprisonment on the more serious charge of conspiracy to “kill and kidnap persons in a foreign country.? The defendants plan to appeal.

Even the government admitted that not a single act of violence arose from this alleged terror conspiracy. All Lynne Stewart did was publicize a statement by her client, the blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman—who is imprisoned for life on conspiracy charges stemming from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing—against a cease-fire between the Islamic Group and the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt. The political implications of this conviction threaten all of us. The verdict gives the government a green light to prosecute lawyers for the alleged crimes of their clients, thereby shooting the basic right to counsel to hell. As a February 10 statement by the National Lawyers Guild protesting the conviction states, “The government is hoping that lawyers will now think twice before representing clients with unpopular views or related to unpopular causes.?

Of what use to a defendant is an intimidated lawyer who kowtows to the state? And if nobody can get a lawyer to zealously defend him from prosecution, then fundamental liberties, from the right to a trial and an attorney, to even the right of free speech and assembly, are choked. In the racist, anti-immigrant post-September 11 climate, Mohamed Yousry and Abdel Sattar, both American citizens, were pre-judged guilty by reason of being Arab.

The world’s biggest terrorist is the U.S. government, and its Democratic and Republican party rulers and spy agencies are the ones who should be tried by their victims as the animators and co-conspirators of the Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin ilk. They armed, financed and trained these holy warriors to kill Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan and helped supply competing factions, including Osama bin Laden’s “training camps? (now dubbed “terrorist universities? by Washington), with war matériel. When Soviet president Gorbachev sold out to the West and withdrew the Red Army from Afghanistan in 1989, the U.S. stopped pumping billions to their “freedom fighters,? who then turned on their “infidel? creator. A government agent was at the center of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and bin Laden was behind the destruction of the Twin Towers in the criminal attack that killed thousands on September 11, 2001, when the Pentagon was also hit. The U.S. government prosecuted Sheik Abdel Rahman in part to cover its own bloody tracks.

After September 11, George Bush told the world, “You’re either with us or with the terrorists? in an unlimited “war on terror? against innumerable unnamed enemies with imaginary weapons of mass destruction allegedly located among all too real civilian populations. As a government-appointed attorney for an Islamic fundamentalist cleric, Lynne Stewart was a prime target on the domestic front of the “war on terror.? But let’s be clear: black people and the working class are the ultimate target. Why? Because the politically conscious mobilization of workers and black people, in a class-divided society where the color line and the legacy of slavery prop up capitalist rule, is the combination to unlock the gate to revolutionary social change and progress.

The Spartacist League and the Partisan Defense Committee, a legal and social defense organization associated with the SL, seek to organize the tremendous social power of the working class to fight in defense of all victims of capitalist injustice, and in so doing, advance the struggle for a society where those who labor rule. Just as the prosecution of Lynne Stewart has ominous implications, so too does powerful protest against it have broader portent. The American labor movement has every interest in fighting against this conviction. All defenders of democratic rights and civil liberties should be mobilized behind the power of the multiracial working class. Put otherwise, her fight is ours and yours.

Mr. Gonzales’s Gulag

The torture scandals in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, with photographic evidence of “liberation? American-style, horrified the world. Death row political prisoner and award-winning journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal wrote: “The horrific treatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib has its dark precedents in the prisons and police stations across America.? Indeed, the convicted torturer, Sergeant Graner, was a guard at SCI-Greene where Mumia, a former Black Panther and MOVE supporter, is jailed for a crime he did not commit. The conviction of Lynne Stewart, if not fought and overturned, promises more Abu Ghraibs here and abroad.

In the Lynne Stewart trial, the prosecutors said repeatedly that they thought they had “locked up? Abdel Rahman and “thrown away the key.? They accused Lynne Stewart of committing a “jailbreak? by communicating her client’s views to Reuters news service. That this open communication of one man’s opinion to one of the most established news agencies on the planet is construed as a “conspiracy? to provide “material support to terrorism? gives one a measure of how deep down in the dungeons the Justice Department seeks to lock up its opponents. We recall Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s early comment when the lid blew off Abu Ghraib: the pictures were illegal, he said. His concern was public exposure of the evidence, not the torture.

In a television and radio interview the morning after the conviction, Lynne Stewart and her attorney Michael Tigar were asked about the violation of privileged attorney-client communication, how Stewart’s meetings with her client were secretly videotaped. They also spoke of the chilling effect of “Special Administrative Measures? (SAMs)—enacted to muzzle Sheik Abdel Rahman—which deprive prisoners of basic rights and privileges, limiting their access to mail, phone calls and even visits by their attorneys. Michael Tigar noted that such measures are now being imposed on lawyers representing detainees to limit their ability to function:

“The only way that we will ever get to the bottom of the American concentration camp abuses at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib is that if the lawyers for these prisoners are permitted to tell their stories to the world. If the government can shut off that communication, which they have attempted to do over and over and over again, these activities will continue in secret, blessed as they are by the highest officials of government in a country which has for the first time in its history given a cabinet job to a fellow who says that the Geneva Convention is obsolete and that the torture memo doesn’t mean anything.?

Democracy Now! Web site (11 February)

The Stewart trial verdict comes in the context of increased attacks by the Bush White House—and the Democrats—on civil liberties. Sitting in power is a dangerously demented regime that wants to brand every protest against its policies de facto “terrorism.? What next? Is publishing a column by Mumia Abu-Jamal—who was framed up effectively as a “terrorist? for his political views—“material support to terrorism?? How about buying his books? What about signing a petition on behalf of Irish nationalist IRA or Basque ETA prisoners?

Historically, conspiracy law (which comes from the Latin conspirare—to breathe together) has been used to nail anyone the government wants to silence yet can’t charge with a single demonstrable criminal act. “To breathe together,? to speak of how to defend oneself against the state and the ruling class is in itself the “crime.? Organizing against slavery was “conspiratorial?; labor unions used to be illegal conspiracies in this country...and might well be judged so again if they don’t get off their knees to fight the union-busting, anti-immigrant “war on terror? and legislation like the USA-Patriot Act. Every right that working people and minorities have has been wrested through struggle, and it’s only through struggle that those gains can be held on to and advanced.

There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts!

The irregularities in this seven-month trial could fill several very large tomes. The judge allowed highly inflammatory and utterly irrelevant “evidence? to be presented by the prosecution. Everyone admitted that the charges had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks. But in the very week of the anniversary, the prosecution was allowed to screen a videotape for the jury of Osama bin Laden speaking. As Lynne Stewart said, “When you put Osama bin Laden in a courtroom and ask the jury to ignore it, that’s asking a lot.? Likewise the kidnappings of foreigners in the Philippines and murder of tourists in Luxor, Egypt were outrageously introduced into court, because these acts were claimed to be the work of people inspired by Sheik Abdel Rahman, yet having nothing at all to do with the defendants!

A suspicious story carrying the distinct whiff of prosecution dirty tricks was aired on ABC TV news, linking the murder of an Egyptian Coptic Christian family in Jersey City to the Lynne Stewart trial. The story was broadcast and Lynne Stewart’s picture was beamed into millions of television sets across the New York metropolitan area, and rebroadcast for days, smearing her and her co-defendants by association with this heinous crime, despite the fact that the Justice Department stated there was no connection between Stewart and the slaying. Although several jurors saw the broadcast or read articles about it, defense motions for a mistrial were denied, and no investigation was launched into the source of this calumny.

The prosecution repeated ad nauseam—literally 55 times in the first two hours of rebuttal against Ahmed Abdel Sattar—that Abdel Sattar (and by implication his co-defendants) conspired to “kill the Jewish people.? Yet those are not Abdel Sattar’s words and they don’t appear in the more than 90,000 wiretaps on his phone, and Abdel Sattar testified that these are not his views. This outrageous pandering to anti-Arab prejudice set the stage for murderous threats against Lynne Stewart issued by the fascistic, racist goons of the Jewish Defense Organization (JDO). On February 8, the JDO taped a threatening flyer to the door of Lynne Stewart’s home at 2 o’clock in the morning. That same flyer, announcing “Operation Crush Terror? was posted around the courthouse. A JDO recorded phone message announced Stewart’s home address and called for her to “be put out of business legally and effectively.? It boasted that the JDO had already spread their message to the jury. The prosecution argued that the JDO death threat was an expression of “free speech.?

Two days later the jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict. But as Stewart said, “Three of the women on the jury wept during the entire rendition of the verdict. Why were they weeping if they thought they had done justice?? One juror was so inaudible when polled as to her agreement with the verdict that the judge made her repeat herself four times. A measure of what a cynical political frame-up this was, is that after winning their conviction, the prosecution did not demand that Lynne Stewart or Mohamed Yousry be remanded to custody. They walked out of the courthouse with the public where they belong.

Lynne Stewart has been disbarred (automatic with a felony conviction) and noted that it is “my greatest sense of loss that I will be cut off from this profession that I love and that I feel that I have served, and I have served people who had no voice.? Yousry, a highly regarded adjunct professor of Near East history at York College, was immediately severed from CUNY by the craven administration upon his arrest in 2002. His prosecution was a particularly vindictive act by the Feds who, prior to his indictment, offered him $1.5 million (plus cost-of-living increases) to fink for the FBI. He turned them down, and as he had nothing to “fink,? this Justice Department-approved translator was convicted of...translating. The government’s damning “evidence? against him was photographs of books stacked floor to ceiling in his home library. Ahmed Abdel Sattar is a supporter of Abdel Rahman and a postal worker who perhaps inflated his importance through phone calls with supporters of the sheik in Egypt and Afghanistan. A huge phone bill is hardly evidence of conspiracy to murder.

We’re Marxists, not naive liberals who place their faith in the capitalist courts. We know dirty tricks and frame-ups are the stock in trade of the “justice? system. There are contradictions between the formal guarantees of freedom and the reality of capitalist state repression. While we strongly believe in the importance of using every legal means available to defend democratic rights, we place all our confidence in the class struggle, not the courts. The courts are not neutral. They are an integral part of the capitalist state, which masks the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with eyewash about equality before the law in a society where those who own the means of production make the laws to rule over those whose labor they exploit.

The verdict is a sign of these deeply reactionary times, and it is important to soberly assess this. But broader social struggle can in itself be a significant turn in the tide. We urge our readers to join protest actions and come to the sentencing hearing on July 15. Send donations to the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee, 350 Broadway, Suite 700, New York, NY 10013. Overturn the convictions! Fight the frame-up!

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