Lynne Stewart Faces Outrageous New Charges

Revolutionary Worker #1223, December 21, 2003, posted at

On November 19, the U.S. Justice Department filed a new "superseding indictment" against attorney Lynne Stewart. Last summer a federal judge had thrown out two charges of "providing material support to terrorism" that Stewart faced as part of the original indictment. The new indictment is an attempt by Ashcroft and the Justice Dept. to make serious felony charges against her "stick."

Stewart is the lawyer for Islamic cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted and sentenced to life for seditious conspiracy in connection with alleged plots in the early 1990s to attack New York landmarks. Prosecutors claimed that the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was part of these plots.

The original charges against her were: conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization, providing material support to a terrorist organization, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, and making false statements. The new indictment replaces the first two charges--those which were thrown out by the judge last summer--with "conspiring to provide and conceal material support to terrorist activity" and "providing and concealing support to terrorist activity." The indictment implies that actual terrorist acts were committed as a result of this alleged activity.

The government continues to base its allegations against Stewart chiefly on conversations that are supposed to be constitutionally protected between an attorney and client. They say Stewart and two Arab men--Mohammed Yousry (Rahman's translator) and Ahmed Abdel Sattar (a paralegal)--violated "special administrative measures" that restrict Rahman's communications with the outside world.

Prosecutors claim that the three helped Rahman pass messages back and forth with his organization, the Islamic Group. Stewart (who does not speak Arabic) is accused of speaking in English to distract prison guards so that Yousry could communicate secretly with Rahman in Arabic. They also claim that Stewart tried to keep secret from the government a public press conference in which she released a statement from Rahman.

The prosecutors used secret surveillance tapes of conversations between her and her client that took place in 2000. The new indictment also contains information the government alleges is from secret telephone taps of conversations during the same time. But it was not until two years later--after 9/11 and the passage of the highly repressive Patriot Act--that the government indicted Stewart.

The government's outrageous indictment of Lynne Stewart is aimed at sending a chilling message to lawyers who might consider representing people accused of terrorism or other political charges. Conviction on any of the charges would be a very dangerous legal precedent and would seriously undermine the rights of lawyers and their clients to consult without government spying and intrusion.

In addition to the superseding indictment, there have been several disturbing rulings in the case. The judge has allowed the Justice Department to do background checks on "persons associated with the defense" and even court personnel. Based on those background checks, the judge said the Justice Department could refuse to allow people to see classified documents that are supposedly part of the pro- secution "evidence" against Stewart. The judge also refused a motion to sever the cases and try the defendants separately. Stewart told the RW that this ruling "allows the government to present what they think is the strongest evidence all in one big fell swoop, even though it may not apply to me at all."

The government's hounding of Stewart occurs in the context of unprecedented attacks on constitutional principles that are supposedly bedrock to the U.S. legal system--including due process, probable cause, right to counsel, and independence of judges.

The government has also launched a dangerous new attack on journalists in relation to the Stewart case. On November 14, Bill Weinberg, editor of WW3 Report,received a letter from the U.S. attorney prosecuting Stewart. It requested Weinberg's "voluntary cooperation" in turning over the complete text of an interview he did with Stewart as well as any notes or other material related to the interview. According to CounterPunch Wire,the letter threatens, "If you do not comply voluntarily, this Office may seek approval from the Attorney General for the issuance of a subpoena to compel you to produce the materials and to testify." According to CounterPunch, Weinberg has refused to cooperate with the "request."

The government's original indictment of Stewart touched off widespread anger and alarm among many--who spoke out against this injustice and in support of Stewart. The new indictment must again be opposed strongly and broadly, as part of a whole movement against the police-state measures coming down on the people.

Lawyers who have the courage to defend those persecuted by the government are precious to the people and the fight for justice. And such lawyers must be defended when they themselves face attacks from the government.

(For more background, see the RW Interview "Lynne Stewart: Lawyer Under Fire" in RW #1162, available online at Legal documents on the case are available at