March 2005 Vol 5, No. 3
Targeting Lynne Stewart
By Mumia Abu Jamal
The conviction of civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart and her co-defendants’ translator Mohamed Yousry and paralegal Ahmed Sattar is a triumph of fear over reason. The three legal workers were charged and convicted of aiding and abetting terrorism in connection with their representation of the blind Egyptian sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. When the former attorney general, John Ashcroft, announced the arrest of Stewart he did so on the late night David Letterman talk show—certainly an unprecedented venue for such an announcement. And as it began on TV, so it was often prosecuted with a fearsome visage of Osama Bin Laden beamed to jurors via videotape threatening to attack America on the sheik’s behalf.
Even though the judge dutifully instructed the jury that Osama Bin Laden had nothing to do with the case. How do you wash something like that from the mind after it has been admitted into evidence? Lynne’s husband, activist Ralph Poynter, put the hammer to the nail when he said of the trial “this prosecution doesn’t have a damn thing to do with terrorism. It has to do with politics and putting Lynne Stewart away.” Stewart was really targeted because she ignored unconstitutional rules put in place by the government.
In an interview with Stewart she spoke about what the case was really about:
The justice department decided that things that I did as a lawyer are now to be outlawed, are now to be made into crimes, in order to deter other lawyers from vigorously defending people. What I basically did was, I issued a press release on behalf of my client. They said that this press release was materially aiding a terrorist organization, thus making it impossible for any first amendment right to be protected. And to me the real essence of this work is that we be permitted to defend people such as yourself in these cases, as political people, not just as defendant 10872.
Recently black political prisoner Albert Woodfox of the Angola Three talked about the importance of lawyers in destroying isolation. “I think that this was a pretty strong shot across the bow as they say, you know if you dare put forth an honest attempt to uphold the standards of law in this country we will get you. You know we will destroy you, cause in most cases they are the only voice to the outside world.”
And now the state has prevailed, sending shock waves through the defense bar that already shies away from the kind of cases that have been Stewart’s staple for a generation. She has taken on cases involving members of the Black Panther Party, the Attica Brothers, Puerto Rican independence fighters and since at least 1995 the blind sheik.
In order to put into operation the draconian special measures of the government, the state needs to seed fear into those who are sworn to protect and act as full and vigorous defense lawyers. But the battle isn’t over. Perhaps what has happened has awakened many people in this country who would have preferred to slumber.
Lynne Stewart, paralegal Ahmed Sattar and professional translator Mohamed Yousry plan to stage a vigorous appeal of this outrageous verdict. They will need your support. Now more than ever, it will take work of many to undo John Ashcroft’s revenge.
—Copyright Mumia Abu-Jamal, January 27, 2005