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Interview with Lynne Stewart

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  • thekoba@aztec.asu.edu
    ================= Begin forwarded message ================= Dear Kevin, Here s an interesting interview with that lawyer that the Ashcroft indicted for
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2002
      ================= Begin forwarded message =================

      Dear Kevin,

      Here's an interesting interview with that lawyer that
      the Ashcroft indicted for conspiracy with her clients.

      She comes across as being surprisingly ok, given the
      state of the left.




      Monthly Review

      November 2002
      Counter�Intelligent: The Surveillance and Indictment
      of Lynne Stewart
      by Susie Day

      On June 14, 2000, radical attorney Lynne Stewart
      broke a signed agreement with the U.S. Department of
      Justice. She released a press statement to the Reuters
      news service in Cairo on behalf of her imprisoned
      client, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted of
      instigating the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The
      statement said, in part, that the Sheikh, spiritual
      advisor to the fundamentalist Islamic Group [IG],
      wished to call off a cease-fire then observed in Egypt
      by the IG. Following this press release, the Clinton
      Justice Department admonished Stewart for violating
      the Special Administrative Measures [SAMs], which
      prohibited the Sheikh from communicating in any way
      with the outside world. Stewart admitted she had erred
      and signed the SAMs agreement again, assuming her work
      would proceed as usual.

      Indeed, Stewart maintained her routine legal practice
      well into the Bush administration. She worked for the
      Sheikh, leftist political prisoners, a Mafia don, and
      ordinary people of every political stripe. What she
      did not know was that, following her press release for
      the Sheikh, the Justice Department had obtained a
      secret warrant through the Foreign Intelligence
      Surveillance Act [FISA] to monitor her prison visits
      with the Sheikh�and, it now appears, much of her
      practice beyond this case.

      FISA, contrary to its name, is not limited to
      scrutinizing foreign suspects. Used thousands of times
      since its inception in 1978, a FISA warrant is granted
      by one of seven judges, unknown and unaccountable to
      the public. Through it, the government can wiretap,
      videotape, or gain physical entrance into the homes
      and lives of U.S. citizens at any time. FISA and the
      SAMs have been operating for years, little known and
      barely questioned�until the aftermath of September 11,
      when mass arrests and detentions were seen as a
      �safeguard,� the legalization of racial profiling
      became speakable, and new legislation such as the
      PATRIOT Act made previous surveillance measures seem
      almost benign by comparison. Yet, even in this
      atmosphere, Lynne Stewart was unprepared for her own

      On April 9, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft,
      while on a visit to New York City�s Ground Zero,
      indicted Lynne Stewart for conspiracy and materially
      aiding a terrorist organization. Charged with her were
      her Arabic translator Mohammed Yousry and two
      supporters of the Sheikh, Ahmed Abdel Sattar (now held
      in the United States without bail), and Yassir
      Al-Sirri (currently free in England).

      Civil libertarians and attorneys have been quick to
      decry Stewart�s indictment as an assault on
      attorney-client privilege and possibly on the First,
      Fourth, and Sixth Amendments of the Bill of Rights.
      With the U.S. public�s post-September 11 unconcern for
      the erosion of individual freedom, however, Stewart�s
      success in beating the charges appears alarmingly
      uncertain. At age sixty-two, Stewart faces a possible
      forty years in prison, while the Bush administration
      seeks a major victory in its war on constitutional

      Having declared herself �emphatically not guilty,�
      Lynne Stewart is now out of prison on $500,000 bail. I
      spoke to her in her office, less than a mile from
      where the World Trade Center once stood.

      Susie Day: Your client, Sheikh Abdel Rahman, is an
      Islamic fundamentalist allied with a group that claims
      responsibility for scores of deaths. Don�t you think
      his history and values repel a lot of people who would
      otherwise support you?

      Lynne Stewart: This fight is not about the Sheikh,
      let�s get that clear. This fight is about America.
      About whether we want to change our system of criminal
      justice to the extent that nobody�and probably high on
      that list, the left in this country�can feel secure
      talking to a lawyer.

      If you�re arrested now, there is no way you can be
      secure, because the government has accorded itself the
      right to listen, to read, to overhear, to watch. This
      is because of an accrual of power that the government
      has always sought over dissidents in this country.
      That is why it�s important.

      And the government gets, like Michael Jordan, an extra
      step, when they�re dealing with people of Arab
      ancestry. Particularly people who�ve been
      convicted�rightfully or wrongfully�of committing
      terrorist acts. It�s important not just to focus on
      the Sheikh, but on how the government uses the Sheikh
      as an excuse to broaden its powers. We also need to
      organize people to understand that this is not about
      Middle Easterners, any more than interning the
      Japanese [during the Second World War] was about the

      SD: The indictment levels three basic charges against
      you: disseminating prohibited information through your
      press release; distracting the guards during a prison
      visit so that the Sheikh and Yousry could discuss, in
      Arabic, Sattar�s letters concerning the cease-fire;
      and falsely claiming that the prison was depriving
      Rahman of his diabetes insulin. Is that right?

      LS: Yes. Obviously, for their proof, they have to
      decide why and how [the IG] has been designated a
      terrorist organization. There�s the whole issue of
      constitutionality: by whose definition is a group
      designated �terrorist�? By the executive branch in a
      way that comports with due process? Especially when
      you�re using that to prosecute third persons such as
      myself. Because without that, the case falls apart.

      One of the things we can definitely say is that the
      case is full of legalistic issues�issues not to be
      decided by a jury, that only the judge will decide.
      For that reason, we�re probably going to first focus
      on the purely legal issues. Do they make out a case?
      Is the law unconstitutional? Is the law unfair? Is the
      law an intrusion on attorney/client relationships? Are
      the things they�ve charged me with chargeable? Can
      they give us the particulars as to how they can do

      One of the most interesting questions is that they�ve
      definitely wiretapped and surveilled the meetings in
      the jail. We�re not just talking about telephones;
      we�re talking about attorney-client meetings in the
      jail, which everybody always thought were sacred,
      absolutely confidential and private. They have
      videotaped and supposedly bugged these meetings.

      They did it under FISA to begin with, based on the
      earlier press release I gave for the Sheikh, which may
      or may not be protected by the First Amendment. Now,
      they don�t even have to go to a FISA judge, who is
      anonymous, to get him to sign the Foreign Intelligence
      wiretap. Under the PATRIOT Act, only John Ashcroft�the
      prosecution itself�has to sign. They don�t need any
      third party whatsoever to authorize this kind of

      SD: When will your trial start?

      LS: We�re thinking there won�t be any trial for
      probably at least two years, while we go through these
      mountains and mountains of material that they�ve
      amassed. We have to go through all this FISA wiretap
      material, both on Sattar�s phone and on Yousry�s
      phone. Plus, I�m sure there�s tons of [visual]

      They still have not answered us about whether my home
      phone was wiretapped. We don�t know those answers yet.

      SD: I heard on the news that the government has told
      you it is not monitoring Sattar�s legal visits in
      prison. Is that true?

      LS: No. They said he was not being listened to
      pursuant to the SAMs, because the SAMs require that he
      be notified if he were listened to. This does not mean
      that there is no FISA wiretap or regular,
      court-ordered wiretap. Taken at face value, it means
      theynot listening to him on a SAMs tap.

      At this point, because Sattar is in jail, the only way
      to meet with him is in jail. As is common in all
      cases, particularly in political cases like this, the
      defendants meet, sometimes endlessly, to decide what
      strategy works for everybody, and tell each other what
      their thinking is, or remind each other how things

      So we can�t meet. We�re not able to plan a strategy
      with our lawyers. We can�t even sit down and say,
      �Hey, the indictment says you did this with me. I
      don�t remember that. Did we or didn�t we do that
      together?� We may not want the government to know the
      answer. It makes it virtually impossible to construct
      a defense.

      SD: Is it true that the government will not tell you
      if you and your attorney, Michael Tigar, are being

      LS: That�s correct. They will not divulge.

      SD: How does this affect your defense preparations?

      LS: Well, it puts a crimp, but those of us who are not
      incarcerated at least have some alternatives. If we
      want to go to some small restaurant they don�t know
      of, and choose it five minutes ahead of time, we can
      do that. Whereas, Sattar has no choice, being in jail.

      SD: Why do you think so many Americans have so little
      to say about the increasing presence of the U.S.
      government in our lives?

      LS: I think it goes back to�now, let me get the right
      person�Erich Fromm, who wrote about the desire on the
      part of people, even in democracies, to give up their
      rights to a father-figure who will protect them.
      They�d abdicate whatever rights they had in order to
      feel safe, and also righteous, of course. They�re not
      going to give up their rights to a bad person�but as
      long as they�re convinced that person is
      righteous�and, of course, who acts more righteous than
      John Ashcroft and George Bush?

      SD: What about Robert Mueller, now head of the FBI? In
      the late 1980s, he was the prosecutor when you were
      the defense attorney for the Ohio Seven, a group of
      white, working-class activists who were charged with a
      series of protest bombings.

      LS: It is interesting that Mueller was our adversary
      in the Ohio Seven sedition case. The government tried
      to assign [defense] lawyers from the panel, which was
      made up of ex-U.S. attorneys. Ray Levasseur, and Pat
      [Levasseur], and Jaan Laaman, and Richard Williams
      said, �No, we want our own attorneys.�

      They caused such a ruckus in the courtroom, Bill
      Kunstler got kicked in the ankle by a marshal, and the
      entire community rose up to say, �You can�t put these
      people on trial with lawyers they don�t want.� It
      became such an issue for Mueller that he eventually
      had to agree not only to give them their lawyers of
      choice, but also to pay those lawyers from government

      So it did not come as a huge surprise to us that,
      following September 11, two of the federal prisoners
      who were locked down in the worst way were Ray
      Levasseur and Richard Williams. We all sort of grinned
      that it was Robert Mueller�because, of course, he lost
      the sedition trial.

      But the spillover from my case affects some of my
      federal clients, particularly the ones I�m very close
      to. Richard Williams and I have done three trials
      together. We write, we stay in touch; I send him
      crossword puzzles every week from the New York Times.
      Out of all the political prisoners in America who were
      locked down after September 11, he is the only one
      locked down until February. Shortly after my
      indictment, I placed a call to him through the legal
      department and he was locked down again. As far as I
      know [October 2, 2002], he�s still in lockdown.

      SD: It�s a little frightening that left-wing political
      prisoners are conflated in the government�s eyes with
      right-wing Moslem fundamentalists.

      LS: I don�t think it�s quite fair to say right-wing,
      because they are basically forces of national
      liberation. And I think that we, as persons who are
      committed to the liberation of oppressed people,
      should fasten on the need for self-determination, and
      allow people who are under the heel of a corrupt and
      terrifying Egypt�where thousands of people are in
      prison, and torture and executions are, according to
      Amnesty International and Middle East Watch,
      commonplace�to do what they need to do to throw off
      that oppression. To denigrate them as right-wing, I
      don�t think is proper. My own sense is that, were the
      Islamists to be empowered, there would be movements
      within their own countries, such as occurs in Iran, to

      SD: What about the incident in Luxor, mentioned in
      your indictment, in which sixty-two people were
      killed, supposedly to press for the Sheikh�s release
      from prison?

      LS: The government has consistently tried to make it
      appear that the Sheikh called on his followers to
      avenge him, and this was his response. The fact is,
      like all prisoners who are heroes of a particular
      movement, their followers are going to invoke their
      name when they do certain acts and say, �We believe
      Sheikh Omar should be freed.� But one cannot say that
      the two are connected. The Sheikh has not even been in
      Egypt since 1989, and certainly the statements say
      nothing like, �I don�t see enough blood.� He has
      never�and certainly if he had, the government would
      have spread it all over the indictment�exhorted
      anybody to go out in his name and demand his freedom
      or make an attack on the jail or any other such thing.

      SD: Why don�t your supporters mention your three
      codefendants? Is that because they�re more directly
      tied to violent acts?

      LS: Not Yousry. He was the interpreter. And he�s a
      leftist, by the way. He�s actually working on his
      dissertation at NYU. He�s a teacher at York College,
      part of the CUNY.

      Yousry was immediately terminated at the time he was
      arrested. He taught the Middle East studies course. He
      is not a religious man at all. In fact, many times he
      and I would have to smile because the Sheikh enjoyed
      meeting with us more than anybody else, and yet we
      were the furthest from his own politics.

      That�s not exactly true. Yousry is Egyptian. Yousry
      does believe strongly in Egyptian liberation from
      Mubarak. But basically he�s an interpreter�the only
      one approved by the government to do translation
      during the entire time the Sheikh has been in jail.
      When they went to his house, they seized his notes for
      his dissertation. They took everything he had.

      Sattar is passionate about Egypt, cares very deeply
      about the Sheikh. He is a fundamentalist Islamic man,
      married to an American who has chosen to be a Moslem,
      as well. They have four terrific children. He worked
      at the Post Office. I mean, he�s not exactly our image
      of the terrorist.

      SD: Will they try all four of you together?

      LS: No. The fellow from London, Al-Sirri, is not
      coming. I�m not acquainted with him at all. The
      British said there was not enough evidence and they
      refused to extradite him. The government will be
      forced to proceed with just the three of us, unless
      there�s an appeal. That sort of vindicates us, because
      we�ve been saying there�s not enough evidence, and
      here�s an actual finding of that.

      SD: What about how the press is handling your case?
      There was something in the news about an affidavit
      describing how you and Sattar and Yousry were sitting
      around during a prison visit with the Sheikh, having a
      good laugh about how the USS Cole was bombed.

      LS: The government must have felt somewhat
      beleaguered, so I believe they leaked this document.
      Although there�s probably no way to prove it. It was
      their primary document, laying out �evidence� of
      wrong-doing. Amazingly, this affidavit�the search
      warrant for my office, for Sattar�s house, and for
      Yousry�s house�was somehow or other �discovered� by a
      leading reporter for Court TV. Notwithstanding that it
      was supposed to be under seal. We�re actually all
      under seal. I can�t talk about the content of this;
      I�m talking about this extrinsically. Suffice it to
      say, it was out of context, and it was leaked by the
      government, I believe, although they blame some poor
      clerk in the magistrate�s office.

      SD: I read some of this affidavit on the web [Court
      TV�s <www.thesmokinggun.com>]. In it, the Sheikh was
      joking, �We�ll stop using doves [communication agents]
      when the government stops using secret evidence.� Can
      you talk about that?

      LS: I really can�t, because we�re under this order.
      I�m sure they would love nothing better than to have
      me break the judge�s order, and drag me in, saying,
      �See what appeared in Monthly Review?�

      SD: Millions of people will pick up Monthly Review,
      for a change�

      LS: That�s a thought. Maybe it�s a ploy, you know�

      SD: There you go, Monthly Review is working with the
      government to boost�

      LS:�to boost sales. [Laughter] But you see how easy it
      is, in a serious situation, to interject comedy. And I
      think, in my experience, working with political
      people, preparing cases, if there wasn�t a lot of
      laughter going on at some of this stuff, we�d go

      SD: Do you happen to know where the Sheikh is now?

      LS: He�s at Florence in Colorado, it�s the most
      repressive prison. The last time we saw him, he had
      severe problems stemming from his diabetes. His legs
      were just enormous; his feet were caked and bleeding
      and cracked.

      SD: Let�s say you were part of a government that you
      actually trusted and supported, and your country held
      political prisoners. At what point would you think
      monitoring and controlling these people was

      LS: I�m such a strange amalgam of old-line things and
      new-line things. I don�t have any problem with Mao or
      Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel
      locking up people they see as dangerous. Because so
      often, dissidence has been used by the greater powers
      to undermine a people�s revolution. The CIA pays a
      thousand people and cuts them loose, and they will
      undermine any revolution in the name of freedom of

      On the other hand, I do believe in a free marketplace
      of ideas. I have a big problem with government
      repressing that kind of exchange� I must say, I talk
      out of both sides of my mouth, but I have a sense that
      if I was the Queen of the World, or Head of the
      Politburo, I would somehow have a meeting of the minds
      to urge that we must protect but, on the other hand,
      we must open up. That�s really what you would have
      hoped America had been. Now it seems that the defense
      of imperialism is what guides foreign and domestic
      policy, and that everything else is swept aside.

      I was asked once when I spoke, what did I think the
      social compact was between the American people and its
      government. I said, �To me, the social compact is a
      six-pack and a television set.� As long as Americans
      have that, they�re not too concerned. And that is a
      terrible tradeoff, a very sad tradeoff.

      SD: How has your arrest and indictment affected you
      personally, and your husband, Ralph?

      LS: You think that when you become an �enemy of the
      state,� because you cannot live your life honestly and
      be anything else, they may, on any occasion, round you
      up and take you off to the camps. But when it really
      happens, the most profound effects are that I spend a
      lot more time than I would like to dealing with the
      case. I would rather deal with my clients and work on
      behalf of people and causes I�m interested in, but I�m
      spending a lot of time with me�which does not make me

      The other thing is, it ruins your entire career, if
      your clients are dealt with more harshly than other
      people�s clients. My associate, Susan Tipograph, made
      a tremendous point when she said, �You represent
      criminal defendants. The notion that the government
      may be going through their files is anathema to your
      practice.� What happens if they find, in a note I
      wrote on some client: �Reginald admits he did the
      murder but says he acted in self-defense; however, I
      don�t think there�s enough evidence to prove he even
      committed the murder�.� So it has an effect on our

      I guess another thing is, we all have a sense that
      it�s the caretakers that suffer more, maybe, than the
      people they�re trying to take care of. And I know my
      family loves me so much, and they all want to do
      something, whatever they can do. By family, I don�t
      just mean Ralph or my children or grandchildren,
      sisters and brothers; I mean all the people that are
      sort of my adopted children. There�s a sense that they
      can�t really do much. All they can do is be supportive
      and be there for me. But I see the toll it takes,
      particularly on those closest to me. We�re all a
      little shorter of temper, maybe, and more tired than
      we were before.

      I worry that I�ve put a burden on people I love that I
      never wanted to put on them. I shouldn�t say, �I put
      the burden,� because it really is Amerika�with the
      �k,� as we used to say in the sixties�that has placed
      this burden on them. It�s really unforgivable.

      SD: If you had two minutes with people on the street
      to tell them about your case and why it may be
      important to them, what would you say?

      LS: I would say that you never know what life will
      bring. It could be that sometime in the future, you
      are, for some reason, focused on by the government as
      being someone who is against government interest.
      You�re going to need someone to defend you. I think
      everyone wants to feel that, when they get someone
      they can trust, there is no intrusion from the
      government, that your adversary knows your moves, your
      innermost secrets.

      Basically, I think the government has an interest in
      deterring lawyers from representing political people.
      They have an even greater interest, perhaps, in
      deterring lawyers from representing Moslem
      defendants�. But I don�t think it�s enough to say,
      �Oh, that�s Moslems.� Or �that�s other people.� Or
      �that�s black people,� or �Those were the Japanese.�
      You have to be able to say, �This could happen to me.
      This could happen to someone I love. And I want
      lawyers to fully represent people.�

      I have also been told, �You shouldn�t do all these
      interviews, Lynne, you�re crazy.� But I think, given
      the public perception of what is going on, that
      secrecy is a terrible thing.

      I have to confront them and say, �Listen. I did
      nothing wrong. I�m a lawyer. I did what lawyers do.�
      There are a hundred lawyers who would do exactly what
      I did. There are a million lawyers who would do almost
      exactly what I did. Because this is the way you have
      to represent clients.

      SUSIE DAY lives in New York City where she writes a
      humor column for feminist and gay publications. She
      has also written on U.S. political prinsoners and
      labor issues.
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