Interview with Lynne Stewart
- ================= Begin forwarded message =================
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.
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
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
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
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
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