X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Defense attorney Lynne Stewart is prepared for the fight of her life to begin today when her trial for providing material aid to a terrorist group begins before a federal jury in Manhattan. Stewart, 64, said she believes that her own testimony will convince a jury that prosecutors overreacted when they accused her of aiding the government-designated foreign terror organization Islamic Group in a broad conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. Her aid to the terrorists came as she allegedly helped her client, Islamic Group spiritual leader Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, pass messages to the group in defiance of prison restrictions imposed on the sheikh — and in violation of her own promises to abide by those restrictions. Stewart said in an interview Wednesday that prosecutors from the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office will try to prove the charges against her through “blinding the eyes of reason” by invoking the Sept. 11 attacks and the war on terror. The government, she said, “is overreaching, and they’ll try to get those jurors on board as terror fighters without much critical analysis. We think that’s what they will be doing. Wrap themselves in the flag.” Stewart sees her trial as the logical culmination of a career rooted in the radicalism of the 1960s, one spent defending both run-of-the-mill criminal defendants and more infamous clients with controversial political agendas. “I told my children, at this point in my life, where would I rather be than fighting the government?” she said. Speaking of the government, she said, “They selected me. I hope they thought I would be some sort of pushover, this leftover ’60′s radical.” She thinks that her own testimony will also persuade the jury she was charged for her legitimate activities as a lawyer and that she never manifested the intent to promote terrorism, she said. “First of all, it will show the jury who I am,” she said. “Second, I think it will show the jury how lawyering takes place and how I have conducted myself as a lawyer over the years.” Despite Stewart’s contention that the government is prosecuting her for her role as an attorney and advocate, prosecutors have maintained from the beginning that Stewart abandoned the right to invoke the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship when she crossed the line and aided and abetted Islamic Group. Southern District U.S. Attorney David Kelley declined to comment for this article. THE INDICTMENT Stewart is charged in Count One of the indictment with conspiring with Abdel Rahman’s right-hand man, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, and interpreter Mohammed Yousry to defraud the United States. Sattar is charged in Count Two with conspiring to murder and kidnap persons in a foreign country and, in Count Three, with soliciting persons to engage in crimes of violence. Counts Four and Five, respectively, charge Stewart and Yousry with conspiring to provide and conceal material support for the conspiracy to murder and kidnap and actually providing and concealing that support. The final two counts, Six and Seven, charge Stewart with making false statements by submitting false attorney affirmations in which she promised to abide by prison restrictions on Sheikh Abdel Rahman. Counts Four and Five are the ones that worry Stewart the most, she said, since together they carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Those charges were brought under 18 U.S.C. 2339(A) in a superseding indictment issued last November. The new indictment came four months after Southern District Judge John G. Koeltl ruled that the material support counts in the initial indictment, brought under 18 U.S.C. �2339(B), were unconstitutionally vague as applied. But on April 19, 2004, in a key decision for the government, Koeltl refused to dismiss the new charges under �2339(A), in part because that section, unlike �2339(B), sets a higher bar for prosecutors by requiring them to prove Stewart gave material support while intending or knowing the support would be used in connection with murder or kidnapping. “The judge’s reaction came as somewhat of a surprise,” Stewart said. “We thought he was someone who had a sense of fairness and was not afraid to make the tough calls. We don’t feel that way any more.” On June 11, Judge Koeltl dealt another setback to Stewart and her lead attorney, Michael Tigar, when he ruled that prosecutors Robin Baker, Christopher Morvillo, Andrew Dember and Anthony Barkow can introduce evidence on threats and attacks made by terror groups. Tigar argued without success that the evidence was irrelevant and likely to confuse and inflame the jury. The judge first ruled that the jury can hear evidence of the November 1997 murder of 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians at an archeological site in Luxor, Egypt. The judge said the evidence was “highly relevant” to the charge of an ongoing conspiracy to kill and kidnap people in Egypt that Sattar joined in September 1999 — a conspiracy allegedly aided by Stewart. SPECIAL MEASURES The charge of a conspiracy to defraud alleges that Stewart, Yousry, the sheikh and unindicted co-conspirator Islamic Group leader Refa’i Ahmed Taha, worked to thwart the government’s enforcement of special administrative measures (SAMs), imposed on Sheikh Abdel Rahman. The measures were imposed in 1997 to prevent the sheikh from communicating beyond the walls of the federal prison in Minnesota where he is serving a life sentence following his 1995 conviction in the Southern District of New York for seditious conspiracy to wage a war of urban terror against the United States. Stewart angered the government, and violated the special measures, in March 1999 by disseminating a statement from the sheikh to an unnamed Islamic Group leader that contained instructions for Taha. Stewart signed an attorney affirmation promising to abide by the SAM on May 16, 2000, and after being confronted by the government, signed a second affirmation on May 7, 2001. Stewart had been called on the carpet by then-Southern District terrorism prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who accused her of violating the special administrative measures. She retained attorney Stanley Cohen to represent her on the matter and negotiate with Fitzgerald on access to her client — negotiations that she later claimed, without success, amounted to a non-prosecution agreement with the government. The government said Stewart brazenly violated her promises on several occasions, including one in May 2000 when she and Yousry read a statement from Taha to the sheikh and passed the sheikh a letter from Sattar seeking the sheikh’s endorsement for the “formation of a team that calls for the cancellation of the peace initiative (or cease fire) or makes threats or escalates things.” Stewart is also accused of distracting corrections officers, in part by speaking gibberish that she said at the time should earn her an “award” for acting, to cover the conversations between Yousry and the sheikh. She allegedly repeated the use of “covering noise” at a May 2001 prison visit in which Yousry told the sheikh that Sattar had learned the U.S.S. Cole had been bombed as part of the campaign to free the sheikh from prison — and that more terror attacks would follow if the United States did not comply. Stewart on Wednesday disputes these allegations, saying, “What we were talking about was completely innocuous. And it’s not unusual in prison visits for lawyers to take some measures to keep guards from hearing.” Stewart admitted that she violated the special administrative measures when she issued a press release concerning Islamic Group following a visit with the sheikh on June 14, 2000. The release said the sheikh was “withdrawing his support for the cease-fire that currently exists” on terror attacks by Islamic Group. But Stewart denied that the press release indicated the sheikh had actually called for an end to the ceasefire. Instead, she said, Tigar will argue that a taped phone conversation between the sheikh and Sattar the day after the release shows merely that the sheikh was leaving it up to the “brothers” in Islamic Group to make the decision themselves. Stewart acknowledged in the interview last week that the government’s decision to charge her based on the press release, which she claimed was protected by both the First Amendment and her obligations to represent her client zealously, could cut two ways with the jury. “On one hand, making the press release a part of the conspiracy count itself sounds so scary that the jury might recoil,” she said. “But on the other hand, maybe because it is so heavy handed,” it might have the opposite effect. Stewart added that the press release “was never made to aid kidnapping and murder.” In any event, Stewart said, it is not alleged that any acts of violence occurred after the press release. ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE Koeltl said in his June 11 ruling that the Luxor attack was also relevant to prove that the defendants actually provided material support to a terror group by providing to Islamic Group “personnel,” the sheikh himself. From Stewart’s perspective, the most damaging ruling might have been Koeltl’s decision allowing the introduction of evidence concerning Osama bin Laden. Judge Koeltl said he would allow the government to show a broadcast that appeared on the Al-Jazeera television network in which Taha and bin Laden pledged to wage holy war to free Shiekh Abdel Rahman from prison. “I didn’t know any more about bin Laden at the time I made those statements than anybody else in this country, including the CIA,” she said. “To say ‘bin Laden’ wants to free Sheikh Omar,’ — a lot of people said that. And to impugn some special knowledge that I had is just an attempt to prejudice the jury.” Stewart conceded she may have made a mistake by not litigating the constitutionality of the special administrative measures when she was first accused of violating them. “It’s one of the calls you make as a lawyer,” she said, explaining that it would have been expensive and time-consuming to pursue the matter in Minnesota. She also said she had a “false sense of security” because her co-counsel in the defense of the sheikh at his 1995 trial, Ramsey Clark, “had spoken out on a fairly regular basis.” Nonetheless, when she discussed with the sheikh whether to issue the press release, Stewart said, she told him, “I think the government is going to come down on me.” Stewart takes particular offense at some of the allegations underlying the fraud count that claims she violated the administrative measures by telling the sheikh about what the government says is a campaign of terror to win his release. “I, as a lawyer, was enjoined from telling the shiekh that people were saying ‘Free the sheikh’,” she said. “I was ethically bound to tell my client — he had a right to know this.” AGAINST ATTACKS ON CIVILIANS Stewart said the sheikh and his followers are battling a repressive Egyptian government and she is well aware that the U.S. government will work to show that she supports violent actions to achieve the group’s aims — actions that include attacks on the United States. Stewart said some advisers had urged trying to postpone the trial in the hopes that a new administration in Washington, D.C., might reconsider. She pushed for a quicker trial, she said, believing that the case is now “bureaucratically entrenched” to such a degree that there is no hope for a change of heart by the prosecution. She is heartened, she said, that the government had suffered some courtroom losses on its measures and prosecutions in the post-Sept. 11 era and hopes that the passage of almost three years since the World Trade Center attacks will help the jury put her case in perspective. Stewart remains concerned about getting a fair trial when the government is allowed to invoke the specter of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden and the destruction of the World Trade Center — and portray her as being supportive of terror attacks. “I can’t be who I am and not at least be thoughtful about 9/11, but I am also disturbed that the government doesn’t ask why it happened,” she said. One of her proposed character witnesses, she said, will be a former client and criminal defendant who lost his mother in the World Trade Center attacks. “I’m against attacks on civilian populations,” she said. “And I think anyone, from my end of the movement, at least, abhors it.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.