Fed judge dismisses terror case against lawyer Lynne Stewart

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed Jul 23 02:30:53 MDT 2003

NY Times July 23
Judge Dismisses Terror Charges Against Lawyer

A federal judge yesterday dismissed charges that the lawyer Lynne F.
Stewart supported terrorism by helping an imprisoned sheik direct
terrorist operations in Egypt. But the judge let stand lesser charges
that she lied to and defrauded the federal government.

Ms. Stewart was accused of helping Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was
convicted of plotting to blow up New York landmarks, by helping him to
pass messages to the Islamic Group, a terrorist group he once led. The
charges were announced in April 2002 by Attorney General John
Ashcroft, who called the case the first use of a new rule that allows
the Bureau of Prisons to monitor conversations between lawyers and
inmates who are threats to commit "future acts of violence or

In his ruling yesterday, Judge John G. Koeltl of United States
District Court called the terrorism counts against Ms. Stewart and a
translator unconstitutionally vague. The judge said that the
antiterrorism statute could not apply to a lawyer doing her job.

"The government fails to explain how a lawyer, acting as an agent of
her client" who is an alleged leader of a terrorist organization
"could avoid being subject to criminal prosecution as a
'quasi-employee,' " said Judge Koeltl, who was appointed by President
Bill Clinton in 1994.

The charges that remain accuse her of making false statements and
conspiring to defraud the government through what prosecutors say was
her broken promise not to be a conduit for Mr. Abdel Rahman.

Ms. Stewart, who has defended such unpopular clients as members of the
Weather Underground and the mob informer Salvatore Gravano, suggested
in an interview with The New York Times in 1995 that violence and
revolution were sometimes necessary to right the economic and racial
wrongs of America's capitalist system.

Yesterday, she called the ruling "a great relief," and addressed its
broader implications. "It augurs well for things returning to a
normalcy where the judges and courts are able to take a good look at
what the government is doing, and consider what it's doing and stand
up for the judicial branch and for justice," she said.

Prosecutors said they were exploring possibilities of an appeal. "We
continue to believe that the statute prohibiting material support of
terrorism is constitutional, and we are reviewing our appellate
options," said a spokesman for James B. Comey, the United States
attorney in Manhattan.

Ms. Stewart was indicted in April 2002 after visits she and a
translator, Mohammed Yousry, made to the Minnesota prison where Mr.
Rahman, a blind cleric, is serving a life sentence. Prosecutors said
that in May 2000, she distracted prison guards during a visit with her
client while Mr. Yousry took instructions from him that were later
passed on to the Islamic Group in Egypt.

Mr. Abdel Rahman's instructions included a message to his followers in
Egypt that they should no longer honor a halt in terrorist activities
that began after a 1997 attack in Luxor, Egypt, that killed 62 people,
including 58 foreign tourists. The Islamic Group claimed
responsibility for the attack.

Ms. Stewart has denounced the charges since her arraignment, when she
said on the courthouse steps, "They've arrested the lawyer and the
interpreter. How much further? Are you going to arrest the lady who
cleans the sheik's cell?"

Her lawyer, Michael E. Tigar, argued in motions that the antiterrorism
statute violates the First Amendment. "It endangers the rights of
people, lawyers, journalists and citizens to assert certain political
views," he said yesterday.

The charges carried a 15-year sentence. The prosecution, in court
papers filed in March, called Ms. Stewart "an indispensable and active
facilitator of the terrorist communication network," and compared her
to a "bank robbery co-conspirator who has the job of distracting
security guards while others take money from the tellers, or a lookout
guarding a drug dealer's corner."

Ms. Stewart rejected the claims again last night. "It's so broad that
you can sweep anybody under its rug," she said of the statute. "A
conduit of communication. How could you not be if you're taking phone
calls from your client?"

Mr. Abdel Rahman is subject to strict security rules imposed by the
government on him and certain other prisoners who are considered to
pose continuing threats of violence. Ms. Stewart signed a form in May
2000 agreeing to the rules before a visit, and the government charged
her in the indictment with not complying with them. Ms. Stewart said
she hoped those charges would be dismissed "as a factual matter" after
the hearing next month.

The case brought widespread attention because of Ms. Stewart's
notoriety as an outspoken lawyer, and because of its possible
implications for lawyers representing clients accused of terrorist
links. "We tried to mount a real defense and organize as many people
as possible," she said yesterday, "to understand that what was at
stake here was the ability of defense counsel to fully represent and
make decisions concerning political clients."

Also charged in the case was Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a postal worker from
Staten Island, and Yassir al-Sirri, an Egyptian who was arrested in
Britain in 2001 and charged with conspiring in the assassination of
Ahmed Shah Massoud, the commander of the anti-Taliban Northern
Alliance in Afghanistan.

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