Sep 13, 2004
Eight months after 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft personally announced the prosecution of a lawyer under Clinton's 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act. The lawyer, Lynne Stewart, had been the court-appointed attorney for an Egyptian cleric, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Rahman was convicted of conspiracy in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Stewart was charged in 2002 with "providing material support for terrorist activity" because she issued, as his lawyer, a statement he made to the press. In addition, a para-legal, Ahmed Abel Sattar, and a translator, Mohammad Yousry, also involved in Rahman's case were charged.
Stewart's trial opened in June of 2004. There has never been any evidence presented that the lawyer, the translator or the para-legal had anything whatsoever to do with terrorism. Instead, the prosecution sought to inflame the jury by talking about terrorism. Their trump card was to introduce a video during the week before September 11th, which showed Osama bin Laden calling for Sheik Rahman's release from prison. Nothing linked bin Laden with Rahman, much less with Stewart or her co-defendants.
It was simply guilt by association, and a very remote association at that. If there were a case to be made for guilt by association with bin Laden, then the government of course would have been prosecuting members of the U.S. government who first paid bin Laden, helping him to set up terrorist squads in Afghanistan against the Russians. It would be going after the Bush family, guilty of association with the bin Laden clan by way of their oil connection.
All Stewart did was to continue to serve her client as she was appointed to do. Rahman is under prison restrictions almost as severe as those at Guantanamo. Sattar, the para-legal, took notes in visits to the prison where Rahman was held. Yousry, the translator, kept his notes for a thesis he was writing AGAINST Muslim fundamentalism.
This trial is not about fighting terrorism. It's about using fears of terrorism to attack a lawyer who has always defended clients the government charged for political reasons. This trial is part of the government's witch-hunt today – aimed at intimidating lawyers who might defend some of those the government has railroaded.
Anyone involved in protesting what is happening in the U.S. today can become the target of such a witch-hunt: unionists protesting benefit cuts, activists protesting against attacks on abortion rights, people demonstrating against the war in Iraq. We all have reason to defend Stewart and Sattar and Yousry.