30 July 2010

Vicious Retribution for Defending Her Client

Radical Lawyer Lynne Stewart Resentenced to 10 Years

Free Lynne Stewart, Mohamed Yousry, Ahmed Abdel Sattar!

Lynne Stewart was resentenced to ten years in prison on July 15 for zealously defending her client, a blind Egyptian cleric imprisoned for an alleged plot to blow up New York City landmarks in the early 1990s. U.S. District Court judge Koeltl’s decision to more than quadruple Stewart’s original sentence of 28 months is a loud affirmation by the Obama administration that there will be no let-up in the massive attacks on democratic rights under the “war on terror.”

Stewart, her interpreter Mohamed Yousry and paralegal Ahmed Abdel Sattar were convicted in February 2005 of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Abdel Sattar was also convicted of conspiracy to “kill and kidnap persons in a foreign country.” What constituted “material support” was Stewart’s statement to a Reuters reporter that her client urged his Egyptian supporters in the Islamic Group to reconsider their cease-fire with the Mubarak dictatorship. As we wrote in opposing the conviction of Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar: “The verdict gives the government a green light to prosecute lawyers for the alleged crimes of their clients, thereby shooting the basic right to counsel to hell…. And if nobody can get a lawyer to zealously defend him from prosecution, then fundamental liberties, from the right to a trial and an attorney, to even the right of free speech and assembly, are choked” (WV No. 842, 18 February 2005).

All the judges and prosecutors involved acknowledge that Lynne Stewart, known for her defense of Black Panthers, radical leftists and others reviled by the capitalist state, did not commit or contribute to a single act of violence. Yet she is labeled a “terrorist” supporter and ostentatiously and brutally treated like a dangerous criminal by a capitalist government that is, in fact, the deadliest force for terror on the planet, raining death and destruction in Afghanistan and elsewhere on a daily basis. The point is to cow the rest of the population, particularly workers, minorities and the left, with the message: This is what could happen to you if you oppose, or defend opponents of, America’s rulers.

The resentencing is for all intents and purposes a death sentence for Lynne Stewart, a 70-year-old woman currently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Stewart is transported from her jail cell to hospital rooms in leg irons and handcuffs shackled to a chain around her waist. She is chained to her hospital bed under 24-hour surveillance by an armed guard in the room and two more outside the door. Judge Koeltl repeatedly stated that his task was to hand down a sentence “neither insufficient but not greater than necessary.” Apparently death in prison is not greater than necessary for an audacious leftist lawyer. Yousry is serving a 20-month sentence while Abdel Sattar is locked away for 24 years. Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar should never have been charged and should not have spent a minute in jail!

Judge Koeltl was directed to resentence Stewart by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled last December that perjury was not taken into account in her original sentencing and that the government’s draconian “terrorism enhancement” guidelines, which urge judges to vastly increase sentences in such cases, were not applied. Charging Stewart with perjury is as absurd as accusing a stripper of prudery. Inside and outside the courtroom, Stewart was open and outspoken about her actions, and in her reactions throughout the case.

Lynne Stewart’s public post-conviction utterances were recorded by the prosecution and presented to the judge in a compendium for review and resentencing. Her proclamation following her October 2006 sentencing that she could do 28 months “standing on my head” was wielded by Koeltl as clear evidence that his original sentence was “not sufficient” to deter her from continuing as an advocate for those caught in the web of government repression. The court’s decision is also clearly meant to deter others from following a similar road. What gored them was not the promise of headstands but the fact that Stewart was unrepentant and continued to act as a leftist opponent of the government.

Stewart’s persecution has spanned three presidencies and five attorneys general. She ran afoul of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) imposed by the Clinton administration to strip prisoners of basic rights, including the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and to hinder their ability to communicate with the outside world. She was convicted under Clinton’s 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. With the Democrats in tow, the Bush White House seized on the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to greatly enhance Clinton’s “anti-terror” measures, making Stewart’s prosecution a centerpiece of the “war on terror.” This “war”—a pretext for increased imperialist marauding abroad and for a massive attack on democratic rights “at home”—has been reinforced with a vengeance under Barack Obama. The workers movement must oppose the entire construct of the bogus “war on terror.”

At a meeting of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee shortly after the 2005 convictions, supporters of the Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—spoke of the importance of fighting for freedom for Stewart’s codefendants Yousry and Abdel Sattar. Although Stewart replied that she applauded the PDC for its efforts, the defense committee, run by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), abandoned the other two defendants. Longtime “movement” lawyer and NLG icon Liz Fink, who quit the legal team days before Stewart’s resentencing, filed court papers that despicably attempted to exonerate Stewart by framing up Yousry! The prosecution seized on this in the resentencing to mock the defense team. Stewart, to her credit, directed defense attorney Jill Shellow to reply that those were Fink’s words, not Stewart’s.

The defense of Stewart and her codefendants is an elemental duty for socialist opponents of bloody U.S. imperialism. But the reformist left has abandoned Yousry and Abdel Sattar no less than have the liberal-radical lawyers. Post-sentencing articles by Socialist Action and the Workers World Party continue their normal practice of disappearing their names. Nor can any defense of Yousry or Abdel Sattar be found in the July 19 statement of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which nonetheless intones, “The scapegoating of Stewart by the government is part of an ongoing war against civil rights and civil liberties, particularly targeting the Arab-American and Muslim communities. With her jailing the government’s message to all attorneys is clear: ‘Do not represent Arab people and/or Muslims’.” What about Yousry and Abdel Sattar—U.S. citizens prejudged as guilty because they are Arabs in the government’s crosshairs?!

Every witchhunt has its own particular context and dimension. Lynne Stewart was resentenced by the same court that, at the height of the McCarthyite red scare, sentenced Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to death in 1951 on frame-up charges of conspiring to pass the “secret of the atomic bomb” to the Soviet Union. The death penalty was applied against Communists then for the same reason a leftist attorney has been effectively sentenced to die in prison today: to terrorize you. Through “terrorism guidelines,” Supreme Court rulings, legislation and presidential directives, the ruling class has seized sweeping powers to bolster the capitalist state: an apparatus of repression that employs police and judicial terror against workers, blacks, immigrants and all the oppressed (see “Supreme Court Decision Shreds First Amendment Rights,” WV No. 961, 2 July).

The conviction and imprisonment of Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar must be fought. Although “anti-terror” measures have been primarily aimed at Muslims and immigrants, the ultimate target of such repression is the multiracial working class, which has the potential social power and class interest to be the gravediggers of the racist capitalist order. Standing in the way of such struggle are the pro-capitalist union tops who put themselves forward as lieutenants for American imperialism. With the economy tanking and U.S. imperialism’s Afghan adventure teetering, Obama seeks to further tighten the screws of repression. It is our task to forge a revolutionary workers party that champions the cause of all the exploited and oppressed in the struggle for a socialist transformation of this society. Fighting the government’s “terrorism” frame-ups is an essential component of that task today.

The PDC has contributed to Lynne Stewart’s defense and encourages others to do the same. Donations can be sent to: Lynne Stewart Organization, 1070 Dean Street, Brooklyn, New York 11216.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 962, 30 July 2010)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.