4 December 2009

Court Imprisons Leftist Attorney

Free Lynne Stewart, Mohamed Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Sattar!

NEW YORK CITY—In a blow against the rights of the entire population, leftist attorney Lynne Stewart was hauled off to prison on November 19 on bogus charges of conspiracy to provide “material support” to terrorism and to “defraud” the U.S. government. An outspoken courtroom advocate for black activists and the poor, the 70-year-old Stewart was convicted in 2005 along with translator Mohamed Yousry and paralegal Ahmed Abdel Sattar on charges stemming from her ardent legal defense of Islamic fundamentalist Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for an alleged plot to blow up NYC landmarks in the early 1990s. Reporting to prison two days after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals turned down the appeal of her conviction, Stewart told her supporters that the government was warning lawyers: “Don’t advocate for your clients in a vigorous, strong way or you will end up” like her, “disbarred and in jail.”

The victimization of Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar has been a key cog in the government’s drive to eviscerate civil liberties in the domestic “war on terror.” From beginning to end, the Feds’ case was a fabrication. The government admitted that not a single act of violence resulted from the alleged “terror conspiracy.” Unable to get Stewart for breaking any law, the government invoked the spectre of “conspiracy” and nailed her for violating Special Administrative Measures that drastically restrict a prisoner’s right to communicate with the outside world. Stewart was “guilty” of conveying Abdel Rahman’s thoughts about a cease-fire between his Islamic Group and the Egyptian government to a Reuters journalist. The government declared this was tantamount to a terrorist “jailbreak.”

In a November 21 protest letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—stated that Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar “should not have spent a single day in jail! Their frame-up prosecution gives the government a green light to prosecute lawyers for the alleged crimes of their clients, ripping the Sixth Amendment right to counsel to shreds.” Pointing out that the jailing came in the immediate aftermath of the Justice Department’s announcement of plans for a show-trial prosecution of Guantánamo detainees, to be held within a mile of the World Trade Center site, the letter stressed that “the message is clear: any determined defense of those the government deems an enemy can mean a prison sentence for ‘material support’ to terrorism.”

The Second Circuit’s 125-page decision against Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar made no bones about its effect on restricting the right to legal counsel, declaring that it was now “less likely that other incarcerated persons will have the same level of access to counsel that [Stewart’s] client was given.” The court ordered not only that bail be revoked immediately but that a new hearing be held by the trial judge, John G. Koeltl, to increase the sentences of all three defendants. In 2006, Federal prosecutors who had demanded a 30-year sentence reacted in outrage when Koeltl, citing Stewart’s efforts on behalf of “the poor, the disadvantaged and the unpopular,” set her sentence at 28 months. Yousry got 20 months while Abdel Sattar, a former postal worker, was given 24 years.

The higher court, which includes two Clinton appointees, outrageously denounced Koeltl for failing to consider whether Stewart committed perjury at trial by maintaining that she believed she did nothing illegal. Describing her sentence as “breathtakingly low,” one of the appellate judges all but explicitly called for Stewart, who suffers from breast cancer, to be locked away for life. The New York Post (17 November) cheered, “Finally: Jihadist-Enabling Lawyer Lynne Stewart Ordered to Jail,” while the New York Daily News (19 November) headlined: “Terror Moll Gets Hers.”

Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar were convicted after a seven-month trial fraught with prosecutorial misconduct. Prosecutors pandered to public fear in the post-September 11 climate, even introducing videotapes of Osama bin Laden as evidence! The evidence against Yousry, a doctoral candidate in Middle Eastern Studies at New York University and an opponent of Islamic fundamentalism, consisted of notebooks of his discussions with Sheik Abdel Rahman for use in his dissertation. Yousry now faces possibly two decades in prison for doing his job as an interpreter. Ahmed Abdel Sattar is an Islamic fundamentalist whose only “crime” was to rack up large phone bills talking to other fundamentalists. At bottom, they were convicted of being Arab in post-September 11 America.

Though the prosecution was carried out under the Republican Bush administration, this mugging of constitutional rights has the fingerprints of the Democratic Clinton White House all over it. The Special Administrative Measures Stewart purportedly violated were enacted by the Clinton administration. For years, the Feds under Clinton secretly recorded the supposedly privileged attorney-client discussions between Stewart, her aides and Abdel Rahman. Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar were indicted under the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, one of several measures that have been escalated under the “war on terror” to attack fundamental rights.

After eight years of chanting “Anybody but Bush,” the liberals and reformist left hailed the election of Barack Obama and his promises of “change,” not least in regard to the “war on terror.” But as we have always stressed, the “war on terror” has the stamp of both parties of U.S. imperialism. Despite Obama’s campaign pledge to close Guantánamo and end torture, his administration has endorsed indefinite detention, a hallmark of police-state dictatorships and a centerpiece of Bush’s war on democratic rights. Many Guantánamo detainees will be transferred to detention centers in Bagram, Afghanistan, which has become synonymous with torture and all-around imperialist savagery, and elsewhere. And as the death toll of Afghans mounts ever higher in the U.S./NATO occupation of that country, the announced show trial of Guantánamo prisoners like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed demonstrates the Obama administration’s commitment to continuing the assault on democratic rights at home.

At the onset of the prosecution of Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar, we pointed to the urgent need for leftists, trade unionists and defenders of democratic rights to defend them against a government intent on tearing up the rights of all of us. SL and PDC supporters have repeatedly turned out to express our support at court hearings and protests, and in recent years Stewart has been a regular invited speaker at the PDC’s Holiday Appeal benefits for class-war prisoners. Based on the principle of non-sectarian, class-struggle defense, we have also stressed that defense of Stewart is inseparable from that of Yousry and Abdel Sattar. Not so the reformist left, which disappeared any mention of Yousry and Abdel Sattar long ago. Recent articles protesting Stewart’s incarceration in Workers World, the International Socialist Organization’s Socialist Worker and the Revolutionary Communist Party’s Revolution don’t even mention their names.

Stewart and Yousry’s jailing reveals yet again the workings of the courts as an integral part of the repressive machinery of the “democratic” capitalist state, which masks the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with a veneer of equality before the law. But there can be no equality between the exploited and their exploiters, between the oppressed and their oppressors. We fight to win those outraged at the legal persecution of Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar to a perspective of proletarian revolution to abolish the capitalist system, sweeping away the capitalist state and establishing a workers state, where those who labor rule. Then, and only then, will we see justice for all the victims of imperialist barbarism, at home and abroad.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 948, 4 December 2009)

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