The U.S.’s War on Free Speech pt.2

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Attorney Lynne Stewart

The following is an excerpt from a presentation made by Attorney Lynne Stewart at an event sponsored by the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement called the “U.S. Attack on Free Speech” held on April 10, 2005 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Lynne Stewart had recently been convicted of helping terrorists based on a press release she sent to Reuters News Service on behalf of her client, Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.

Well, it didn’t take me long to realize, I’m certainly in the right place.

I want to say to Sami Al-Arian’s wife, you know, I just came through a terrorism trial with a bad result, but I want to say that it is in the struggle that we win. It truly is.

I urge all of you to go to Sami’s trial. Let the jury look at you every day. Let them see the kind of support he has.

Let him know that he is not isolated. For me, it personally made a tremendous difference in my being able to stand up.

Unfortunately in my case, the jury was so terrorized — not by us, but by the government — that they feel that they cannot step forward. They feel that if they are told to march, they march.

You know when I think about my prosecution, the one thing that I can’t forgive them for is taking me out of the arena. The conviction of a felony means my license to practice law is automatically at an end.

Of course, that’s not the case for every lawyer, and they know who they are dealing with. As I’ve said many times and I say to you today, my prosecution was based more on the fact that I have stood up and spoken out for 30 years against the oppression of people.

I have allied myself with the weak and oppressed and that is the real reason. It’s not just about those 30 years. They want to put me in jail to make sure it doesn’t happen for another 30 years.

People like to say this prosecution came about because I defended an unpopular, demonized client, and that is true. But more specifically it came about because I vigorously defended him.

I defended him, not as they decreed he should be defended, but as I should, operating under the rules of ethics. I defended him vigorously and with great zeal. This is what they are against.

I also want to be very clear about the fact that part of this prosecution is brought because the government was able to sell to the jury that my politics, my personal politics, are what this case is about — not that I was acting only as a lawyer.

They brought in all of the things that I have said about my private politics. I am no fundamentalist. I went to a college in the middle of Michigan, which was a fundamental college of the Christian sort. And if you check it out, it is not very different from Islamic fundamentalism.

I tell you, it certainly gave me a taste to be anti-fundamentalist in my personal life, but that doesn’t mean that people all over the world don’t have the right to self-determination.

I can champion the right for someone else to have in their cultural and religious background what is not part of mine. That is part of what free speech means to me.

Indictment was attack on colonized peoples’ right to representation

We read over the indictment, and it was a direct attack on lawyering. It’s a direct attack on free speech. It all centers on a press release that I had made in 2000 for my client.

Some people question, “What’s a lawyer doing making a press release after all his appeals were done, after he was serving a life sentence? What does he need a press release for, and why are you doing it?”

Well, they had decided to place him under the most stringent conditions that a prisoner can be held on. These were made up just for him. And they were made up because he is widely respected as a truth teller. He has always been outspoken, and they decided that he was too dangerous to allow to speak.

“People like to say this prosecution came about because I defended an unpopular, demonized client, and that is true. But more specifically it came about because I vigorously defended him. I defended him vigorously and with great zeal.”

They completely isolated him in the middle of Minnesota. He does not speak English and he was not allowed to have a short wave radio.

He is blind. He is alone in a cell 24 hours per day. He can only have a phone call once a week to his lawyer and once a month to his family back in Egypt.

He gets no visits because they will only allow blood relatives. He can’t even bring in another religious leader. They wanted to isolate him. They wanted to shut his mouth.

They do all this by hiding behind the “T” word — terrorism. I know there are people in this audience who know what I speak of when I say that, when I was growing up in all white Queens in the ‘50s, it was the “C” word — communism.

This is what the government was protecting us from. This is why McCarthy ran around with his little slips. The parallels are so real and so obvious to anyone.

My arrest was six months after the World Trade Center situation. It was two years after the press release had been initially issued. In my mind, it was clearly an attempt by the administration to put some juice into their campaign because they were floundering.

They had all this legislation, the Patriot Act and Homeland Security. They were harassing everyone at the airports and yet what did they have to show for it at that point?

That morning, while I was being arrested and my offices were being searched, John Ashcroft was appearing at ground zero doing a press conference in which he was announcing the latest terrorism arrest and how no one was going to be safe from his long reach.

You might say, “Don’t prosecutors always do press releases?”

Yes, but they don’t always go that evening to the David Letterman Show and repeat the cheerleading that accompanied his announcement that the world was now safe because John Ashcroft had arrested the grandma from Brooklyn on terrorism charges.

I’m facing 30 years in prison. The judge we’re before is not exactly flowing with the milk of human kindness. You don’t get to be a federal judge in this country by flowing with human kindness.

I think his sense at one level is, how could she throw all this away? She was named one of the 10 best criminal lawyers in New York City.

She had the respect of her whole community, and yet she went this final length for this client and has thrown it all away.

So, I don’t think he is going to be particularly sympathetic.

There is also that part of the Bar that says she crossed the line, therefore she’s not deserving of our sympathy or our concern, and it has nothing to do with us.

It’s a really false premise, and it is really what the government has put out.

We are up against the biggest propaganda machine in the world when we go into a case. When I came into the Sheik’s case, that propaganda machine had been churning out propaganda month after month, year after year.

This man was never accused of the first World Trade Center bombing — the first time that a bomb was set off in the basement of the World Trade Center — and yet it never was shown without his picture plastered against those smoking towers.

I hear people say, “He was convicted of World Trade Center I.” Well, he was never convicted of it. He was never even charged with it. But that’s how the propaganda worked because the young men that were convicted of it happened to attend his Mosque.

Another terrible thing is the government listened in on the attorney-client conversations in the jailhouse. They wired that room.

This is a privileged conversation. That means that when you talk to your lawyer, whether you are caught for a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) or you are accused of murdering the president, you have the right to consult privately.

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Blind Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (r) was imprisoned by the U.S. government and has been placed under isolation and conditions created just for him.

“Well, they had decided to place [Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman] under the most stringent conditions that a prisoner can be held on. These were made up just for him. And they were made up because he is widely respected as a truth teller. ”

You have the right to tell the lawyer everything. You have the right to tell him if there are witnesses, if this is a put up case, why it is a put up case, who the lawyer should look for in order to defend the case, the way the defense should go.

You have a right to speak to a lawyer without the government listening, without anyone listening for that matter. There’s no other way we can do this work.

They also searched my office. This was an infringement on all my other clients. Only about one-tenth of the files they seized had anything to do with the case they were bringing.

They also seized the entire hard drive off every computer in the office. Now those had letters to clients that we do — the letter to someone in jail that we stamp “Privileged and confidential: do not open.” And here the FBI is going through all of this.

It really was a wholesale invasion. I wish with all my heart that the jury would have sent them a message that they wouldn’t tolerate this; that they too understood that lawyers have to be free to make those tough decisions; that we must be autonomous or we can’t defend.

This is particularly true in view of activists like yourselves in this room. I’m not carrying a brief for lawyers, but I am carrying forth the idea that you have a right to a champion in that courtroom.

If they can take that away from us we are really diminished and our movement is diminished because you know they can lock us up and we won’t be back out demonstrating next week. We’re going to have to do a lot of things to stop them from doing that.

Write letters to support Lynne Stewart

People ask, “What can I do?” It’s so limited in terms of what we can ask you to do to help “the case.”

Right now, for my case we are looking for letters. We really want to get hundreds of thousands of letters.

If you’ve never met me before today you can’t say, “she defended my cousin, my son, or whatever,” but you can say, “I am an activist, and I am concerned that the playing field seems to have been shortened for the defense,” because the final word on my “crossing the line” is that the government moved the line.

So we want you to write letters. There is a template back there, but it’s not really that because you’ve got to write your own letter. It’s got to be you.

If you are part of an organization, please write on your letterhead. If not, just write and say who you are and why this matters to you. They have to be sent not to me, not to the judge, but to the lawyer so they can put them together in some kind of reasonable way.

We need them by July 1. I don’t think it’s really a great deal to get a letter out of people who are committed to this movement.

Please go to your friends. Everybody here is not just a member of this organization or only attends these meetings. People attend many things. Go to the churches. Start a discussion group.

Say, “Do you think this lawyer really deserves to go to jail for 30 years? She spent 30 years defending all the kids in the neighborhood.” I lived in the projects for 35 years in New York. I defended every kid that knocked on my door, whether they had money or not.

Many times I have seen a grandma come in with her folded and worn leather purse and say, “I don’t know whether my grandson did this or not, Ms. Stewart, but I just want to make sure he’s got a good lawyer.” Whatever she had in that purse, that was the fee I accepted. I think for the years of service — the fact that I am 65 and that I want to continue the struggle — I can ask this.

Thank you very much.



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