Workers Vanguard No. 878

13 October 2006


Pack the Courtroom for October 16 Sentencing!

Fight Convictions of Lynne Stewart, Mohamed Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Sattar!

For over 30 years, attorney Lynne Stewart has been a thorn in the government’s side —an outspoken and ardent courtroom advocate for black activists, leftists and others deemed enemies by America’s racist rulers. For this, Stewart, along with her Arabic translator Mohamed Yousry and paralegal Ahmed Abdel Sattar, was convicted in February 2005 on frame-up charges of conspiracy to provide “material support to terrorism” and “conspiring to defraud” the U.S. government. The charges stem from Stewart’s legal representation of Egyptian Islamic fundamentalist cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for conspiracy to blow up New York City area landmarks in the early 1990s.

When Stewart, Yousry and Sattar step into court for sentencing on October 16, the government expects its pound of flesh. Prosecutors are demanding a 30-year sentence for Stewart—i.e., condemning the 67-year-old grandmother, who was diagnosed with cancer following her conviction, to spend the rest of her life behind bars. The persecution of Stewart, Yousry and Sattar is an attack on the democratic rights of us all. We call on labor, defenders of black and immigrant rights, defenders of civil liberties and democratic rights to pack the courthouse to demand: Down with the McCarthyite “anti-terror” witchhunt! Freedom for Lynne Stewart, Mohamed Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Sattar!

As we wrote in “Drop the Charges Against Lynne Stewart, Mohammed Yousry, Ahmed Abdel Sattar!” (WV No. 829, 9 July 2004):

“At issue is whether attorneys have the right to provide legal defense for anyone with unpopular views without being accused of the crime themselves. At issue is whether anyone accused of a crime has the right to legal defense, the right to free speech and association, to publicize their views to the world outside the jail cell, or even the right to receive news of the world beyond the prison walls. This case is being prosecuted by the same capitalist rulers who ordered torture and maintained that their victims in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo had no right to legal defense.”

The only “crime” Lynne Stewart was guilty of was representing her client. In a New York Times (17 February 2005) op-ed piece, former New Jersey Superior Court judge Andrew Napolitano commented: “No doubt the outcome of this case will have a chilling effect on lawyers who might represent unpopular clients. Since 9/11 the federal government’s message has been clear: if you defend someone we say is a terrorist, we may declare you to be one of them, and you will lose everything.”

The evidence against Mohamed Yousry, a doctoral candidate in Middle Eastern Studies at New York University, consisted of his notebooks of discussions with Sheik Abdel Rahman. Yousry’s thesis adviser, Zachary Lockman, had suggested that he take advantage of his rare access to the sheik to develop a theme for his doctoral dissertation. An opponent of Islamic fundamentalism who never set foot in a mosque in his life, Yousry took notes on the Mubarak dictatorship and “Muslim totalitarianism” in Egypt. Yousry is facing two decades in prison for doing his job as a translator.

Writing of the trial of his student, Lockman noted that the prosecution “acknowledged that Mohammed had never advocated violence or Islamic fundamentalism. My guess is that the real reason they went after Mohammed was to get Stewart: She knew no Arabic, and Abdel Rahman knew very little English, so without including Mohammed in the alleged conspiracy, prosecutors wouldn’t have had much of a case” (“Translating Arabic into Injustice,” Los Angeles Times, 6 February). Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a postal worker and a supporter of the sheik, was convicted of conspiracy to “kill and kidnap persons in a foreign country.” He faces life imprisonment essentially for making phone calls to the sheik’s supporters in Egypt and Afghanistan.

The convictions of Stewart and her legal assistants are a frontal attack on the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney and on the free speech rights of us all. The prosecution was based on hundreds of hours of videotaped and recorded discussions between the sheik and Stewart—meetings that are supposed to be free from government snoops. Stewart’s “material support to terrorism” consisted of making the views of her imprisoned client known to a Reuters journalist, in violation of the patently unconstitutional restrictions (Special Administrative Measures—SAMs) placed on Stewart as a condition of being allowed to meet with the sheik. To the prosecution, this simple exercise of First Amendment free speech rights constituted a “jail break.” What next? Is publishing a column by Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was framed up in effect as a “terrorist” for his political views, “material support to terrorism”? What about signing a petition on behalf of the Irish nationalist IRA or Basque ETA prisoners?

This was an “anti-terrorism” show trial without any terrorists, which was precisely the point. Even the government admitted that not a single act of violence arose from this alleged terror conspiracy. But to assure a conviction, Judge Koeltl allowed prosecutors to inflame the jury with details of kidnappings of foreigners in the Philippines and the murder of tourists in Luxor, Egypt. Prosecutors claimed that these acts were inspired by supporters of the sheik, though they had nothing to do with the defendants. Fearing that wasn’t enough, as the trial proceeded in September 2004 the prosecution seized on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which patently had nothing to do with the case, by playing a videotape of Osama bin Laden—in a courtroom less than a mile from “Ground Zero”!

This case illustrates once again how “conspiracy” prosecutions provide legal cover for repression of the government’s political opponents when the state can find no evidence of criminal activity. The early trade unions in this country were outlawed as “criminal conspiracies” against “free trade.” Leftists, union organizers and opponents of U.S. entry into the First World War were imprisoned on charges of “seditious conspiracy.” In 1943, 18 Trotskyists and leaders of the Minneapolis Teamsters were thrown in jail under the Smith Act for conspiracy because of their opposition to U.S. imperialism in World War II.

Defense of Lynne Stewart takes on added significance with the passage in Congress last month of a bill sanctioning torture, affirming the president’s authority to designate anyone he wishes an “enemy combatant,” and eliminating habeas corpus for detainees in the “war on terror.” Shortly after news broke of the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program, Stewart filed a motion seeking a new trial should it be shown that the Feds illegally subjected her strategy sessions with her lawyers to unlawful electronic surveillance. The government’s response was that Stewart and her attorneys couldn’t see the government response—it was too “classified.” Judge Koeltl has yet to rule on the motion.

The vendetta against Lynne Stewart is a centerpiece of the government’s “war on terror,” which is a pretext for U.S. imperialism’s rampages around the world and for a modern-day witchhunt against all who are perceived as standing in the way of the aims of the capitalist government. Her prosecution and conviction represent an escalation of the rulers’ attacks on democratic rights won through massive struggle, including the English Civil Wars of the 1600s and two bourgeois revolutionary wars in this country, the War of Independence and the Civil War. Be sure: the attacks on civil liberties are not solely the work of Bush, Cheney & Co. The Democrats promote themselves as the more effective officers to lead the “war on terror.” The “anti-terror” law under which Stewart was prosecuted was signed by Democratic president Clinton, and the SAMs that strip prisoners of elementary rights to communicate with the outside world were implemented under his administration.

Behind the facade of American “democracy” stands the capitalist state’s machinery of organized violence: armed bodies of men—the police and military, with their adjuncts of the courts and prisons—committed to defend and enforce capitalist class rule against workers and the oppressed. The fact that the government is going after lawyers signifies an ominous attempt to eviscerate the right to effective counsel in the American legal system. The labor movement, fighters for black rights and all opponents of capitalist injustice have a direct interest in joining in defense of Stewart, Yousry and Sattar.

On October 15, the day before the sentencing, supporters of Lynne Stewart will be holding a rally at New York City’s Riverside Church, 4-7 p.m. The rally the next day will be held at 8:00 a.m. outside the federal courthouse at Centre and Worth Streets in lower Manhattan. Freedom for Lynne Stewart, Mohamed Yousry, Ahmed Abdel Sattar!