Wednesday, July 23, 2003 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: House Votes 309-118 to Scale Back Patriot Act; FCC Rules...
2003-07-23

Judge Drops Two Terrorism Counts Against Civil Rights Attorney Lynne Stewart in Major Defeat for the Justice Department

DONATE →
This is viewer supported news

A federal judge said the charges Lynne Stewart conspired to support a terrorism organization by delivering messages from her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman�s prison cell to his followers in Egypt were unconstitutionally vague. We speak with Lynne Stewart and her lawyer Michael Tigar.

A federal judge dismissed two main terror charges against a prominent civil rights lawyer and her co-defendants yesterday.

U.S. district judge John Koeltl said the charges Lynne Stewart conspired to support a terrorism organization were unconstitutionally vague and "reveal a lack of prosecutorial standards."

Stewart was facing a possible 40-year jail sentence.

Prosecutors had accused Stewart of passing messages between her client, the imprisoned Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, and an Egyptian terrorist organization. Rahman was convicted of conspiring to blow up several New York landmarks and to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He is serving a life sentence.

The judge’s ruling yesterday left intact charges that Stewart and two others conspired to defraud the United States and that Stewart made false statements.

But the dismissal of the first two counts of a five-count indictment was a major blow to prosecutors. The case had been personally announced in April 2002 by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

U.S. Attorney James B. Comey was unwilling to concede defeat, saying in a statement that he still believes the law prohibiting material support for terrorism is constitutional and that an appeal is possible.

  • Lynne Stewart, human rights attorney, arrested in April, 2002 on charges that she helped her client Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman deliver messages from his Minnesota prison cell to his followers in Egypt.
  • Michael Tigar, defense attorney representing Lynne Stewart.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the federal judge who dismissed two main terror charges against prominent civil rights attorney and her two co-defendants. U.S. district judge John Koeltl said the charges against Lynne Stewart [that she] conspired to support a terrorism organization were unconstitutionally vague and "reveal a lack of prosecutorial standards." Stewart was facing a possible 40-year jail sentence. Prosecutors had accused her of passing messages between her client, the imprisoned Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and his followers in Egypt. Rahman was convicted of conspiring to blow up several New York landmarks and to assassinate the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He’s serving a life sentence.

The judge’s ruling has left intact charges that Lynne Stewart and her two co-defendants conspired to defraud the U.S. and that Lynne Stewart made false statements. But the dismissal of the first two-counts of the five-count indictment is a major blow to prosecutors. The case had been personally announced in April 2002 by Attorney General John Ashcroft. He held a news conference and then further discussed the issue that night on the David Letterman show. US attorney James Comey was unwilling to concede defeat, saying in a statement he still believes that the law prohibiting material support for terrorism is constitutional and that an appeal is possible.

We’re joined in our studio by Lynne Stewart herself, as well as her attorney on the telephone, Michael Tigar. Welcome to Democracy Now!

LYNNE STEWART: Happy to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you get the news yesterday, and your response?

LYNNE STEWART: We got a phone call from Michael Tigar, saying that the judge had called him to have us pick up this decision. For an hour, we sat around the office and chewed on our fingernails not knowing whether it was 77 pages of good news or bad news. But we got a call from Ahmed Sattar’s wife who got a call from his lawyers to say that the first two-counts were dismissed. And it’s a major victory at a time we don’t see too many victories for our side.

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney Michael Tigar talk about the judge’s ruling and on what grounds he made it?

MICHAEL TIGAR: The ruling holds that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, freedom of speech, press, association, and petition, requires that if you’re going to limit speech, you have to do so with statutes that let people know what they can and cannot say or do. And that this statute as applied by these prosecutors, flunks that test. I think the significant thing is that the defense of Lynne Stewart has always been a defense of the right to defend, the right to counsel, and, of course, if you empower brave lawyers like Lynne Stewart, you help people. But this opinion goes broader than that. It says that the prosecution is an attack on the right of all people to express themselves. And that means that the judge has taken a view of the First Amendment that empowers, not just lawyers to defend people, but all people who want to talk about, to protest and analyze the current American policy in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: Lynne Stewart, this case does go forward though, and it goes forward on the lesser charges. Can you talk about those charges?

LYNNE STEWART: Yes. One of the reasons I want to take a shout out to all my many, many people who supported me with their whole hearts and souls in this. All over the country–Milwaukee to Fort Lauderdale to the Bay Area. Is that it isn’t over until it’s over. And they still have serious charges and of course, any conviction would take my license away, remove me from being the defender. So we still have a big fight on our hands and we’re going forward with that fight. I spoke to Michael late last night and we agreed that we’re not going to lessen our attack because we are sure they’re not going to lessen their attack. So even with these terror charges out of the picture, we all know that they can get you on a technicality. We’re going to fight that as far as we can. We think the facts are with us on these charges.

AMY GOODMAN: What does this mean for other attorneys, Michael Tigar?

MICHAEL TIGAR: It means that lawyers who give their services to represent people accused of terrorist crimes — so-called terrorist crimes, can breathe a little easier if this opinion holds up. This case was, from the beginning, an attempt to chill the exercise of vigorous advocacies. So let’s hope that some more lawyers take courage and others join the fray.

LYNNE STEWART: Actually in the judge’s opinion, Amy, he goes so far as to say that the government failed to explain completely how a lawyer, acting as an agent of her client, an alleged leader of a foreign terrorist organization, could avoid being subject of a criminal prosecution, under the government’s theory in my case.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us.

LYNNE STEWART, human rights attorney.

Arrested April, 2002, on charges that she helped her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman deliver messages from his Minnesota prison cell, to his followers in Egypt. The judge has dropped the two main terror charges against Lynne Stewart, and her two co-defendants. When we come back from our break, we’ll be joined by Congressman Bernie Sanders, on various aspects of the U.S.A Patriot Act. One key provision was, there was a Bill last night that was very significant in rolling it back. We’ll also be talking about how the Republicans are going after a D.N.C. ad that highlights President Bush’s statement in his State of the Union address, making the false allegation that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium [for] Iraq. Stay with us.


Creative Commons License The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.