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Ashcroft Files New Terrorist-Related Charge Against Civil Rights Lawyer

StoryNovember 20, 2003
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A new superseding indictment against civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart comes four months after a federal judge dismissed similar charges against her saying they were unconstitutionally vague. Lynne Stewart joins us in the studio to discuss the case. [Includes transcript]

The government filed fresh charges yesterday against New York civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart. She is accused of providing assistance to imprisoned radical Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the charges brought against Stewart and two alleged co-conspirators–postal worker Ahmed Sattar and translator Mohammed Yousry,

The new superceding indictment comes after a federal judge in July dismissed charges that the three had conspired to provide material support to Abdel Rahman’s Islamic Group — which is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. Judge John Koetl said the original charges were unconstitutionally vague and “reveal a lack of prosecutorial standards.”

Prosecutors had accused Stewart of passing messages between her client 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 new indictment describes a series of acts committed by Stewart one of which charges that during a May 2000 prison visit with Abdel Rahman, Stewart, “pretended to be participating in the conversation with Abdel Rahman by making extraneous comments such as 'chocolate' and 'heart attack.'”

  • * 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.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are joined in the studio right now by human rights attorney Lynn Stewart. Welcome to democracy now!

LYNNE STEWART: Thank you, Amy. And although the government characterized maximum time as five to 15, conceivably, it could be 45 or 50 if they decided to pile the charges on.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what a superseding indictment is?

LYNNE STEWART: Surely. We knew they had to supersede, that is vote a new indictment because their old indictment was flawed. First of all, the judge had dismissed two charges and secondly they had times and dates and things were mixed up in it. But they took another seven months, during which time they flirted with going up on appeal on the judge’s ruling and then decided not to go up on appeal and now a month before trial is supposed to begin, they have now come down with this new superseding. That is, replacing the old indictment. Reinstating the charges in my view that the judge decided were void for vagueness under this law.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there was as grand jury that was enpaneled over the last weeks where a number of people have been called up to testify?

LYNNE STEWART: That is what we understand, yes. But there actually is very little that’s new in this indictment. This does seem to be reworked. The old press release is right in there that still forms the outline of my communication on behalf of my client. My client, Sheik Omar is now characterized as, “personnel” and I provided personnel to a terrorist organization by making this press release. It’s a little hard to construct all of this, because also in that law is implicit that it’s secret, that i held him secretly and provided secret personnel to the organization. You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand how complicated and how complex they have had to get to change this so that they hope they will meet the judge’s standard.

JUAN GONZALES: And in the material that I saw on the release of the indictment yesterday were saying that, for instance, again, what I had mentioned in the earliest segment, that supposedly you’re involved in facilitating the conspiracy between the Sheik and your other co-defendant in terms of the battleship Cole attack — i mean the U.S.S. Cole attack.

LYNNE STEWART: Yes. The first 15 pages of this indictment, and it runs to almost 25 pages, are replete with just about every terrorist incident that has occurred since 9-11 and actually even before that. A part of it is lifted directly from my co-defendant’s dissertation, which dealt with the sheik. Given all of that —

AMY GOODMAN: This is the translator.

LYNNE STEWART: Yes. His dissertation.

AMY GOODMAN: And he was at N.Y.U.?

LYNNE STEWART: He was at N.Y.U., a doctoral candidate. His subject was Sheik Omar.

AMY GOODMAN: And he was your translator ?

LYNNE STEWART: He was the only one the government would approve, interestingly enough. At any rate, they did certainly waive the flag over the first 15 pages. They apparently based the reference to the Cole upon some news that they had gotten that an Egyptian was involved and then on a telephone conversation with Akmed Satar. Now we can’t comment on what is in these tapes. I can only say that the hear attack and chocolate had to do with me saying to the sheik who was eating m&m’s, I said you are going to cause yourself a heart attack eating all that chocolate. And, of course, this now becomes a code for something or other by this very, very paranoid government under which we live.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds, Lynne Stewart. What do you do now?

LYNNE STEWART: We fight on. We are valiant in the defense of the constitution because there still remains an attack on the sixth amendment, the right to counge sell and particularly the right to counsel for those persons we consider to be political prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: The press release they’re refering to?

LYNNE STEWART: was a press release made by me in may or in june, actually, of 2000, indicating that the Sheik wanted a reconsideration of a cease-fire that his group had agreed to with Mubarak. Mubarak, who is a sponsor of state terrorism against his own people, was the focus of that and this was nothing to do with sending messages. It was released to Reuters. It was no secret at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Lynne Stewart, we’ll continue to follow your case. Again, has been indicted once again by John Ashcroft’s justice department, a superseding indictment after a judge dropped the two major terrorism charges against her that does it for the program. If you’d like to get a copy, call 1-800-881-2359. our website is

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Civil Rights Attorney Lynne Stewart Sentenced to 28 Months In Jail; Remains Free On Bail

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