For those unable to make the event tonight, it will be broadcast on WBAI (http://www.wbai.org/). Listen in!
Chris Hedges interviews Lynne Stewart (Part 1)
By Chris Hedges
In this photo from Oct. 16, 2006, lawyer Lynne Stewart enters Manhattan federal court for her sentencing. (AP/Louis Lanzano)
The lynching and disbarring of civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart, who because she has terminal cancer was recently released from prison after serving four years of a 10-year sentence, is a window into the collapse of the American legal system. Stewart—who has stood up to state power for more than three decades in order to give a voice to those whom authorities seek to crush, who has spent her life defending the poor and the marginalized, who wept in court when one of her clients was barred from presenting a credible defense—is everything a lawyer should be in an open society. But we no longer live in an open society. The persecution of Stewart is the persecution of us all.
Stewart, 74, is living with her husband in her son’s house in New York City after being released from a Texas prison a month ago. Because she is disbarred she cannot perform any legal work. “Can’t even work in a law office,” she said softly last week when I interviewed her at the Brooklyn home. “I miss it so terribly. I liked it. I liked the work.”
Her career as one of the country’s most renowned civil rights lawyers coincided with the fall of our legal system. She said that when she started practicing law in the 1970s it was a “golden era” in which a series of legal decisions—including rulings affecting police lineups and what information and evidence the government had to turn over to defendants on trial—created a chance for a fair defense. But these legal advances were reversed in a string of court decisions that, especially after 9/11, made the state omnipotent. As citizens were stripped of power, she said, “a death of the spirit of the bar” occurred. Lawyers gave up, she said. They no longer saw defending people accused of crime as “a calling, something that you did because you were answering a higher voice.”
“I don’t want to make anything a kind of religious thing, it wasn’t that, but you know, you defended people because they were up against the mightiest organism in the universe: the government of United States, whether they were state or federal,” she said Thursday evening as we sat with her husband, Ralph Poynter, at her son’s dining room table.
Stewart, working with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and lawyer Abdeen Jabara in 1995, was the lead trial counsel for Omar Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian Muslim known as “the Blind Sheikh,” who was convicted in October of that year for alleged involvement in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. He received life in prison plus 65 years, a sentence Stewart called “outlandish.” She said Abdel Rahman was put on trial not for any crimes he committed but because the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak, as well as Washington, was frightened of his influence over the Egyptian masses. The United States, along with Egypt, wanted to “take him off the scene” and “get him put away where he would no longer exert the influence he had.” The cleric, now 75 and in poor health, is imprisoned in the medical wing of the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina.
The court, through numerous rulings, refused to let Stewart mount her defense, ensuring that the government prosecutors would not be challenged. The proceedings were a tawdry show trial, a harbinger of the many judicial assaults against Muslims in the United States after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. I was based in Egypt at the time of the trial as the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. I remember being stunned at the repeated mendacity of the government prosecutors, who blamed Abdel Rahman for terrorist attacks he had, in fact, publicly denounced. The prosecutors, for example, accused him of orchestrating the killing of 62 people in 1997 in Luxor, Egypt, although the sheikh at the time condemned the attack and had no connection with the Egyptian group that carried out the massacre. When the guilty verdict was read, Stewart burst into tears, “the only time I ever cried in the courtroom.”
Stewart continued to visit the sheikh after the sentencing. Three years after the trial the government severely curtailed his ability to communicate with the outside world, even through his lawyers, under special administrative measures known as SAMs.
Abdel Rahman asked Stewart during a prison visit in 2000 to release a statement from him to the press concerning a negotiated cease-fire between the Egyptian government and militants. The Clinton administration did not prosecute Stewart for conveying the press release, although she was admonished and prohibited from seeing her client for several months. The Bush administration, however, in April 2002, with the country baying for blood after the attacks of 9/11, decided to prosecute her for the two-year-old press release. Stewart says she never expected to be charged for releasing the press statement.
Minutes before her arrest on April 9, 2002, her husband, who later would organize the successful fight to win her a compassionate release from prison after she diagnosed with breast cancer, was outside on the stoop of their house, which, she said, “in New York is where you go sit on the steps in the summertime when you can’t afford to go to East Hampton.” She heard him in a heated conversation.
“I go to the door and I hear him saying ‘I don’t see any badge, I don’t see any warrant, what are you doing here, anyway?’ ” she said.
Assuming Ralph was being arrested, she told him to take it easy, she would have him home by lunchtime.
Interview w/Lynne Stewart & Her Family on Her Health & Plans
Tune into WBAI Radio’s Health Action program – part of the WBAI Winter Fund Drive
Mon., Feb. 3 from 11:00 PM – Midnight Eastern time
In the NY/NJ/CT area, you can hear WBAI at 99.5 FM, or stream live at http://www.wbai.org/playernew.html . WBAI live streams are available via a Pacifica app that works on the iPhone, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Links at https://itunes.apple.com/app/id583381890?mt=8
If you miss the show, go to the audio archive any time after the show for a downloadable file at http://www.wbai.org/server-archive.html and scroll down to Mon., Feb. 3, 11 PM, “Health Action” and 11:30 PM, “Feature Stories News Report” (which is pre-empted for this special).
Tune in for the interview done by Bob Lederer on February 2 with beloved human rights attorney Lynne Stewart, her husband and comrade Ralph Poynter, and their daughter and doctor, Zenobia Brown. Lynne served 4 years of a 10-year sentence on false charges of “aiding terrorism” at the federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, until finally receiving compassionate release on December 31, 2013. This is an important victory for the movement to free U.S. political prisoners. A year ago, Lynne was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer that had spread from her breast to her lung, bones, and back. Prison authorities waited three months to schedule her needed follow-up tests and hospital care. Lynne then underwent chemotherapy in the local Fort Worth hospital while shackled to her bed. It took a 9-month mass campaign by tens of thousands to pressure the U.S. Justice Department to finally apply to her sentencing judge for compassionate release, which was quickly granted.
Now 74, Lynne has lost weight and has trouble breathing; doctors estimate her lifespan at 12 months. In this upbeat interview, Lynne Stewart, Ralph Poynter and Zenobia Brown discuss how Lynne has been feeling better since her return home, her plans for a combined conventional and complementary treatment program, including a major nutritional component, and the fundraising efforts underway to cover the large costs she will have to bear for all this — including a major celebratory event on February 14 in New York City (see below). (Thanks to John Riley for engineering the interview.)
This program is part of the WBAI Winter Fund Drive – please donate to keep the station on the air by calling (212) 209-2950 or donating online at http://www.give2wbai.org/, Become a BAI Buddy — making automatic monthly donations of $10 or more — and you sustain the institution, get discounts at museums and other sites and events, and (after donating $25) become a voting member of the station.
For links to archives of recent WBAI and other media coverage of Lynne’s release, go to
AN URGENT FUNDRAISER FOR LYNNE’S MEDICAL NEEDS
ST. PETER’S CHURCH
Friday, February 14th at 6pm
On Valentine’s Day – Come to an evening of music, song and sharing love for recently released People’s Lawyer Lynne Stewart. Because of a determined people’s movement, Lynne is finally home with her family. But she has urgent medical needs and costs. Lynne’s Stage 4 breast cancer spread a year ago to both lungs, back, bones and lymph nodes. Now 74, she has lost weight and has trouble breathing; doctors estimate her lifespan at 12 months. Lynne will soon begin treatment requiring her to pay deductibles and co-payments. To boost the odds, she’ll use a special diet, vitamins, and other healing methods – some costly and none covered by insurance.
Lynne’s spirit is indomitable – help her fight to survive!
“I fought lions, I fought tigers, and I’m not goign to let cancer get me,” Stewart said.
Lynne has always come to the aid of those who needed her. Now it’s our turn to stand by Lynne.
SEND LYNNE A VALENTINE AND A DONATION AT:
SAVE THE DATE!
Love for Lynne!
February 14, 2014 from 6pm – 10pm
Location and details soon!
In the meantime, please help Lynne pay for her immediate medical needs by going here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/send-lynne-stewart-a-valentine
by Barbara Nimri Aziz
‘Never give up’ is an adage easily proffered. But here is living testimony from a man who I personally witnessed devoting every ounce of his energy, his finances and his every day to fighting for justice for his wife. Ralph’s political spirit and personal confidence lies behind this improbable success story. Lynne Stewart’s (www.LynneStewart.org) husband also reaffirms the essential role of family members in securing justice for their loved ones.
Over the 25 years that I’ve participated in and reported on civil rights and justice issues in the US, I witnessed how family unarguably makes an enormous difference to success. Yes, we have some good civil rights lawyers here; we have a justice system that can be challenged; we have citizens who can sometimes be moved to act when they see injustice. Lynne Stewart had all that; and immediately on her release she and Ralph thanked their supporters. http://www.workers.org/articles/2014/01/03/struggle-freed-lynne-stewart/
Still, knowing the campaign that was waged, interacting directly with Ralph Poynter and (from a distance) with Stewart particularly during her imprisonment, victory was assured only with Ralph’s personal leadership. As Lynne noted: “I was not very optimistic.” (To be expected as her health deteriorated.) “But”, she added, “Ralph was sure we’d win.”
US press reports of Stewart’s campaign to defend her actions and win her freedom were absent or downright hostile. Any history of her conviction was reduced to an alleged association with terrorism and the Egyptian-American ‘blind’ cleric Abdul Rahman. These eclipsed Stewart’s noteworthy career defending unpopular cases particularly for victimized minority people in the USA.
When she was first charged in connection with Abdul Rahman, Stewart interpreted the government attack on her as a constitutional issue. The government, she charged, had breached the right of privacy between lawyer and client; Stewart defended herself on that point. It was a touchy issue at a very scary time here (after Sept. 2001) when attorneys were retreating from defending American Arabs and Muslims.
The government attack on Stewart was, many agreed, a warning to the entire legal profession. It had the intended effect. (Muslims here who were being rounded up, intimidated, detained, jailed and deported were hard pressed to find defense attorneys. Some Muslims may quietly admit that Lynne was their champion during the 1990s; yet they remained silent and few US Muslims joined the long, hard campaign to free her. Note: I have yet to see any announcement from a US Muslim organization welcoming Stewart’s release.)
During two years (2007-09) after Stewart was charged, she was able to meet bail and swiftly set out on a campaign against government abuse of client-attorney privilege. In her late 60s by then and barred from practicing law, she travelled the nation to make her case. A forceful speaker, Stewart drew large audiences.
But the government was out to get her; in fact government prosecutors called for a higher penalty, and indeed it succeeded in turning a 28 month sentence into ten years. Stewart was 70 at the time, already diagnosed with cancer.
During her first two years in prison, Stewart’s attorneys sought to overturn the judgment on legal grounds. When those appeals failed and Stewart’s health deteriorated, Ralph and their children called for compassionate release on the basis of her cancer prognosis. Between travelling from NY to the Texas prison to see his wife, Ralph concentrated on a New York-area campaign. A year ago one rally he organized outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan, drew more police than the 20 protesters. Poynter petitioned passersby outside the White House. Another NYC rally drew 50-60. Online petitions hardly garnered 10,000 signatories– pretty slim in the US.
Undaunted, Ralph and his children posted regular health reports. They informed us how Lynne was shacked in heavy chains, hands and feet, when transferring from her cell to the prison hospital for treatment. He distributed updates at any assembly where he felt someone would be receptive to Lynne’s case. He came to our studio for an interview on my program (http://podcast.radiotahrir.org/2013/04/14/tahrir-april-9-2013-broadcast.aspx); he spoke to any journalist who’d give him a moment. The family updated Lynne’s webpage where we could read Lynne’s letters from prison.
Today, Lynne’s release (even on compassionate grounds) with doctors’ expectations that has 12-18 months to live, may be viewed as a civil rights success. To me, it is a victory for the dogged, hard work and faith of a small circle of good people, led by retired schoolteacher, union organizer and husband Ralph Poynter.
Barbara Nimri Aziz is an anthropologist, author and radio producer at Pacifica-WBAI Radio-NY . Her work can be read and heard at www.RadioTahrir.org.
Art from sanda aronson for Lynne!
We are all overjoyed that we brought Lynne Stewart home from prison!
Many people have expressed a desire to contribute financially to Lynne. We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support.
The only sanctioned manner of doing this is by check or money order to the Lynne Stewart Organization, 1070 Dean Street, Brooklyn, NY 11216.