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Hullabaloo


Sunday, December 29, 2013

 
Making an example of them

by digby

This is from a few months ago but it came to mind as I was drinking my coffee this morning thinking about some people's insistence that national security whistleblowers should throw themselves on the mercy of the US courts:
A former New York lawyer convicted of helping a jailed Egyptian militant cleric smuggle messages out of prison lost her bid on Friday to be released from prison because she is suffering from terminal cancer.

Lynne Stewart, 73, is three years into a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted of aiding her client, blind cleric Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 of conspiring to attack the United Nations and other New York City landmarks.

Stewart, known for her advocacy of left-wing causes, is suffering from stage IV breast cancer and asked that her sentence be vacated or modified to time-served.

U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl denied Stewart’s request, noting that the Federal Bureau of Prisons recently denied her application for compassionate release.

The Bureau of Prisons must agree before a court can reduce a sentence based on compassionate release, he said in court documents.

However, the judge left open the possibility that she might still have a chance at freedom, saying that in the time since the Bureau turned her down, her doctor said she has less than 18 months to live.

Stewart’s attorneys have resubmitted her application with the Bureau, and it is pending, Koeltl said.

He said the court was “prepared to give prompt and sympathetic consideration” to a motion by the bureau seeking compassionate release.

A federal jury in New York convicted Stewart in 2005 of helping Abdel-Rahman smuggle messages to Egypt’s Islamic Group, which in the 1990s waged a bloody campaign against security forces with the aim of creating an Islamic state but later renounced violence.

Stewart was sentenced to 28 months in prison, a sentence that an appeals court later deemed insufficient. In 2010, she was re-sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Stewart was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, and it returned last year, according to court documents. The cancer has spread into her lungs and lymph nodes, and she needs help bathing and suffers from the side effects of chemotherapy treatments, the documents said.
The case was anything but a clear cut story of "aiding terrorism."
Perhaps more than any other, this case illustrates how out of hand things have gotten in the "war on terrorism." To inflate its successes in ferreting out terrorism, the Justice Department turned an administrative infraction into a terrorism conviction that, unless reversed, will likely send Stewart to prison for the rest of her life. To make sure the charges would stick, the prosecution tried the case in the most inflammatory and prejudicial way possible, introducing as "background" reams of evidence of terrorism that had nothing to do with Stewart's actions.

The case against Stewart was fairly straightforward. She represented Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, now serving multiple life sentences for conspiring to blow up several Manhattan bridges and tunnels. Rahman is barred from any contact with the outside world beyond his immediate family and attorneys. As his lawyer, Stewart signed an agreement not to transmit messages from him to unauthorized people. In June 2000 she violated that agreement. After meeting with the sheik, Stewart called Reuters to say that he had withdrawn his personal support for a cease-fire then in place in Egypt. Two days later she issued a clarification explaining that the sheik "did not cancel the cease-fire," but "left the matter to my brothers to examine it and study it because they are the ones who live there and they know the circumstances better than I."

Stewart should not have issued the release. Doing so violated the administrative agreement. But it is not a crime to violate such an agreement. In an ordinary case, the lawyer might receive a warning. In an unusual case, the lawyer might be barred from continuing to visit her client (as indeed Stewart was at the time, until she agreed to a new set of conditions). In an extraordinary case, the lawyer might be brought up on disciplinary charges before the bar.

But after September 11, the Justice Department was not content with any of those measures; it charged Stewart with terrorism. Since violating the agreement was not itself a crime, the indictment charged her with fraudulently entering into the agreement in the first place. And it alleged that by passing on the sheik's message, she'd offered "material support" in aid of terrorist activity.

Both charges were a stretch. Showing that Stewart violated the agreement would be easy, but proving that she intended to violate it when she initially signed it was much more challenging. And the terrorism charge would require showing that Stewart's statement to the press was intended to support a particular terrorist act, when in fact the release did not call for or prompt any such act.

So how did the prosecution meet its burden? With classic McCarthy-era tactics: fearmongering and guilt by association.
Read on for the full story of what seems to be obvious prosecutorial abuse, keeping in mind that both the Bush and Obama Justice Departments pursued this woman with Javert-like zeal.

She did have a history of supporting left wing causes which was, apparently, a good reason to suspect her of also wanting to advance Islamic terrorism. After all, while leftists may be gay-loving, pot smoking, "let it all hang out" hedonists they also clearly support the goals of fundamentalist religious fanatics who seeks to enforce traditional roles and dominate every aspect of people's personal lives.

She was a lawyer who made an error that would ordinarily result in, at worst, discipline by the bar association. She is going to die in prison.

The good news is that in America we have no political prisoners.






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