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Free Lynne Stewart: an open letter to the Center for Constitutional Rights

December 3, 2012

by Ralph Poynter and Ralph Shoenman

Dear Center for Constitutional Rights:

We received your appeal calling for urgent support of the Center for Constitutional Rights. The appeal lists those cases and causes which the center enjoins its supporters to embrace: all fundamental violations of basic constitutional protections that embody the rapid construction in the United States of the architecture of the totalitarian state.

Ralph Poynter was able to visit his beloved wife Lynne Stewart in prison on New Year’s Day 2012. The Bureau of Prisons refuses to house her near their New York City home, where her husband, children and grandchildren and friends could visit often. Instead, she is far away in a Texas prison.
The appeal, regrettably, omits mention of Lynne Stewart, who is serving currently 10 years in a federal prison for her role in defending Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman as co-counsel for the defense with former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and renowned civil liberties counsel Abdeen Jabara.

Few cases encapsulate so fundamentally the destruction of democratic rights in the United States as the persecution and prosecution of Lynne Stewart. Her conviction and imprisonment destroy the very possibility of legal representation for those accused falsely by the government. It allows attorneys to be charged with the very offense for which she or he has defended a client merely by having provided voice for the evidence of innocence and for advocacy on behalf of the accused.

It is no different than a lawyer defending a person accused of murder being enfolded within the crime imputed to the defendant by virtue of having served as his or her legal counsel.

This assault upon the right to a defense – and this persecution of lawyers who provide it – is a measure of the use of the events of 9-11 and the “war on terror” to put in place in the United States a reign of terror against the democratic rights of its citizens.

The railroading of Lynne Stewart rises far beyond the vindictive revenge exacted by the psalm-singing Attorney General John Ashcroft when he chose the venue of David Letterman’s Late Show on CBS to announce that the Justice Department would charge Lynne Stewart for participating in the putative “offense” for which she was defending her innocent client. This act in itself destroys the possibility of legal representation for any whom governmental authority sets out to railroad into prison.

Using mass media as a bully pulpit, Ashcroft then – and Obama’s Justice Department since – contaminated public discourse by deploying the power of the state to orchestrate a campaign of propaganda against the falsely accused Lynne Stewart.

To ensure that defense attorneys were muzzled in their efforts to bring to public notice the role of the sheikh as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s opposition to the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose military and secret police kidnapped, tortured and murdered the broad array of opponents to his 40 year dictatorship, Attorney General Ashcroft and the Bush regime imposed Special Administrative Measures – prison regulations that disallowed public discussion by counsel of evidence in support of the accused or the views of the accused himself.

Unless defense counsel acquiesced in these basic violations of the rights of the accused, they could be denied administratively further access to their client. In addition to this, the very meetings and discussions between counsel and accused in prison were monitored by the state and disclosed to the prosecution – a fundamental breach of attorney-client confidentiality insuring that the trial itself would be a charade in a kangaroo court.

Few cases encapsulate so fundamentally the destruction of democratic rights in the United States as the persecution and prosecution of Lynne Stewart. Her conviction and imprisonment destroy the very possibility of legal representation for those accused falsely by the government.

It should be noted that a breach of the Ashcroft-inspired Special Administrative Measures by defense counsel, determined to act appropriately for a client demonized daily by government propaganda, carried the sole potential penalty of denial to defense counsel of continued access to their client, absent future compliance with the gag order.

As Ramsey Clark made clear in his testimony before the court where Lynne Stewart was on trial, publicizing the sheik’s actual views and advocacy was viewed by defense counsel as a basic requirement in fidelity to the rights of the accused and the obligations of defense counsel. The same release of press statements by and on behalf of the sheikh had been carried out by Ramsey Clark without response from the prosecution or the state.

Lynne Stewart alone was targeted for prosecution by a Justice Department demanding 30 years in prison for the same act that her co-counsel had performed without legal consequence.

Breach of these Special Administrative Measures, as embraced by Ramsey Clark and his colleagues on constitutional grounds, was not a legal offense – neither a misdemeanor nor a felony. The sole recourse and consequence for the state was administrative – arbitrary denial by prison authorities of future access to the accused, absent renewed agreement by defense counsel to comply with the gag order – a form of blackmail itself violative of the rights of accused and counsel alike.

Graphic: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 19370490, Snake River CF, 777 Stanton Blvd, Ontario OR 97914
This charade, and the farrago of lies that accompany it, form the basis for Lynne Stewart’s arrest, charge and conviction of “providing material support to terrorists.” Among these lies was the claim by the government and the prosecution that an organization in Egypt that carried out a murderous attack on tourists in Luxor was the organization of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. In fact, the Sheik had denounced this attack publicly at the time as a crime that he ascribed to Egyptian and Israeli intelligence services.

This charge was entered as evidence against Lynne Stewart although the incident took place years prior to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman entering the United States and long before Lynne Stewart had become his defense counsel.

The Justice Department of Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama, no less than that of John Ashcroft and George W. Bush, sought a 30-year sentence for Lynne Stewart based upon this concoction of lies and flagrant misuse of the state’s non-legal recourse to a presumptive breach of the administrative matter at hand.

Judge Koeltl conducted a trial in which the state was allowed by the court to put on trial Lynne Stewart’s political views, wholly irrelevant to the issues before the court. Judge Koeltl allowed the prosecution to bombard the jury for days with video tapes featuring Osama Bin Laden, with words ascribed to him entirely by the CIA, and who had never been accused in the landmark “plot” – a massive undertaking claimed to have been hatched years before Sept. 11, 2001.

It was a shameful exercise in inflammatory propaganda on the part of the Justice Department and the prosecution to incite fear in the jury that would prejudice the verdict. Elementary objections invoked continuously by defense counsel regarding relevance and admissibility were denied routinely.

Absent any credible evidence against Lynne Stewart, as in the trial of the sheikh himself, the prosecution set out, with full acquiescence from the court, to contaminate the trial with orchestrated imagery of “acts of terror” unrelated to the issues at hand and calculated to intimidate the jury with hour after hour of inflammatory propaganda that invoked putative acts of “terror” never proven in a court of law.

The Justice Department of Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama, no less than that of John Ashcroft and George W. Bush, sought a 30-year sentence for Lynne Stewart based upon this concoction of lies and flagrant misuse of the state’s non-legal recourse to a presumptive breach of the administrative matter at hand.

Judge Koetl, however, did resist the prosecution’s vengeful and over-the-top demands for a 30-year sentence. He sentenced Lynne Stewart to 28 months.

The prosecution, representing the Justice Department of Attorney General Eric Holder and of President Barack Obama, demanded immediately of the 2nd Circuit Appellate Court that it substitute itself for the court of record below and order the imposition of a vastly increased sentence.

Yielding to this pressure, Judge Koeltl reversed himself fully and re-sentenced Lynne Stewart to 10 years in prison, a capitulation lacking credible or relevant rationale that, in itself, constitutes a legal anomaly.

Now, three years in prison, surmounting cancer, her health ever fragile, Lynne Stewart is indefatigable in her daily support of the violated rights of the army of her fellow prisoners, poor people all without proper counsel, credible due process or legal conviction, buried alive in draconian cells, their basic rights breached daily in the relentless criminalization of poverty that embodies the prison system in capitalist America.

We ask the Center for Constitutional Rights to stand with Lynne now more than ever – as she has done for those for whom the center advocates – over a lifetime.

She continues to do so with her every waking breath.

Ralph Poynter, Lynne’s husband, can be reached at ralph.poynter@yahoo.com, Ralph Schoenman, former co-host of Taking Aim on WBAI, at rbs1@pacbell.net. Send our sister some love and light: Lynne Stewart, 53504-054, FMC Carswell, Unit 2N, P.O. Box 29137, Fort Worth TX 76127.

 

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