David Gilbert on Lynne Stewart
[Radical human rights attorney Lynne Stewart has been falsely accused of helping terrorists. Now convicted, she faces 30 years in prison. On Tuesday, April 9, 2002, she was arrested and agents searched her Manhattan office for documents. She was arraigned before Manhattan federal Judge John Koetl. This is an obvious attempt by the U.S. government to silence dissent, curtail vigorous defense lawyers, and install fear in those who would fight against the U.S. government’s racism, seek to help Arabs and Muslims being prosecuted for free speech and defend the rights of all oppressed people.]
You can’t imagine how intense it was, the hurricane that swept into us, when we were busted in the notorious Brinks case of 1981. The lost of lives is always grim; in this case a shoot-out left a Brinks guard and two policemen dead. On top of that, we were avowed revolutionaries, with an alliance of Whites and Blacks working under the leadership of a unit of the Black Liberation Army. The police organizations and media were howling for blood; every court appearance was like walking into an armed camp during open hostilities; the one word used, incessantly, to define us was “terrorists.” (Of course there was no mention of the government’s illegal and murderous campaign, COINTELPRO, that had driven nonviolent activists into underground resistance.)
With the tremendous demands on the handful of attorneys who would work with revolutionaries, we couldn’t find a lawyer willing to defend me there in the middle of that storm and penniless. Then Lynne Stewart stopped forward– doubly courageous because at that point she had little experience in high-stakes trials. Lynne was a staunch advocate and more. Her great warmth, her down to earth intelligence, her cheerfulness in the face of adversity helped us all get through the many tensions and crises we faced during two years of legal confrontations. Lynne went on from that baptism of fire to take on some of the cases that most challenged government power–and to do a terrific job at it.
Her principles and success led to her being targeted. A decade ago, the government tried to disbar Lynne, picked her out to demand she reveal the sources of a client’s payments, using a purported “anti-drug” law that was never used against lawyers who were regular counsel for big-time drug dealers.
When Lynne took Sheik Rahman’s case, I was surprised because I strongly disagree with his politics. But when I thought about it I learned a lesson from her example: a defendant branded as a pariah deserves a vigorous defense. The government is completely disingenuous to feign indignation that Lynne went to the media; the prosecutor always has a high powered media strategy in cases like this, to create a pro-conviction jury pool and intense political pressure against any subsequent reversal on appeal. They also use isolation to break down the defendant’s will and ability to litigate effectively. The government is taking a playing field already heavily tilted in their favor and raising it virtually vertical with their gag orders and isolation.
Because she’s a peerless defender of political prisoners, Lynne Stewart is now in danger of becoming one herself. As crucial as it is that we support and defend her, its even more important to understand that she’s fighting for all of us.