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Overturn Terror Show-Trial Convictions of Lynne Stewart, Mohamed Yousry, Ahmed Abdel Sattar!

November 11, 2006

from Workers Vanguard No. 879, 27 October 2006

Consummating a witchhunting “anti-terror” show trial, on October 16, attorney Lynne Stewart, together with her assistants, Mohamed Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, were sentenced to prison, having been convicted in February 2005 of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism and to defraud the U.S. government. Stewart was hit with a 28-month prison stretch. Her Arabic translator, Yousry, got 20 months, and former postal worker Abdel Sattar, who served as Stewart’s paralegal, was ordered locked away for 24 years. This is an outrage! We demand: Overturn the convictions!

The sentences handed down by Judge John Koeltl, who received some 1,100 letters in support of Stewart, were substantially less than the prosecutors had demanded: 30 years for Stewart; 20 years for Yousry and a life sentence for Abdel Sattar. Lynne Stewart, a well-known leftist attorney, 67-year-old grandmother and cancer patient, and Mohamed Yousry are out on bail pending appeal. But Abdel Sattar is locked down deep in the prison system under restrictive Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) that deny him communication, visitors and most rights.

During the sentencing hearing, Koeltl praised Lynne Stewart for representing “the poor, the disadvantaged and the unpopular,” adding, “it is no exaggeration to say that Ms. Stewart performed a public service not only to her clients but to the nation.” But he added that there had been “an irreducible core of extraordinarily severe criminal conduct” in her defense of her client, the Islamic fundamentalist Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for an alleged plot to blow up New York City landmarks. Even the government admits that not a single act of violence resulted from the alleged “terror conspiracy” of which the three were convicted. In fact, Stewart’s only “crime” was to be a zealous advocate on behalf of her client, providing the legal representation supposedly guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution.

As we warned after the convictions in “Outrage! Lynne Stewart, Mohamed Yousry, Ahmed Abdel Sattar Convicted” (WV No. 842, 18 February 2005): “The verdict gives the government a green light to prosecute lawyers for the alleged crimes of their clients, thereby shooting the basic right to counsel to hell.” If attorneys are charged with the alleged crimes of their clients, they’ll be far less likely to defend those accused of serious crimes associated with unpopular causes. And if the populace is stripped of the right to adequate defense, then that will certainly chill the exercise of First Amendment rights to speech and association.

It is a measure of the absence of significant class or social struggle—of the lack of any mass movement on behalf of Stewart and her co-defendants, much less one based on the social power of labor—that many of Stewart’s defenders are celebrating the lesser prison sentences as victories. Meanwhile, the prosecutors are fuming. U.S. attorney Michael Garcia stormed out of the courtroom without comment, declaring in a statement issued afterward: “We will be exploring our appellate options.” And the right-wing talking heads and tabloid rags are screaming over the sentences.

For its part, the New York Times (21 October) ran a hatchet job, “Lawyer Convicted in Terror Case Lied on the Stand, a Juror Says,” that depicts Stewart as guilty as sin. Devoted to the account of one juror who was “vastly disappointed” with the sentences, the Times buries the statement issued by another juror that “the right thing for the judge to have done was to have overturned the jury verdict and thrown the whole case out.” Last year, this same juror wrote a letter to the judge stating she had voted to convict “as a result of the fear and intimidation I was made to feel for my life” in the jury room.

The Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee mobilized in defense of Lynne Stewart and her co-defendants because we understood from the start that with this trial the government was pursuing a frontal assault on all our rights (see speech at Lynne Stewart defense rally, above). The fact that the convictions have not been overturned is ominous and establishes a dangerous precedent.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, then-attorney general John Ashcroft picked Lynne Stewart as his poster girl for the reactionary “war on terror.” On 9 April 2002, John Ashcroft himself flew to New York for the theatrical backdrop of Ground Zero to announce indictments against Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar, accusing them of a conspiracy that provided “material support to terrorist activity.”

“Conspiracy” is a high-voltage charge applied when no evidence exists to support a prosecution for any criminal activity. For years, the government had secretly recorded the supposedly privileged attorney-client discussions between Lynne Stewart, Yousry, Abdel Sattar and Stewart’s court-appointed client, Abdel Rahman.

After a seven-month-long trial fraught with prosecutorial misconduct, including outrageous pandering to palpable fear in the post-September 11 climate (even videotapes of Osama bin Laden were introduced as evidence!), the government got its high-profile trophy when, on 10 February 2005, all three defendants were convicted. Ashcroft devoted a chapter of his memoir, Never Again, to the Stewart prosecution, crowing:

“In convicting Lynne Stewart, the jury acknowledged that America is taking the president’s definition of ‘terrorist’ to heart. If someone aids a terrorist, that is the same as being a terrorist.”

Though carried out by Bush & Co., this mugging of constitutional rights has the fingerprints of the Democratic Clinton administration all over it. Stewart, Yousry and Abdel Sattar were indicted under a law that predates the September 11 attacks, the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act signed into law by Clinton. Unable to get Stewart for breaking any law, the government nailed her with violation of a prison regulation: defying the Special Administrative Measures implemented by the Clinton administration, which drastically restrict a prisoner’s right to communicate with the outside world. When Lynne Stewart told a Reuters journalist that Sheik Abdel Rahman thought the cease-fire between the Islamic Group and the Egyptian government should be reconsidered, the government howled that she had masterminded a “jailbreak” of a “terrorist” whom they thought they had “locked up,” and “thrown away the key.”

It is not hyperbole to suggest that the government has arrogated to itself the right to charge anyone with “material support to terrorism,” or to declare anyone an “unlawful enemy combatant” subject to detention and torture. Send a donation to victims of the tsunami in Sri Lanka and you may find yourself accused of collusion with the Tamil Tigers. Support an IRA prisoner and you may find yourself in the next cell. Now the Military Commissions Act has been signed into law by Bush, defining “unlawful enemy combatants” as those who “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents.” Demonstrate in defense of U.S. imperialism’s victims in Iraq and you could find yourself disappeared—locked in a military prison without an attorney or right to a trial. This capitalist ruling class is so demented that they’ve even classified the recent suicides of three Guantánamo detainees as “asymmetric warfare” and threaten to press charges against an attorney for the detainees!

For Class-Struggle Defense of All Our Rights!

Ahmed Abdel Sattar, an Islamic fundamentalist whose only crime was to rack up large phone bills talking to other fundamentalists, has already been imprisoned for four and a half years. His attorney told the court that since his conviction 20 months ago, Abdel Sattar has been held in solitary in an essentially windowless cell (the window has been painted over) and is denied all visitors. Were it not for our reporter in the courtroom, word of his beastly conditions of imprisonment would likely not get out.

His attorney requested that the court enable Abdel Sattar to meet privately for five or ten minutes with his wife and four children who were in the courtroom before being remanded to prison. Although the judge initially agreed, the U.S. attorney, Andrew Dember, vindictively protested that such a visit would be a violation of the SAMs, and Koeltl backed down. Abdel Sattar was sent down, not to be seen again for a very long time. Speaking on his own behalf before the judge, Abdel Sattar made a courageous statement avowing that he does have strong political beliefs against the governments of Egypt and Israel as well as the policies of the U.S. government. “But I am not a terrorist,” he declared, citing that in more than 88,000 wiretapped conversations on his phone over a period of eight years the government came up with no proof linking him to any act of violence.

Mohamed Yousry is a secular humanist and scholar, who, on the advice of his New York University professor, Zachary Lockman, used his access as a court-approved translator for Sheik Abdel Rahman to pursue a PhD thesis on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt. A well-respected teacher at York College in the City University of New York, Yousry was immediately fired upon his indictment. We applaud Yousry’s statement to the New York Times (16 October): “I wish to God I can say I’m sorry. But I’m not guilty and I’m not going to say I’m sorry for something that I didn’t do.” Yousry told a WV reporter, “We need to move on to the appeal and try to win some kind of legal victory to stop this from happening to other people.” Indeed, the prosecution, conviction and sentencing of Yousry and Abdel Sattar is no less an attack on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel than the persecution of Lynne Stewart.

Yet it is notable that the liberals and self-styled leftists who eventually came around to defend Lynne Stewart (mainly post-conviction) have virtually disappeared the names of Mohamed Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Sattar. Outside the courthouse on the day of sentencing, the Spartacist League and the Partisan Defense Committee carried placards in defense of all three defendants and on the march to the courthouse we initiated a chant: “Lynne Stewart Must Go Free! Free Sattar and Yousry!” The refusal of self-styled leftists to defend anyone but Lynne Stewart was ostentatious and obscene.

Ultimately, what the government can get away with will be determined not in the courtroom but on the battle lines of class struggle in this country. What’s crucial is to link up the struggles of all the oppressed with those of the multiracial labor movement, which, when mobilized in its own class interest and independent of the Democratic Party, has enormous social power. When the capitalist system run by America’s truly terrorist rulers is swept away in a thoroughgoing socialist revolution, then, and only then, will justice be served.

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