As a prerequisite to being permitted to continue her work as Rahman’s attorney, Stewart signed an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to pass no information to or from her client other than what was legally necessary. As Sharon Chadha observes in The Middle East Quarterly: “Since the sheikh had already been convicted and had exhausted his appeals, Stewart’s role should have been limited to assuring his humane treatment in prison.”
But Stewart chose not to keep her end of the bargain. Instead, she repeatedly did precisely the things she had sworn never again to do. Her accomplices were the sheikh’s court-appointed translator Mohammad Yousry and a paralegal named Ahmed Sattar. Incontrovertible proof of their crimes was provided by secret FBI surveillance videos of Rahman’s prison visits with Stewart and the others. On these videos, Yousry can be seen conveying messages to and from Rahman while Stewart created what the prosecution described as “covering noises” by means of such actions as shaking a water jar, tapping on a table, and uttering random comments while pretending to take notes in her legal pad. The affidavit against Stewart stated that she, along with Rahman and Yousry, had “shared laughs” about the “fine acting job that [Stewart] was doing in successfully tricking the guards.” At one point, a cackling Stewart told her accomplices: “I can get an award for it.”
Perhaps Stewart’s most brazen transgression occurred in June 2000, when, in open defiance of the restriction against her facilitating communications to and from her client, she told the Reuters news service that Rahman had decided to withdraw his support for the cease-fire that the Islamic Group had negotiated with the Egyptian government three years earlier. In other words, the sheikh wanted his followers back home to resume their terrorist operations. One of their more noteworthy previous operations had taken place in 1997 (just before the cease-fire went into effect), when a number of Rahman’s followers, in an effort to force the U.S. government to release their leader, gunned down 62 people at the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt.
Stewart also smuggled out of Rahman’s prison cell a fatwa (religious edict) that bore the sheikh’s name and exhorted “the Muslim nation to fight the Jews and to kill them wherever they are” by means of violent “Jihad.” In that same fatwa, Rahman instructed his fellow Muslims to help him win his freedom by killing Americans, “to treat them with brutality,” and to “drown their ships, shoot down their airplanes, kill them on earth, in the sea or in the sky, kill them everywhere you find them.”
Stewart’s support for Rahman’s vile objectives was clearly heartfelt. In a May 2000 conversation that the FBI secretly taped, Yousry informed the sheikh and Stewart that the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group had kidnapped some tourists in the Philippines and was threatening to execute them if Rahman were not set free. “Good for them,” Stewart retorted in praise of this “very, very crucial” development that she hoped would elevate Rahman’s standing among jihadists.
It is not at all surprising that Stewart should have felt an affinity for Rahman’s murderous goals. Indeed, she once told an interviewer: “I hope that my politics are represented in the people I actually represent.” It is worth noting that Stewart, who is a Maoist, has also defended such America-hating luminaries as Weather Underground bomber Kathy Boudin and Black Panther Willie Holder. More recently, Stewart has hailed Muslim jihadists as “forces of national liberation,” and has characterized “Islamic revolution” as “the only hope” for the oppressed peoples of the Middle East. “If their people see that they want to reinstate a system of law [Sharia] and government that was in existence for hundreds and hundreds of years, I’m not going to judge,” Stewart says.
Moments before Judge Koeltl issued his ruling on Ms. Stewart’s extended sentence last Thursday, the defendant projected none of the smugness, the glibness, or the indomitable self-assurance that has long been her trademark. Suddenly, needing mercy, she was as meek as a lamb, telling the judge that she had found prison life to be much harsher than she could ever have imagined:
Over the last eight months, prison has diminished me. Daily, I confront the prospect of death, losing pieces of my personality. My sense of inquiry and compassion have turned to weariness, my thoughts regimented, my world, once filled with love and laughter and family, slipping away from me.
People like Lynne Stewart, who have successfully gamed the legal system for years and decades on end, commonly grow to believe that they themselves will remain forever beyond the reach of actual justice. When that fantasy eventually crumbles, their smug smiles vanish rather quickly; they are in uncharted territory. Lynne Stewart’s day came last Thursday.
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