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Lynne Stewart, Jihadi Lawyer By: Sharon Chadha
Middle East Quarterly | Thursday, January 12, 2006


A federal court will soon sentence attorney Lynne Stewart to prison for "providing material support" to terrorists, among related charges.[1] The charges center upon her assistance to Egyptian sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman who, from a federal prison cell in Minnesota, has continued his quest both to install an Islamist government in Egypt and to kill Americans and Jews around the world. Stewart's case is symbolic of a corollary battle in the war against terror and highlights the need not only to counter terrorism but also the ideology of Islamism. Her infatuation with her client's cause evolved into an example of what author David Horowitz terms the "unholy alliance" between radical Islam and the American Left.[2] Her embrace of violent jihad illustrates the growing confluence between militant Islam on one hand and non-Muslim radicals on the other.

Background

The charges against Stewart are an epilogue to the conviction of her client. Many Americans first learned of the blind sheikh when, on February 26, 1993, his followers drove a truck bomb into the World Trade Center. Though the explosion was not as destructive as they planned—Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind, said that he had hoped to kill some 250,000 people[3]—it still left six dead and injured over 1,000 people. However, in his home country of Egypt, Abdel Rahman was a household name. During the 1990s, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, of which the sheikh was the spiritual leader, led an Islamic insurgency in Egypt that resulted in more than 1,200 deaths.[4]

It was not a one-time event. On October 1, 1995, a federal court in New York found Abdel Rahman and nine codefendants guilty of seditious conspiracy for plotting to blow up New York City landmarks, including the United Nations, the FBI's New York field office, and both the Holland and Lincoln tunnels.[5] The court also found the sheikh guilty of having solicited the murder of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.[6] On January 17, 1996, a federal court in New York sentenced Abdel Rahman to life in prison. In April 1997, the government blocked his access to the outside world because of fears that his terrorist connections remained active. Stewart signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice not to pass information to or from her client, except that which was legally necessary. 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.

Fast-forward eight years. On February 10, 2005, another New York court found Stewart, now 66, as well as the sheikh's court-appointed translator, Mohammad Yousry, 48, and his former paralegal, Ahmed Sattar, 46, guilty of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government for their part in enabling communications between the imprisoned sheikh and his network.[7]

Stewart and her coconspirators flouted their agreement with the Justice Department and helped the sheikh circumvent the communications ban. According to government recordings of their prison visits, Yousry, who also served as an adjunct lecturer in Middle East studies at York College of the City University of New York,[8] conveyed messages to and from the sheikh while Stewart created what the prosecution called "covering noises." On some surveillance videos, Stewart could be seen shaking a water jar or tapping on the table while Yousry and the sheikh exchanged communications that were then later disseminated to the sheikh's followers via the former paralegal.[9] The prosecutor argued, citing a letter written by the U.S. attorney's office to Stewart after she delivered the message to Reuters, that it was not in the sheikh's legal rights "to pass messages which, simply put, can get people killed and buildings blown up."[10] They argued that the case was equivalent to a "jail break," in which the defendants extracted Abdel Rahman from prison, "not literally, of course, [but] figuratively, in order to make him available to other terrorists."[11]

One of the most incendiary communications was a message Stewart herself gave to the Reuters news service in June 2000 in which the sheikh announced his withdrawal of support for a cease-fire between the Egyptian Islamic Group and the Egyptian government.[12] The truce had been in place since 1997, just after his followers in Egypt had opened fire on tourists at the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, killing 58 foreigners and 4 Egyptians.[13] Subsequently, high-casualty Islamist terrorism resumed in Egypt on October 7, 2004, with a series of bombings that killed 34 in and around the Egyptian Sinai resort of Taba. On July 23, 2005, three bombs exploded in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing at least 64.

Government investigators searching Stewart's law offices found a draft of the sheikh's fatwa that bin Laden later said inspired him.[14] In it, Abdel Rahman enjoined his fellow Muslims everywhere to kill Americans, even children, "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" in order to obtain his release from U.S. prison.[15]

The jury also found Sattar guilty of additional charges of conspiracy to kidnap and murder. In this case, he ghostwrote and issued a fatwa under the sheikh's name in which he urged Muslims to kill Jews and their supporters. He also recruited a terrorist, at the time a fugitive in Egypt, in order to carry out the fatwa. Sattar, who has been held without bail since his arrest, faces life imprisonment.

Jihadism and Left-wing Radicalism

The defense maintained that the charges against Stewart and her codefendants were an assault on free speech and argued that Stewart enjoyed a lawyer-client privilege. They further argued that the George W. Bush administration hyped evidence against the defendants. Stewart and her defense knew what would play on campuses and in leftist forums across the country. Her website billed the trial as a manifestation of an Orwellian fear that, in the wake of 9-11 and armed with provisions of the Patriot Act, the U.S. Department of Justice was going to criminalize political dissent.[16]

Ramsey Clark, a former Lyndon B. Johnson administration attorney general who has since embraced radical left-wing causes, brought Stewart onto the sheikh's defense team in 1994.[17] As Stewart told The Washington Post, "Ramsey said it would be a terrible black mark against progressive forces in the United States not to represent him … He said, ‘If you're a fireman, and you walk by a burning building, you must run in.'"[18]

Stewart appeared to enjoy being a defendant. She used her position to argue against the malfeasance of the U.S. government and the Bush administration. Before her trial began in June 2004, she asked, "How could I be happier? … I feel like I've been waiting my whole life for this fight. My role now is to play the poster girl fighting Ashcroft. Besides, ‘Who on a jury wouldn't love me?'"[19]

On the witness stand at her trial, asked by defense attorney Michael Tigar to elaborate on her politics, Stewart characterized herself as a "revolutionary with a small ‘r'" and said that she believes "basic change is necessary." While "some of it will be accomplished nonviolently," she argued, overcoming "the entrenched voracious type of capitalism that is in this country that perpetuates sexism and racism," might require violence.[20] "I'm not a pacifist," Stewart had earlier told The Washington Post. "I have cried many bitter tears. There is death in history, and it's not all rosebuds and memorial services. Mao, Fidel, Ho Chi Minh understood this."[21]

In May of 2000, according to the prosecution, tapes indicate that Yousry told the sheikh and Stewart that the Abu Sayyaf group had kidnapped tourists in the Philippines and was threatening to kill them if the sheikh and Ramzi Yousef were not released. Stewart commented, "Good for them,"[22] although she said that while she believed that Abu Sayyaf would not succeed in winning Abdel Rahman's release, its efforts were nonetheless "very, very crucial,"[23] since the demand would raise his profile among jihadists. Even bin Laden, a self-professed admirer of the sheikh,[24] had considered hijacking airplanes to free the sheikh and Yousef.[25] In September 2000, the Al-Qaeda leader reiterated his threat to wage jihad on the sheikh's behalf.[26]

Stewart also endorsed the sheikh's ghostwritten fatwa, calling for the murder of Jews and Americans.[27] When Sattar told Stewart that Ramsey Clark had concerns about the fatwa, she responded, "Does he really think that the American government can completely put this man in an iron box and cut him off from the whole world?"[28]

When asked about 9-11, Stewart told The New York Times that she thought the attacks were a predictable response to U.S. aggression. "I'm pretty inured to the notion that in a war or in an armed struggle, people die," she said. "They're in the wrong place; they're in a nightclub in Israel; they're at a stock market in London; they're in the Algerian outback—whatever it is, people die." Citing the U.S. use of a nuclear weapon against Hiroshima and the World War II firebombing of Dresden, she added, "So I have a lot of trouble figuring out why that is wrong, especially when people are sort of placed in a position of having no other way."[29]

The Pentagon, she argued, was "a better target" than the World Trade Center, though, since the people in the towers "never knew what hit them. They had no idea that they could ever be a target for somebody's wrath, just by virtue of being American."[30] On the witness stand, Stewart said she did not support terrorist violence because "it's basically anarchistic. It is not directed at institutions—it is directed against civilians, and therefore cannot be excused. Those are not legitimate targets."[31] Asked under oath to name some legitimate targets, she offered up banks or the New York City Board of Education.[32] Such logic parallels that of both Marxist terrorist groups like the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey and Islamist revolutionaries in Iran. Both groups targeted school teachers, for example, because they were state employees. Upon seizing power in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's regime likewise targeted bankers.

For Stewart, the sheikh's case was another cause. She told The Washington Post that "my own political sense tells me the only hope for change in Egypt is the fundamentalist movement."[33] During their terrorist campaign, Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya murdered more than a thousand people. Terrorists singled out the Coptic minority and Egyptian intellectuals. Somewhere along her evolution from progressive to radical, Stewart lost any moral compass.

Prosecutors were able to show that Yousry was aware that he was helping Stewart break the law by shuttling messages to the sheikh and his followers because he had written about the communications ban the government had imposed in his New York University doctoral thesis. The defense argued that as a translator, it was not Yousry's role to challenge the attorneys, particularly Lynne Stewart, "who," Yousry's lawyer pointed out in closing, "you know is not easy to stand up to."[34]

In his defense summation, Tigar argued that the government should show some "humility" because yesterday's terrorists are today's legitimate leaders. He cited the examples of Libya's Mu‘ammar al-Qadhafi, Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, Israel's Menachem Begin, and South Africa's Nelson Mandela.[35] He cautioned the jury that should they decide to punish people for their "radical politics," then the fundamentalists would have clearly won.[36] Tigar argued that his client's defense of those who are "despised, neglected, hated" should be considered "a badge of honor."[37]

But fellow radical lawyer Ron Kuby, who at one time represented the sheikh, disagreed. "I love Lynne, but no one in the world could fairly posit the sheikh as a progressive or liberal on any issue," he told The Washington Post. "In the aftermath of September 11th, I could no longer put myself in the service of those who are trying to create a world in which I would be put up against a wall and shot, and my daughter and wife would be put in burqas."[38]

Stewart's arguments found a receptive audience in the National Lawyers Guild, which featured her as a speaker and, in the wake of the guilty verdicts, called for a "National Day of Outrage." Billionaire philanthropist George Soros's Open Society Institute contributed $20,000 to her defense.[39] She had long been popular among the Left. She had represented Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, and murderers of policemen.[40] Various and assorted socialist organizations and fronts including Refuse and Resist, Pravda, and the World Socialist Website rallied behind her.[41]

Despite the charges and trial, Stewart remained a popular speaker on campuses, particularly at law schools and small liberal arts campuses. Law students at the City University of New York even tried to honor her with their school's Public Interest Lawyer of the Year award in May 2003 though the administration would not have it. A few months later, Stewart was invited by Stanford Law School to become a "Public Interest Visiting Mentor" until Stewart's public statements supporting violence were brought to the attention of the dean who rescinded the invitation.[42]

Stewart is not alone in drifting from leftist radicalism to Islamism and adopting terrorism as a tactic to counter the prevailing order. Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as "Carlos the Jackal," a Venezuelan Marxist who had dedicated himself to pro-Palestinian terrorism, followed a similar path. In 2003, he published a book entitled Revolutionary Islam[43] from his prison cell in France in which he encouraged "all revolutionaries, including those of the Left, even atheists," to embrace radical Islam in order to destroy the United States, which he sees as the citadel of imperialism.[44] His terrorism began as a secular struggle. Terrorism is a preferred tactic, he writes, because it is "the cleanest and most efficient form of warfare," able to demoralize the enemy.[45] In later years, though, he justified his actions in terms of Islamism. In March 2004, he claimed responsibility on French television for the terrorism-related deaths of between 1,500 to 2,000 people. Arguing that "not even 10 percent of these people were innocent," he refused to ask for forgiveness.[46]

Just as the sheikh did with Stewart, Sanchez established a special relationship with his attorney, Isabelle Coutant Peyre, whom he married in an Islamic ceremony in 2001. Like Stewart, Coutant Peyre gravitated from radicalism to Islam. In 2002, she told The New York Times that she shared most of Sanchez's politics, is "genuinely convinced that Western ‘militarism' is evil and that capitalism is oppressive," and does not think terrorists such as Sanchez have any "more blood on their hands than many army generals."[47] She subsequently represented the family of Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person to have been indicted in the United States in connection with the 9-11 attacks. Coutant Peyre also defended Slimane Khalfaoui, one of ten Islamic militants convicted of plotting to blow up a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, on New Year's Eve 2000. Upon the conviction of her client, she said the judgment was "evidence that French institutions, and justice in particular, were racist, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic."[48]

John Walker Lindh, the "American Talib," provides another example of how non-Muslims gravitate to jihadism as a result of disillusionment with the parameters of mainstream society. According to Newsweek, although Lindh was "oblivious to politics" before leaving the United States to study Islam abroad, he was "critical of America as a land that exalted self above all else."[49]

For Stewart, Sanchez, Coutant Peyre, and Lindh, radical Islam became the latest revolutionary movement, their last hope after the failure of communism to eradicate what they saw as the twin evils of U.S. imperialism and capitalism. Like those who have supported totalitarian movements before, Westerners who adopt radical Islam seem willing to embrace violence in order to establish their vision of utopia. While Sanchez and Lindh took up arms in pursuit of their cause, Stewart and Coutant Peyre indulged revolutionary fantasies by becoming far more than zealous advocates.

Conclusion

Back in 1997, Andrew C. McCarthy, the lead prosecutor in the trial of the sheikh in regard to his plot to destroy New York City landmarks, drew this lesson from the sheikh's case: to combat the jihad that has been declared against the United States, he wrote that Americans need to develop a "proper understanding of their constitutional liberties: that beliefs may be freely held or articulated [but that] does not mean that they are beyond public scrutiny or that they can immunize criminal behavior undertaken in their name."[50]

It is a lesson that many Europeans are beginning to take to heart. Following the July 7, 2005 Islamist attacks on the London mass-transit system, British policymakers and the public both moved to clarify the difference between free speech and incitement to violence. Within weeks, the British government—which had previously offered safe haven to Muslim extremists and allowed them to preach hate—announced plans to ban even indirect incitement to terrorism and to deport individuals who glorified or condoned acts of terrorism.[51]

Ironically, even if Stewart and her radical American supporters do not understand the destructiveness of Islamist rhetoric, across the Middle East, there is growing recognition. On October 24, 2004, two Arab websites published a petition urging the United Nations to prosecute those who issue fatwas to incite terrorism. The petition, which garnered some 2,000 signatures within twenty-four hours of being posted, clarified the stakes: "By these fatwas all terrorists have died, or will die, fully convinced that they will immediately enter Paradise … [These] fatwas remain the pivotal cause of terrorist acts."[52] Leftist radicals may say they speak on behalf of the developing world, but moderate Muslims and other victims of terrorism increasingly say otherwise.

ENDNOTES:

[1] "Superseding Indictment," United States v. Sattar, et al, 02 Cr. 395 (JGK) (hereafter, U.S. vs. Sattar), United States Attorney, Southern District of New York, Nov. 19, 2003.
[2] David Horowitz, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2004).
[3] The 9-11 Commission Report (New York: W.W. Norton Co, 2004), p. 72.
[4] Clyde R. Mark, "Egypt-United States Relations," Congressional Research Service issue brief, Oct. 10, 2003.
[5] The New York Times, Oct. 2, 1995.
[6] United States v. Omar Ahmed Ali Abdel Rahman, et al, S3 93 Cr.181 (MBM).
[7] U.S. vs. Sattar, pp. 13117-22.
[8] Tzvi Kahn, "When ‘Academic Freedom' Justifies Academic Terror," American Thinker, June 21, 2005.
[9] "Superseding Indictment," U.S. vs. Sattar.
[10] U.S. vs. Sattar, p. 6657.
[11] Ibid., p. 11111.
[12] Reuters, June 14, 2000.
[13] U.S. vs. Sattar, p. 11984.
[14] The New York Post, Oct. 8, 2004.
[15] U.S. vs. Sattar, p. 7126, also referenced as "Government Exhibit, 2638," p. 11122; CNN.com, Aug. 20, 2002.
[16] See, for example, "Why the Case of Lynne Stewart Should Matter to You," Lynne Stewart website, http://www.lynnestewart.org, accessed Aug. 3, 2005.
[17] Los Angeles Times, Apr. 26, 2003.
[18] The Washington Post, June 22, 2004.
[19] The Washington Post, June 22, 2004.
[20] U.S. vs. Sattar, pp. 7967-8.
[21] The Washington Post, June 22, 2004.
[22] "Visit to Minnesota," videotape 1, May 19, 2000, Stewart website.
[23] U.S. vs. Sattar, p. 2143.
[24] ABC News, interview with Osama bin Laden, May 1998; "Usama bin Ladin: ‘American Soldiers Are Paper Tigers'," Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1998, pp. 73-9.
[25] The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 128.
[26] U.S. vs. Sattar, p. 5332-9.
[27] Ibid., p. 11373.
[28] Ibid., p. 2149, reference to "Government Exhibit 1193x."
[29] The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2002.
[30] The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2002.
[31] U.S. vs. Sattar, p. 7968.
[32] Ibid., p. 8369.
[33] The Washington Post, June 22, 2004, which she confirmed under oath, U.S. vs. Sattar, Nov. 8, 2004, pp. 8377-8.
[34] U.S. vs. Sattar, p. 11559.
[35] Ibid., p. 11799.
[36] Ibid., p. 11978.
[37] Ibid., p. 11824.
[38] The Washington Post, June 22, 2004.
[39] The National Review, Feb. 17, 2005.
[40] Los Angeles Times, July 27, 2002; The New York Post, Feb. 11, 2005.
[41] World Socialist website, Feb. 14, 2005; On-Line Pravda, Apr. 11, 2002; Refuse and Resist, Oct. 29, 2004, Aug. 1, 2005.
[42] Erick Stakelbeck, "Cheerleaders for Terrorism," FrontPageMagazine.com, June 17, 2003.
[43] Paris: Edition du Rocher, 2003.
[44] The Sunday Herald (Glasgow), July 17, 2005.
[45] The Sunday Herald, July 17, 2005.
[46] Agence France-Presse, Mar. 10, 2004.
[47] The New York Times, Jan. 12, 2002.
[48] The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2004.
[49] Newsweek, Dec. 17, 2001.
[50] Andrew McCarthy, "Prosecuting the New York Sheikh," Middle East Quarterly, Mar. 1997, pp. 9-18.
[51] The Washington Post, July 21, 2005.
[52] "To the United Nations Security Council and the U.N. Secretary General Requesting the Establishment of an International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Terrorists," Middle East Transparent, Oct 24, 2004, Elaph, Oct 24, 2004; see, "Arab Liberals: Prosecute Clerics Who Promote Murder," Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005, pp. 84-6; "Arab Liberals Petition the U.N. to Establish an International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Terrorists," MEMRI Special Dispatch Series, no. 812, Nov. 8, 2004.

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Sharon Chadha is a free-lance writer living in Santa Monica, Calif.


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