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A Terrorist Lawyer on Trial By: Brian Hecht
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, January 17, 2005

It is rare when average citizens have the ability to decide how the United States government conducts the War on Terror.  However, an anonymous federal jury in New York has just been tapped with such an opportunity.


On Wednesday, January, 12, the jury for radical defense attorney Lynne Stewart began deliberating her fate. Stewart stands accused of willfully and knowingly conspiring to conceal the terrorist activities of her client, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the infamous Egyptian “blind cleric” and leader of the Al-Gama’a Islamiyya terrorist group.  


Stewart’s own attorney, criminal defense lawyer Michael Tigar, famous for his defense of Oklahoma City Bombing terrorist Terry Nichols, made a rather startling assertion near the end of his closing argument: that the acquittal of his client would be akin to fighting terrorism.  During his summation, Tigar told the jury about his fears regarding the case, saying, “I concede to you that I am afraid.  I'm afraid that the Islamic fundamentalists or some other kinds of fundamentalists are going to win.  Suppose we got so worked up, so incited by the rhetoric of government that we decided to punish people for their radical politics.”  He continued, “If all of that happened, members of the jury, the fundamentalists would have won.” Tigar added that if the jury convicted his client, then “the Islamic fundamentalists can have a big celebration.”


So Tigar, employing amazingly convoluted logic, is attempting to sell the notion that if Islamic terrorists lose Stewart—one of their best friends in the West in both their propaganda and tactical wars against us—to prison, they will not be disappointed, but, rather, will proceed to throw the mother of all parties.  At the same time, he tells the jury that, should they acquit Stewart and set free one of the terrorists’ most helpful and vocal advocates, then those same terrorists will be dismayed, simply because her acquittal will somehow be proof that “freedom reigns.”  Lawyers, however, just like everyone else, are not free to violate the law.  And despite Tigar’s assertion to the contrary, failing to cloak defense attorneys with immunity for misconduct hardly helps Islamic fundamentalists in their war on the West.


And speaking of that war, it should be remembered that Rahman, the terror master whom Stewart allegedly collaborated with and the “spiritual leader” of the group that perpetrated the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center, is currently serving a life prison term for his part in a 1995 plot  to blow up landmarks and tunnels in NewYork City.


In addition to allegedly attempting to shield Rahman’s nefarious activities, Stewart also faces charges for defrauding and lying to the federal government, in the furthering of the Sheikh’s terror plans.  Plans that included issuing fatwas which, according to the government’s indictment, called for his “brother scholars everywhere in the Muslim world to do their part and issue a unanimous fatwah that urges the Muslim nation to fight the Jews and to kill them wherever they are” and urged that “the Muslim nation” must “fight the Jews by all possible means of jihad, either by killing them as individuals or by targeting their interests, and the interests of those who support them, as much as they can.”[1]   


The jury is in the process of determining whether Stewart overstepped her role as Rahman’s defense attorney, and instead became an active accomplice in his terrorist schemes.  The prosecution alleges that Stewart violated a signed Specialized Administrative Measures (SAM) agreement, designed to prevent the Sheikh from planning terror attacks and disseminating information to his followers while behind bars.   


The government contends that Stewart, during prison meetings with the Sheikh on May 19 and 20, 2002,  made “extraneous comments in English to mask the Arabic conversation between Rahman” and Mohammed Yousry, an interpreter and a co-defendant in the case, in which the two were discussing illegal activity, and later issued forbidden communications to the media on behalf of Rahman.[2]  During the course of the trial, the government presented the taped evidence of Stewart’s behavior during these meetings.


Conveniently dismissing the overwhelming evidence against his client, Tigar is claiming that the trial is all about Stewart’s politics, rather than her alleged conduct. Stewart, a famed radical leftist, discussing her beliefs with the New York Times in 1995, stated that she believes in “directed violence,” or “violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism, and sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions…"   Stewart has also said that she does not “have any problem with Mao or Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel locking up people they see as dangerous, because so often, dissidence has been used by greater powers to undermine a people's revolution.”     However, it is not Stewart’s belief in violence or her bizarre approval of political repression which are on trial here.  Rather, it is her alleged complicity in terrorist activity, as well as her willful and knowing violations of a signed agreement with the federal government.


Yet Tigar has attempted to portray the government’s case against Stewart as an effort to undercut or erode the attorney-client privilege.  But again, it is not the attorney-client privilege that is on trial here, but the alleged abuse of that privilege to aid in the commission of a violent crime.   In fact, the New York Lawyers Code Of Professional Responsibility explicitly states that an attorney shall not “[c]ounsel or assist the client in conduct that the lawyer knows to be illegal or fraudulent.”[3] [emphasis added]  Attorney-client privilege is safe and secure, no matter what the outcome of Stewart’s trial, despite Tigar’s protestations.


If the jury buys his spin on the situation, and actually proceeds to acquit Stewart, then Tigar himself will have dealt a decisive blow against the prosecution of the War on Terror, and handed a major victory to the very Islamic fundamentalists he claims he is interested in defeating.




[1] U.S. v. Sattar et. al., No. 02 CR 395 (SDNY) November 19, 2003.

[2] Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft on Islamic Group Indictment/SAMs, April 9, 2002

[3] Lawyers Code of Professional Conduct, New York State Bar Association, DR 7-102 [§1200.33] (A.7).

Brian Hecht is an attorney and terrorism analyst at the Investigative Project, a Washington DC-based counterterrorism think-tank.

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