Radical attorney Lynne Stewart is a progressive icon. A protégé of the late William Kunstler and Ramsey Clark, a member of the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights, Stewart embodies the committed professionalism of the “legal left.” Under this code, radical attorneys select clients whom they regard as the put-upon victims of an oppressive system or the persecuted champions of a just cause. Lynne Stewart is the former attorney for the blind sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, convicted of masterminding the first World Trade Center bombing. Currently she is on trial as a terrorist herself for aiding and abetting the sheik, when he was her client, in carrying out his terrorist agendas.
Stewart is being defended by Michael Tigar, a celebrated Washington attorney, whom I knew as a radical in Berkeley at the beginning of the Sixties and who was also the counsel for Terry Nichols, the now convicted second bomber in the attack on the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995. Tigar is himself a progressive icon, the author of books on Law and the Rise of Capitalism and Persuasion: The Litigator’s Art.
Michael Tigar’s idea of persuasion is captured in the New York Times’ account of the Stewart trial: “While the government regarded Mr. Abdel Rahman as a dangerous terrorist, Mr. Tigar said, to Mrs. Stewart he was an ‘old man’ held in conditions of cruel isolation, in a federal prison in Rochester, Minnesota. Mr. Tigar compared the sheik to Nelson Mandela and Menahem Begin who were treated as terrorists at one time in their careers.”
It would be fair to say that the left itself is on trial in the Stewart case. The idea Tigar is attempting to sell her jury -- that his client regards Abdel Rahman as an old man cruelly isolated -- is laughable. Lynne Stewart is on record approving “directed violence,” which – as she explained to the New York Times -- “would be violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism and sexism.” The World Trade Center for instance. Lynne Stewart has endorsed the Muslim jihadists in particular: “They are basically forces of national liberation,” she told the Marxist magazine Monthly Review. “My own sense is that, were the Islamists to be empowered, there would be movements within their own countries …. to liberate.”
At the National Lawyers Guild annual convention last year she attacked her own country as having “a poisonous government that spreads its venom to the body politic in all corners of the globe,” and raised a glass to her heroes: “Ho and Mao and Lenin, Fidel …” and of course Che Guevara whom she quoted: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”
Radical lawyer Ron Kuby, another Kunstler protégé has described to a New York Times reporter, Stewart’s “passionate … identification” with the blind sheik, and confessed that movement lawyers like himself are “cowards … [who] live vicariously through their clients. ‘Movement’ lawyers, especially, identify with the people they represent.”
And that’s precisely the problem, for Lynne Stewart, for Michael Tigar and for the left they represent. The left is now in full attack mode against its own democratic government in a time of war. It identifies as victims and even “liberators” the Islamic terrorists who want to destroy us. Michael Moore has said it in so many words: “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win. Get it, Mr. Bush?” And, on the leftwing website, CommonDreams.org, former SDS radical and Democratic California Senator Tom Hayden has even laid out a plan to defeat his own country: “The anti-war movement can force the Bush administration to leave Iraq by denying it the funding, troops, and alliances necessary to its strategy for dominance.”
This is no longer a loyal opposition. It is no longer the voice of a progressive future that previously would have opposed the misogyny, thuggery and even depravity of regimes like Saddam Hussein’s or movements like Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman’s Islamic Group. Whatever the outcome of the Stewart trial, the larger trial of the left she represents – a trial that will one day pronounce a verdict on its loyalties and its integrity -- will go on.