Last November, New York-based civil rights and criminal defence attorney Lynne Stewart was sent to prison. Stewart had been convicted in 2005 of providing support to “terrorist” Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, whom the court had appointed her to defend. He had been found guilty a decade earlier of conspiring to attack the United Nations along with some other New York City landmarks. The 80-year-old Sheik, who is blind and suffers from diabetes, was being held in solitary confinement, and Stewart’s “crime” was to breach prison regulations by delivering a media release on his behalf to Reuters press in 2000.
The government wants Stewart, aged 70, put away for 30 years. Equally vindictive, the federal appeals court that revoked her bail and ordered her straight to prison also sent her case back to the trial judge to consider extending her 28-month sentence!
The real reason
. Lynne Stewart is a radical, and in post-9/11 U.S., as far as the powers that be are concerned, this is her crime. On the day she was convicted, the government was training lawyers for Guantánamo. As she was imprisoned, the first trials were about to begin, and Barack Obama was deciding how many more troops he would send to Afghanistan. Stewart is also an outspoken woman and critic of the government.
I heard Lynne Stewart speak at Radical Women’s international conference in San Francisco in October 2008 – as Wall Street’s foundations were cracking and the first massive corporate bailout was being brokered. In her keynote address, Radical dissent: The righteous response to an unjust system, Stewart said that we must go beyond dissent to confront the profit system, or else it will take us down with it. She forewarned more repression to come, and the U.S. government will not tolerate those who expose what is really going on. Her own case, she said, was meant to be a warning to lawyers not to cross the government.
Stewart denounces patriotic trust and tolerance toward Washington’s terror. In a poem she read to the conference, Hard Rain, Tony Hoagland’s satire is searing:
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trouser sare covered with blood –
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present;
Should I say something?
For Stewart, the righteous response of radicals and feminists is to speak up, fight back, unmask the truth and build a movement that is too big and fearless to lock up.
On her way to prison, Stewart declared: “I will go on fighting. This is a case that is bigger than just me, personally. I am no criminal.” In a letter from inside, she instructed her supporters: “Organise – Agitate, Agitate, Agitate!”
Lynne Stewart is one of the movement’s most brilliant and dedicated lawyers. An urgent task of the movement now is to set her free. Visit her campaign website: www.lynnestewart.org and stay in touch with Radical Women. To financially contribute, see the webpage. Australian readers can send donations to Radical Women, PO Box 266, West Brunswick Vic 3055, and we’ll purchase an international bank draft.