Five-and-a-half years after being convicted of providing material support for terrorism, terror lawyer Lynne Stewart finally received a sentence commensurate with her crime. She was resentenced last week to ten years. But if George Soros had his way, she would be free today.
Stewart made a career out of defending street criminals and terrorists, including Sammy “The Bull” Gravano (pleaded guilty), Weather Underground terrorist David J. Gilbert (convicted), and Larry Davis (acquitted of wounding six policemen and killing several others in 1986, only to be convicted of a later murder and killed in prison). It should have come as no surprise that Stewart, who worked “less than a mile from where the World Trade Center once stood,” represented “the Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman.
Rahman, who had ties to at least one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, was arrested later that year for plotting to blow up the United Nations, an FBI building, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, and the George Washington Bridge. After his conviction, the government prevented the shiekh from contacting members of his Egypt-based terrorist organization, the Islamic Group (Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya). IG aimed to topple Cairo’s secular government and replace it with fundamentalist Islam. Its members threatened to free Rahman by violence.
Stewart and two co-defendants visited Rahman in federal prison in Minnesota, where she violated a Special Administrative Order (SAM) by conveying letters from IG members to him in May 2000. Rahman then composed a message to IG ending its ceasefire with the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak, which Stewart read to a Cairo-based reporter on June 14, 2000. The reversal had been requested by Rifai Taha, a terrorist once filmed sitting next to Osama bin Laden before 9/11, exhorting Muslims to shed American blood. After being told by the sheikh’s followers the announcement would likely result in violence, Stewart issued a follow-up press release restating the sheikh’s decision. The U.S. government charged her with five felonies, including providing material support for terrorism and obstruction of justice.
Stewart had a long history of supporting violence against the Western, capitalist society. In 1995, she told the New York Times, “I don’t believe in anarchist violence but in directed violence. That would be violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism, sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions and accompanied by popular support.” She defended violence under oath during her trial, expounding, “I’m talking about a popular revolution. I’m talking about institutions being changed and that will not be changed without violence.” She stated, “People will make the right decision about which [sites] to attack,” adding the “New York City Board of Education could be one to attack.” She even admitted, “You can’t always separate out the combatants from the non-combatants.” But as long as the carnage advanced Marxism, she favored it. “I don’t have any problem with Mao or Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel locking up people they see as dangerous,” she said. “Because so often, dissidence has been used by the greater powers to undermine a people’s revolution.”
In the midst of her controversial trial, the National Lawyers Guild asked her to give the keynote speech at its “Cry Justice” conference in October 2003. After likening its attendees with King David, Beowulf, and Sir Galahad, she made a more apt comparison:
And modern heroes, dare I mention? Ho and Mao and Lenin, Fidel and Nelson Mandela and John Brown, Ché Guevara…Our quests like theirs are to shake the very foundations of the continents.
Judge John George Koeltl – whom President Clinton appointed to the Southern District of New York in April 1994 – originally set her sentencing for July 15, 2005, but put it off until October 2006. Although she faced a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, Koeltl sentenced her to only 28 months. (Her codefendant, Mohammed Yousry, faced 20 years; Koeltl gave him 20 months.) At times, his sentencing resembled a pep talk; e.g., he wrote, “Ms. Stewart performed a public service, not only to her clients but to the nation. She’s made an extraordinary contribution.”
Stewart greeted her sentence as “a great victory…I am very grateful to the judge that he gave me time off for good behavior, and he gave it to me in advance of the sentence, when he said that my extraordinary work meant that I could not get a sentence that the government wanted.” She further belittled her jail time, saying, “I can do that standing on my head.” She vowed throughout, “I would do it again.”
As the appeals process unwound, she remained free on bail, where she received numerous awards and speaking engagements. More than half of the City University of New York’s graduating law students of 2003 had voted Stewart the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year. In 2007, Hofstra University Law School invited Stewart to speak at a conference on legal ethics. Stewart continued to give lectures and teach-ins all over the country. She became the subject of at least two documentaries: Lynne Stewart: The Struggle Continues (2006) and Lynne Stewart: An American Story (2009). Just before being ordered to (finally) begin serving her jail time last fall, the listeners of New York’s WBAI-FM, a “progressive” radio station operated by the Pacifica Foundation, elected Stewart to its board. (WBAI Chairman Mitchel Cohen objected for logistical reasons: by then, Stewart was already in jail.)
Last November, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her conviction, ordered Stewart to prison, and demanded Judge Koeltl give her a more appropriate jail term, noting that the “unreasonableness” of his sentence “would appear obvious.” Prosecutors asked for at least 15 years. Last Thursday, Judge John George Koeltel resentenced Lynne Stewart to ten years and one month.
The decision was a set-back for all her cheerleaders, especially those who donated to her legal appeal, the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee, which is administered by the National Lawyers Guild.
Stewart’s benefactors include George Soros.
In 2002, Soros’ Open Society Institute (OSI) gave $20,000 to the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee, “to conduct a public education campaign around the broad civil rights implications of Lynne Stewart’s indictment.” An OSI spokeswoman told reporter Byron York the organization considered her case “a right-to-counsel issue.” As late as 2004, OSI officials continued to reference the Stewart case as an example of the “right to counsel, and its erosion in the United States since September 11.”
Arguably, Soros’ funding for the cause goes beyond the one-time grant. OSI has made multiple grants to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which filed an amicus brief in Stewart’s case and steadfastly supported her along with the NLG. OSI made three grants to CCR totaling $15,000 in 2006–2007. OSI outdid itself in 2008, making a $200,000 grant to CCR “to support litigation and public education to restore civil liberties and human rights protections in the U.S. ‘war on terror.'” CCR would have some latitude in spending these funds, and its description of the Stewart case implies her appeal was a candidate: “CCR saw this case as an attack on attorneys who defend controversial figures and an attempt to deprive these clients of the zealous representation to which they are entitled.” It seems reasonable to believe CCR, OSI, and Soros still regard the Stewart case as the government’s persecution of blameless behavior, one he dedicated a portion of his riches to fighting.
George Soros could not buy the 2004 election, and he could not buy a jury’s acquittal for a terror lawyer. But he remains invested in CCR’s efforts to advocate on behalf of the next Lynne Stewart. Or the next Omar Abdel Rahman.