TCS Daily


The Blind Sheik's Mistress

By J. Peter Pham & Michael I. Krauss - October 20, 2006 12:00 AM

Legal ethics rules in all fifty states absolutely prevent lawyers from assisting their clients in the commission of criminal acts. Confidentiality and lawyer-client privilege rules have, everywhere that we know of, "crime-fraud" exceptions -- communications sent by the client to the lawyer to facilitate the commission of future crimes are NOT confidential. Treason, in every state in the land, is severely punishable, even by death.

Break all these rules, and what do you get? About thirty years seems right. What you don't get is the paltry 28-month sentence for traitor-lawyer Lynne Stewart, who admits passing messages from a convicted terrorist leader, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, a.k.a. "the Blind Sheikh," to his followers.

A self-described civil rights advocate, Stewart once described her political views in an interview with the leftist Monthly Review as:

a strange amalgam of old-line things and new-line things. I don't 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 the greater powers to undermine a people's revolution. The CIA pays a thousand people and cuts them loose, and they will undermine any revolution in the name of freedom of speech.

Perhaps it was her "old-line" thinking that got Ms. Stewart involved in treason, a very old-line crime. The Constitution defines the offense in the following manner: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." Stewart certainly adhered to enemies of the United States, giving them plenty of aid and comfort in their war against us. Unfortunately, the prosecution decided to pursue only lesser, albeit still serious, charges against her.

As a result, on February 10, 2005, Stewart was convicted by a jury of her peers -- blue-state New Yorkers, no less -- of providing material support to a terrorist conspiracy to kill persons outside of the United States, and of conspiring to defraud the U.S. government when acting as counsel to Abdel-Rahman. The blind Egyptian cleric was convicted by a federal court in 1996 of plotting terrorist attacks against various sites in the New York City area, including United Nations headquarters, and is currently serving a life sentence at a maximum security prison hospital in Colorado. Specifically, Stewart was accused, in a federal grand jury indictment, of passing Rahman's blessing for a resumption of terrorist operations to his fundamentalist Muslim followers in Egypt's al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya ("Islamic Group") after members inquired whether they should continue to honor a ceasefire that was in place against the Egyptian government.

Stewart had been indicted for this criminal activity in April 2002. She was accused of providing material aid to a foreign terrorist organization -- al-Gama'a has been responsible for numerous acts of violence, including the November 1997 attack in Luxor in which 58 foreign tourists (and four Egyptians) were butchered while visiting the Temple of Hapshepsut -- making false statements about her activities, and conspiracy to defraud the federal government. All the allegations stemmed from an apparent violation of Special Administrative Measures to which Abdel Rahman and his counsel were subject. These measures, which Stewart had explicitly accepted in writing in order to be allowed to meet with Abdel Rahman in prison, provided that she would not, "use [their] meetings, correspondence, or phone calls with Abdel Rahman to pass messages between third parties (including, but not limited to, the media) and Abdel-Rahman."

Stewart's tactics during and after her own trial were typical of an unprincipled, ruthless lawyer. At trial, she was represented by Michael Tigar, a famous defense attorney who also represented and defended the behavior of despicable killers John Demjanjuk and Terry Nichols. Stewart initially denied doing anything wrong, stating repeatedly that she would recidivate and assist other terrorist clients exactly as she did Abdel-Rahman. But after conviction this shameless woman took a different tack. First, she obtained a full 18 months' liberty by asking the court to delay sentencing while she underwent treatment for breast cancer. [But isn't treatment available in prison?] Her fight against breast cancer had started, by coincidence, just after she was convicted in February 2005. Then, as sentencing neared, her blatant defiance of U.S. law was transformed into contrition. In the weeks leading up to her sentencing on October 16, 2006 Steward reportedly sent a letter to the court admitting what she did was wrong. According to a New York Times article on September 29, 2006, she "acknowledged in a personal letter to the court that she knowingly violated prison rules and was careless, overemotional and politically naïve in her representation of a terrorist client."

Stewart requested that the Court exercise the considerable sentencing discretion given to judges by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Booker and impose a non-custodial sentence. The government requested that the Court impose the maximum statutory penalty, stating, "We hope that this sentence of 30 years will not only punish Stewart for her actions, but serve as a deterrent for other lawyers who believe that they are above the rules and regulations of penal institutions or otherwise try to skirt the laws of this country."

Lying to the government was at the core of Lynn Stewart's crimes. In order to visit her client, she gave her word that she needed access to the Sheikh for one purpose -- to provide legal assistance. But in 2000, following a meeting with Abdel-Rahman, Stewart violated both the agreement and anti-terrorism laws by informing the media that Rahman had withdrawn his support for the ceasefire that al-Gama'a was observing at that time -- in other words, he wanted the killers to start killing again. This was bad enough, but Stewart did not stop there. She secretly transmitted messages from Abdel Rahman to Gama'a members ordering who knows what violence. Recall that several Rahman followers participated in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. After Rahman personally issued a fatwa condemning Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to death for having made peace with Israel, some of his fundamentalist disciples duly assassinated Sadat in 1981. Other members of the militant group in Egypt tried to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995. The 1997 attack in Luxor -- during which the victims were variously shot, stabbed, beheaded, or disemboweled -- was explicitly aimed to win the Sheikh his freedom.

To visit her client Stewart cynically abused her status as an officer of the court, all the while she was acting as an accomplice to terrorists, and thus as a terrorist herself. To the profession of lawyering, this is misbehavior of the most despicable kind. Stewart's claim that her mendacity was excusable as a part of zealously representing a client is an insult to every ethical lawyer in the nation.

As our Foundation for the Defense of Democracies colleague Andrew McCarthy, who led the original prosecution of the Sheikh and his co-conspirators, noted in a superb op-ed last year, the Sixth Amendment guarantees counsel to the "accused":

When Abdel Rahman was actually an accused, from 1993 until 1996, he was the recipient of exquisite due process -- including three lawyers and publicly-subsidized legal and investigative assistance. The government never came close to interfering in any of this. After he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, the succeeding three years brought Abdel Rahman's appeals to the court of appeals and the Supreme Court. Again, numerous lawyers convened with "his holiness" as needed, and they filed voluminous briefs on his behalf. The appeals were rejected. At that point, his conviction was final. He was no longer, in any sense, an accused. He was no longer presumed innocent. He was a duly convicted terrorist who had a unique, authoritative stature among America's enemies.

Nonetheless, in our generous system, he was still permitted access to counsel (although not a right to have the public pay for it). For a time, those lawyers were empowered to file what's called a "collateral attack" if they could come up with some argument that Abdel Rahman's fundamental rights had been violated during the trial. They never did that. They could also have challenged the conditions of his confinement, but to do so would have been specious -- this ward, with his many maladies, is among the most conscientiously cared for. Beyond that, the Sheikh didn't need legal services anymore.

Because he is evil, what he needed and wanted were co-conspirators to help him stay relevant in the high councils of jihadist terror. That's what Lynne Stewart agreed to be. That's not lawyer-work.

Stewart argued in media appearances that she is too old to be given a term of imprisonment as her sentence. On the July 24, 2006, edition of the radio show "Law and Disorder," she gave her age as 68 years, though she was 66 years old at the time of the show's broadcast. During the show she also accused the authorities of ganging up on her, according to a report:

The government and the probation department have teamed up as only they can, with very little reason and with a great many begging of the question, to ask for a 30-year sentence, which is the equivalent of a death sentence, because I'm 68 years old, I'm not in great health, even though I'm feeling good, and it's just unlikely, jail is a very hard place for elderly people, a hard place for anyone, it's an inhumane place.

Not inhumane when used by Mao, the Viet Cong, or Fidel, right Lynne? May you enjoy every one of your 28 months in jail -- months which those whose lives were cut short because of your "courier services" to Abdel-Rahman's terrorist minions won't have. And may Judge John Koeltl reflect long and hard on the abhorrent message of appeasement he is sending to lawyers across the nation.

Michael I. Krauss is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Both are academic fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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