Slapping Lynne Stewart on the Wrist

Clinton-appointed Judge John G. Koeltl last week sentenced a radical anti-American lawyer who became a willing participant in an Islamic terrorist plot to 28 months in prison—a fraction of the 30-year term the government sought.

The sentence was imposed on Lynne Stewart, a Maoist who has said she supports “violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism and sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions” (see “The Terrorists’ Legal Team”).

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia said the government is “disappointed” and added that the government is considering appealing the sentence imposed on the now-disbarred attorney who represented imprisoned terrorist leader Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, spiritual leader of al Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups.

Counter-terrorism analyst Daniel Pipes scoffed, telling HUMAN EVENTS: “Stewart’s sentence does not do justice to the evil deeds she engaged in. It smacks of favoritism.”

Similarly, Richard Samp, chief counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, said the sentence was too light. “Stewart has spent her entire career coddling enemies of America, and on this particular occasion, it finally caught up with her,” Samp said.

Since her conviction in February last year, Stewart has strenuously denied supporting terrorism. “Those who know me best, as a mother, a family member and a lawyer, know that I am not a terrorist,” she wrote in a letter to Koeltl last month.

However, Stewart’s myriad public comments suggest a heartfelt sympathy for Islamism.

Stewart has hailed Muslim fundamentalists as “forces of national liberation.” Americans on the left, “as persons who are committed to the liberation of oppressed people, should fasten on the need for self-determination, and allow people … to do what they need to do to throw off that oppression,” she told Monthly Review.

“Islamic revolution is the only hope” for the oppressed peoples of Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia, she told World War 3 Report in 2002 after being charged. “If their people see that they want to reinstate a system of law and government that was in existence for hundreds and hundreds of years, I’m not going to judge.”

The sentencing last Monday came 20 months after a jury convicted the Madame Defarge of America’s legal left of providing material support for terrorism by passing on a message from Abdel-Rahman, the so-called “blind sheik” who heads al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the largest militant group in Egypt.

But it wasn’t just any message.

The communiqué was “the blessing of a return to violence from a terrorist leader,” prosecutor Anthony Barkow told the jury in closing arguments last year. In it, the sheikh, a lifer at a federal Supermax facility, urged disciples to abandon a ceasefire with the government of Egypt and resume terrorist operations.

Authorities had prevented the sheikh from communicating with the outside world for fear his words would incite violence. But Stewart took it upon herself to become Abdel-Rahman’s publicist and conveyed the statement to reporters. A jury found she violated anti-terrorism laws and the no-outside-communication agreement she signed with prison officials in order to be allowed to visit her client.

There were good reasons for holding Abdel-Rahman incommunicado. After the cleric issued a religious edict condemning Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to death, fundamentalists assassinated Sadat in 1981. Abdel-Rahman’s group also tried to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995. To force the release of their leader, the group murdered 62 people in Luxor, Egypt, in 1997.

Throughout the pre-sentencing process, Stewart argued that no one was actually hurt or killed as a result of the communiqué. The argument, familiar to criminal lawyers, is akin to a bank robber asking for leniency because the bank vault was empty.

At sentencing, Koeltl, a member of the Watergate prosecution team who was appointed to the bench in 1994, said Stewart engaged in “extraordinarily severe criminal conduct.” Her crimes were “serious, involved dishonesty and breach of trust,” and had “potentially lethal consequences.”

But her past legal work justified leniency. With little pay and “enormous skill and dedication” Stewart “represented the poor, the disadvantaged and the unpopular,” Koeltl said. “It is no exaggeration to say that Ms. Stewart performed a public service not only to her clients but to the nation.”

After the hearing, Stewart gloated. “You get time off for good behavior usually at the end of your prison term,” she said. “I got it at the beginning.”

Stewart’s convicted co-conspirator, Ahmed Abdel Sattar, was not so lucky. For smuggling messages from terrorists into prison, he received a 24-year sentence from Koeltl.

Stewart, who smuggled messages out, remains free on bail pending appeal.