Getting Off Easy

In his address at the National Cathedral three days after 9/11, President Bush enunciated what has come to be known as the Bush Doctrine: “We make no distinction between terrorists and those who knowingly harbor or provide aid to them.” Yesterday, a Clinton-appointed judge nullified those words and hailed a terrorist’s accomplice as an exemplar of “public service, not only to her clients, but to the nation.”

A jury of her peers convicted radical leftist lawyer Lynne Stewart of passing fatwas from Omar Abdel Rahman to his Egyptian terrorist followers, the Islamic Group, a radical cadre dedicated to replacing President Hosni Mubarak with an Islamic dictatorship akin to the Taliban. One such fatwa stated IG should honor no ceasefire with the Egyptian government. Another – which one of Stewart’s co-defendants reportedly issued in Rahman’s name – demanded “all Jews be killed.” Rahman says he instructed Stewart not to disown this edict, because “it’s good.”

Stewart provided this messenger service to terrorists with the help of co-defendants Ahmed Abdel Sattar and Mohamed Yousry. Their division of labor worked thus: Sattar received messages from IG terrorists and passed them on to Yousry. Stewart then visited Rahman in his Minnesota prison cell under the pretense of giving legal advice. Yousry, Stewart’s “interpreter,” related IG’s messages to the sheikh and wrote down his murderous fatwas in return. While this was going on, Stewart made random comments to mislead nearby guards into thinking she was having a discussion with her client – despite the fact that the government informed her these conversations may be recorded.

The Justice Department’s hefty indictment against Stewart accused her of “making Abdel Rahman available as a co-conspirator” to IG. U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember told the jury in his closing argument Stewart helped Rahman commit a virtual “jailbreak.” After 13 days of deliberation, the jury concurred.

U.S. District Court Judge John George Koeltl greeted her actions with a slap on the wrist and a pat on the back. Although Stewart faced 30 years in prison, Koeltl ignored federal guidelines and sentenced her to only 28 months. During sentencing, Koeltl gushed, Ms. Stewart performed a public service, not only to her clients, but to the nation.” Koeltl further ruled she could remain free while she wages a promised “militant” appeal to the sentence.

Koeltl – whom President Clinton appointed to the Southern District of New York in April 1994 – also handed out easy sentences to Stewart’s co-defendants. Yousry faced 20 years; Koeltl gave him 20 months. (Perhaps he valued Yousry’s “public service”: teaching Modern Middle Eastern History as an adjunct professor at York College, part of the CUNY system.) Sattar faced life imprisonment for conspiracy to kill and kidnap; Koeltl sentenced him to 24 years, citing the allegedly harsh conditions of his imprisonment and the fact that Sattar had no prior record.

It speaks volumes that he would honor Stewart – who has a history of justifying “revolutionary” violence – after she endorsed the use of terrorism under oath in his courtroom. Longing for a “popular revolution” on the stand, she said America “will not be changed without violence.” Moreover, “You can’t always separate out the combatants from the non-combatants.” Nonetheless, she hoped “[p]eople will make the right decision about which to attack,” helpfully adding, “The New York City Board of Education could be one [location] to attack.” Her lawyer, Michael Tigar, objected, claiming these questions dealt with her “abstract political views,” but he let the truth slip in court: “We’re getting perilously close to bridges, buildings and tunnels,” the targets envisioned by her client.

Authorities arrested “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman after learning of his plan to blow up the United Nations, an FBI building, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, and the George Washington Bridge. They soon discovered he had engineered the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, for which he is serving a life sentence. Although his plan did not work, the plotters intended to topple both towers, a feat later accomplished by Rahman’s terrorist associate, Osama bin Laden. Coalition forces captured two of his sons working with al-Qaeda including Mohammed Omar Abdel Rahman, who is thought to have planned the 9/11 attacks. Authorities say the al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole six years ago this month was meant to effect the release of the elder Rahman, as were a string of bombings by al-Qaeda’s Filipino ally, Abu Sayyaf (bombings Stewart applauded during a visit to Rahman in May 2000). He had declared war on the United States; Stewart had undeniably given him and his cause “material support”; and this Clinton judicial appointee let her go with a short sentence she may not live to serve.

This was but Koeltl’s latest act of kindness to the Legal Left’s favorite spokeswoman. He threw out two federal charges as “unconstitutionally vague” and gave the jury 139 pages of instructions to govern their deliberations. He then delayed imposing his light sentence multiple times. Though the jury convicted the trio more than 20 months ago, he deferred the sentence when he learned Stewart, 67, had breast cancer. “If you send her to prison, she’s going to die. It’s as simple as that,” pleaded Stewart’s lawyer, Elizabeth Fink. (In prison, she would have gotten to experience the wonders of a state-run health care system, one of the “progressive” causes for which she fights.) He also seemed to give credence to Stewart’s own cry: she wrote a letter to Koeltl, insisting against all evidence, “I am not a traitor.” “The end of my career truly is like a sword in my side,” she protested at her hearing. “Permit me to live out the rest of my life productively, lovingly, righteously.”

Upon hearing Koeltl’s combination sentence-and-pep-talk, she exulted: “You get time off for good behavior usually at the end of your prison term. I got it at the beginning.” Should she be granted additional time off, her already-truncated sentence would be whittled down to virtually nothing. Had Koeltl sentenced her in July 2005 as originally scheduled, she almost certainly would have “paid her debt to society” by now.She should be productive, indeed. Even as an accused (and now convicted) assistant to a terrorist, Stewart has been an acclaimed figure on college campuses and accepts several speaking engagements each year. She turned away more than 700 admirers from the packed Riverside Church the night before her sentencing.

Stewart rightly called Koeltl’s sentence “a great victory.” The victory is for terrorists and those in the American Fifth Column who would aid and abet them.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is in the lead on this front. The CCR has dedicated itself to fighting the government’s every anti-terrorism measure, suing and demonizing its own government as necessary. The CCR filed an amicus brief on Stewart’s behalf.

Evidence notwithstanding, CCR Legal Director Jeffrey Fogel claimed, “the case had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, or terrorist attacks on America or Americans.” The CCR “denounced the conviction of Lynne Stewart as a threat to lawyers, to those who dissent, to the guarantee of attorney-client confidentiality, and to the Constitution itself.” CCR President Michael Ratner said, “the government prosecuted Stewart for political reasons.  The overriding goal of the case was to send a message to lawyers who represent alleged terrorists that it’s dangerous to do so.” The CCR pledged to “will assist in the legal and political struggle to overturn this conviction.” Fogel affirmed, “We must not let this conviction stand.”

The National Lawyers Guild has also shown its “solidarity” with NLG member Lynne Stewart. She keynoted its 2003 national convention, at which she enumerated her heroes: Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse-tung, and Che Guevara. The NLG held a “National Day of Outrage” last February 17, a week after her conviction, and encouraged its members to spend the day in silence (not an unwelcome development). The prosecution, it asserted, was part of “the government’s efforts to intimidate individuals who are willing to defend persons accused in the ‘war on terror.’”

The Legal Left so closely identifies with Stewart, because she so “passionately” identifies with terrorists. CCR co-founder Ron Kuby once revealed to a New York Times reporter that lawyers are cowards and vicariously advance their political causes by those they represent. Looking at these terrorists:

We see the people that maybe we could have been had we the courage to do what they did. And as a result, if you’re a good lawyer, you spend a lot of time doing gut checks. And because it’s a profession that is so cowardly, enjoying the aura of being those people without ever taking the risks of being those people, it’s easy to say: this is the right thing to do, I’m not hurting anyone, this is morally justified.

Lynne Stewart took the risk, and a Democratic president’s judicial appointee saw to it the risk paid off. With terror-enablers as with the terrorists of whom they are so enamored, this will guarantee more of this behavior in the future.

This article originally appeared on Tuesday, October 17, 2006, on FrontPage Magazine.