Lynne Stewart: ‘War on Terror’ Casualty

In America’s “war on terror,” normal actions, such as lawyer Lynne Stewart passing a client’s message to friends, became criminalized. Stewart was imprisoned, likely speeding her death from cancer, reports Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein

Civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart, who died March 7 from cancer, saw her condition worsen while she was in prison as a result of her legal representation of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian cleric who was convicted of planning terror attacks. The U.S. government then won a conviction against Stewart for passing on messages to the Sheikh’s friends and supporters.

The People’s Attorney, Lynne Stewart, on 24 February 2007. (Wikipedia)

Journalist Chris Hedges wrote about Stewart in 2014 after Stewart was released having  served four years of a ten-year sentence. Suffering from terminal cancer, she received a compassionate release after thousands protested and signed petitions against her continued incarceration.

Hedges wrote: “The lynching and disbarring of civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart, who because she has terminal cancer was recently released from prison after serving four years of a 10-year sentence, is a window into the collapse of the American legal system. Stewart—who has stood up to state power for more than three decades in order to give a voice to those whom authorities seek to crush, who has spent her life defending the poor and the marginalized, who wept in court when one of her clients was barred from presenting a credible defense—is everything a lawyer should be in an open society. But we no longer live in an open society. The persecution of Stewart is the persecution of us all.”

Stewart upheld the tradition of the people’s lawyer as embodied in the work of Clarence Darrow and William Kunstler. Like them, she deeply believed that all people deserved a vigorous defense.

I interviewed Stewart for the Flashpoints show on Pacifica Radio, along with her husband, Ralph Poynter, in 2014, right after her release from Maximum Security prison in New York.

Dennis Bernstein: Why do you think they put you in jail? Is it because for a zillion years you represented the poorest of the poor, the people who really had the right to be represented, but not the money?

Lynne Stewart: Well, I think it’s a combination really of wanting to send a warning shot, as we say, to ice the zeal of lawyers who represent such people. I mean, the fact of the matter is that I was the stalking horse, and they wanted to let lawyers know they could represent controversial people but they had to do so within the bounds set by the government: “Do it our way.” Don’t do it the way, you and the client, I mean which is traditional thing. You sit with the client, you decide on a strategy and you do it. But, no, they wanted to make it, “You have to do it within the parameters we suggest.” And that, of course, is a terrible incursion on the attorney/client privilege, and the relationship.

DB: How thoroughly were you and your clients bugged?

LS: Well, we didn’t know it, at the time. But, it was visits, in a prison setting, and they recorded everything. They had audio and visual. And it was very funny because they couldn’t put it like where we would be seeing a camera or anything, so they mounted it above our heads. So you see these hands moving across a table. The Sheikh’s hands, my hands, my interpreter’s… really showing nothing. But they liked that, they liked that, just everything they could get.

DB: And where are we? Here we are, 2014, where we’re seeing endless revelations about the level of national security activities that undermine all the core aspects of free speech. How would you evaluate where we are now, in that world of first amendment free speech? Do we have any left?

People protest for the release of Lynne Stewart in NYC, July 1, 2013. (Flickr Debra Sweet, Photo by Bud Korotzer)

LS: Well, I tell you, it was interesting. You know, of course, we raised that as an issue for the case, when I was indicted. That their intrusion in 6th amendment sacred precincts should preclude them from being able to prosecute. However, by that time, the Patriot Act had been passed, in the interim between the time they did it, and the time that we raised this. And it was more or less to say, well, under the Patriot Act they could do it, so what’s the problem?

Even though it was not done under the Patriot Act. But it’s the halo effect of the Patriot Act that allowed them to do it. And I think that that covers a lot of situations nowadays. Now they want to be able to take someone’s cell phone, which is really a mini-computer. And if you’re arrested they can get any information off there, including medical information, including any information that’s private and confidential. So the fact of the matter is, I think we all have to say ourselves […] “What would I say, freewheeling. They’re out there, they can get anything they want, whenever they want it.” And we act accordingly.

DB: Lynne Stewart in the studio, she’s free, she’s with us. What’s the advice [for lawyers]? Should they take on these tough clients? Should they be afraid?

LS: Well, […] I was being interviewed today by an AP reporter from New York, who was doing a thing on how people who represent difficult clients are punished personally and professionally. And so we were talking about this very point and he said, “Do you see anybody coming along that’s going to take your place, that could do what you did?” And I said, “There are some folks, I count my own son as one of them, although he does it in a very low key way without publicity, etc.”

But, I said to Larry Undermeister, I said, “Listen, I got, I would say, upwards of 100 letters when I was in prison, and they were from young lawyers, either in law school or about to enter law school, or just starting on their careers.” And they said, “I became a lawyer because I want to be a lawyer like you are.” And […] they say, “What’s your advice?” and I said, “If you have that fire in your belly, do it, do it.”

Although I recognize that they enter the arena in a very different way… when I entered, I had no debt. I could hang out my shingle and say, “Okay, let’s see who comes in the door.” They can’t do that. They’ve got these enormous student loans that they’ve got to pay off. They’ve got to get something that gives them a salary, that enables them… and, of course, by the time you pay off the student loans the fire has sometimes become embers.

DB: So, there’s a real temptation to start lying for some bank or major corporation to pay off your debt.

LS: Oh, yeah…or government, even. Work for the government, and do their bidding. But there are enough others that I think … [are] out there still. The sense is out there that if you’re going to do this work, you ought to do it for the least among us. You can do it for the Wall Street, you can do it for inside traders.

But the real people to do it for, where it’s you and the government and everybody in the courtroom hates you (which was many times the case, for me), those are the cases you really want to do, as a lawyer. You need to do. And I still, I still have a pang. I’ll read about something in the newspaper and I’ll say, “Gee, I would have loved to have done that case” or “I would like to do this case.” […]

DB: Have you been asked to give counsel in certain cases?

Statues of Lady Justice can be found around the world, this one atop London’s Old Bailey courthouse.

LS: I’m not allowed. I’m disbarred, and you’re not even allowed to… you can’t work in a law office alphabetizing. You can’t go anywhere near a law office. Because I think that they understand that lawyers, being the wily people we are, if you’re in a law office, you’re going to do a little bit more than alphabetize the files. But the answer is, I can’t help but be interested or make comments, or get mad at the T.V. set when they do these outrageous programs…

DB: Well, you can alphabetize my legal files any time. Also in the studio, and we thank Jeff Mackler for bringing you to the Bay Area, and not only that, we thank Jeff Mackler for being unrelenting in this fight to free you. I mean, and I’m serious, knock-the-door-down unrelenting in this fight. And I have to be honest, I was sort of hopeless, I didn’t think he was going to be able to do it. I didn’t think the folks who rose up around the country could do it. But they did, and you’re here. Jeff how does it feel to see Lynne here?

Jeff Mackler: Magnificent. Of course, I visited her in prison, and she was upbeat that we could win. But since I have the opportunity, I want to make some criticisms of Lynne. First, when she was on the witness stand and they said to her in court, and I attended the entire proceedings, they said, “Lynne, if you had to do it all over again” said her attorney, Mike Tigar, “would you do the same thing?” That is, pass out a press release on behalf of your client, for which she was convicted of conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism. And I watched Lynne closely and I could see a tear come out of her eye. And she said, “I would hope I would think…no, I would do it again. I have a duty to my client.” That’s one criticism. Lynne, you should have lied.

And second, they said, “Well, why did you do it? I mean, why didn’t you just appeal this special administrative order that prevented you from passing a press release?” And she said, “Well, let me give you a story. A friend of mine, named Mumia Abu Jamal,” this is a quote, “a convicted murderer,” and she was using him as a reference in front of a jury, where her life is at stake, “complained that they were opening his mail, and he filed a lawsuit and it took years. Well, I have a duty to my client. I’m not going to let him stand there in prison for years, so I just did the right thing for my client.” Well, that’s Lynne Stewart and that’s why she’s here and she’s free with her dignity.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at

21 comments for “Lynne Stewart: ‘War on Terror’ Casualty

  1. Connie McKay
    March 16, 2017 at 17:16

    What a gift Lynne Stewart made of her life. Although I did not know her, I think of her with love. Rest in Peace for a life nobly lived.

  2. March 12, 2017 at 09:23

    @ some guy-
    that is hysterical…
    you prove the author’s point on how the ‘law’ and mainstream media accounts of such controversial subjects are effectively either whitewashed, squelched, lies, or simply ignored such that the ‘informed citizenry’ don’t know shit about shit…
    lynne stewart is a peoples’ hero; the gummint goons who persecuted her are aconstitutional quislings…

    • Guy
      March 12, 2017 at 10:19

      I’m sorry you’re all offended, but you’re saying that the charges against both the Sheikh and Ms. Stewart were fabricated? All I know is that this Sheikh was convicted of conspiracy to commit acts of terror, and the Lawyer was specifically not allowed to be passing information on to potential terrorists, which is exactly what she did. I have no problem with a lawyer representing an infamous person, everyone has a right to a fair trial, but the lawyer has to to it within the boundaries of the law, no exceptions. You can disagree with the patriot act all you want, but again she was a lawyer and should have known better.

      • Josh Stern
        March 12, 2017 at 12:29

        The Blind Sheik was a kind of CIA asset. The CIA was heavily involved in bringing him to the US and getting him permanent residency. FBI informants were heavily involved in the WTC ’93 bombing plot, including urging the FBI to stop it. Intelligent observers reviewing the reports and evidence of that would conclude that the FBI chose to let the plot proceed and then arrest suspects, as that was much better overall for their publicity and funding. Some recent detailed reports on this can be found at several Indy news sites, including Corbett Report, Global Research, and Pro Libertate. Some of the original news reports on the FBI penetration of the informer network appeared in the New York Times.

  3. Guy
    March 11, 2017 at 22:56

    I thought I had found a good news outlet, until i read this article and the ensuing comments. Just google both the lawyer and the Sheikh and don’t listen to a word being said here.

    • Bill Bodden
      March 11, 2017 at 23:53

      If you are seeking your version of good news, it looks like you’re not likely to find it here. Perhaps, you will have better luck over at Faux News, NewsMax, Breitbart, the Drudge Report, or similar. Fortunately, we still have some freedoms so you are under no obligation to feel locked in to Consortium News.

    • HpO
      March 13, 2017 at 14:40

      Guy, Consortium News is “a good news outlet”, way up there – critically speaking and with original investigative journals too – with Global Research and The Intercept. About WTC ’93, though, old news and all that, I thought you would’ve owned up to your own suspicions about mainstream news versions of what really happened. I’m not sure Consortium News has a position on it. You may want to fact-check that, too, through their news archive. So, no, don’t leave. Stick around.

  4. HpO
    March 11, 2017 at 21:30

    I didn’t know who Lynne Stewart was. I hadn’t even heard of her. Until, believe it or not, after I fact-checked news reports back in February about the imprisoned passing-away of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, then found this from Taking Aim Radio:

    “Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman … was tried and convicted of plotting to blow up noted landmarks … and to assassinate Senator Alphonse D’Amato and U.N. Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali. Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman was innocent of these charges and had no part in the initiation, planning or execution of these presumptive plots. Indisputable and massive evidence has demonstrated that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, through its operatives, including Emad Ali Salem, was, in fact, the author of these plots and planned, initiated and financed these and other acts of terror, including the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 in a ‘false flag’ operation.
    Attorney General John Ashcroft launched a cynical campaign to persecute and prosecute Lynne Stewart for ‘aiding and abetting terrorism’ based upon her serving as defense attorney for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.” (Taking Aim Radio, April 7, 2010; 911Truth-dot-Org, April 9, 2010)

    Needless to say, I mourned that he died but felt equally sad when weeks later I first learned of her passing away from Stephen Lendman, “Remembering Lynne Stewart: A People’s Lawyer, Global Research, March 09, 2017.

    Then I prayed that the justice of God through Jesus Christ be brought to bear upon all those responsible for both his and her imprisonment. Amen and amen. The one for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and the other for Lynne Stewart.

  5. geoff
    March 11, 2017 at 18:54

    when i think of lynne stewart i think of principles,justice and great courage to defend the constitution. when i think of federal prosecutors i think of jackals. obama is one of the jackals and we should not forget what he did not do. she is with god and the others need to grasp what lynne stewart was, if that were ever possible.

  6. Tom Welsh
    March 11, 2017 at 17:59

    The rule of law is extinct in the USA, as in Britain.

    • Sam F
      March 11, 2017 at 19:17

      Quite so, as Hedges said “we no longer live in an open society. The persecution of Stewart is the persecution of us all.”

  7. Bill Bodden
    March 11, 2017 at 17:10

    To Chris Hedges’ cogent analysis above let me add: [O]ne nation, …, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” That day may come if there are more courageous lawyers following Lynne Stewart’s courageous example. Till then, reciting this part of the pledge of allegiance as our politicians and their supporters do is a national act of hypocrisy.

    Of course, the recent dismissal of attorneys by Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions lets us know where they stand.

    • SteveK9
      March 11, 2017 at 22:10

      All US Attorneys are changed with a new administration. Bill Clinton required all 93 US Attorneys to resign on the same day.

      • Bill Bodden
        March 11, 2017 at 23:47

        We;ll see soon whether the quality goes up or down. I’ll bet on down.

      • Bill Bodden
        March 12, 2017 at 00:01

        Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said the most notable precedent for the mass removal of US attorneys was in 1993, when Bill Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, asked for the resignations of prosecutors appointed by George HW Bush. Tobias said a problem with such abrupt requests was that they leave prosecutors’ offices without permanent leadership.”

        Clinton, Trump, Sessions – all at home in the Washington cesspool

  8. Realist
    March 11, 2017 at 16:20

    And none of this bothered “constitutional law professor” Barack Hussein Obama? The guy sold out everything he claimed to stand for once assuming the mantle of power. Did he even ever speak mildly critical words about the “Patriot Act?”

  9. evelync
    March 11, 2017 at 16:03

    So sorry to learn that courageous Lynne Stewart passed away.
    She stood up for the constitution.
    And when I read of people being punished for standing up for the constitution, one of the noblest civic acts one can aspire to, IMO, it comes to mind how that Patriot Act was used.:

    “LS: Well, I tell you, it was interesting. You know, of course, we raised that as an issue for the case, when I was indicted. That their intrusion in 6th amendment sacred precincts should preclude them from being able to prosecute. However, by that time, the Patriot Act had been passed, in the interim between the time they did it, and the time that we raised this. And it was more or less to say, well, under the Patriot Act they could do it, so what’s the problem?”

  10. mike k
    March 11, 2017 at 15:08

    The US government is ugly beyond belief.

    • Sam f
      March 12, 2017 at 07:05

      Yes, sadly the US judicial branch has become utterly corrupted. All judges work for pay-to-play party operatives (my expert knowledge is in Maine, Massachusetts, DC, Georgia, Florida, and California), and regard their job as the subversion of the Constitution and laws for private gain of party. The corruption flows downward from the Supreme Court, so it is fair to generalize to nearly all federal judges, although a few on the West coast have a better record. I haven’t seen any exceptions.

      The judiciary cultivates the science of lying and nothing more. It becomes sharply more corrupt from bottom to top, and the fake judges at the bottom are trying hard to prove their ability to lie, cheat, and steal in judicial sounding tones. One would have to get rid of nearly every one of them to have a working judiciary.

      The public is fooled by their own dream of a judicial Santa Claus who will set things right if they are wronged. If suspicious enough to read cases, they are fooled by judgments that simply lie about the facts: the public always assumes that the judiciary would not be so audacious. Lawyers are absolute dependents of the judiciary for survival, and many aim to be judges themselves, receiving bribes from the rich instead of legal fees from the poor. The mass media are also utterly dependent for survival upon the judiciary, who can easily throw a libel suit against their critics. Those who know the truth and dare to speak are extremely few, and the public will never hear of them in mass media, and will never listen to what it dares not believe.

      Anyone who hopes for a judicial solution to any problem, other than by coincidence, is a fool of the oligarchy.

    • Sam F
      March 12, 2017 at 07:11

      My experience is with civil rights cases. Here is an excellent article by Paul Roberts on the abject corruption of the criminal justice system:

    • Sam F
      March 12, 2017 at 07:25

      Here is an article on judicial corruption and the extensive measures that would be necessary to get rid of it:

Comments are closed.