by Jeff Mackler
(Jeff Mackler is the West Coast Director of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee.)
The full force of the U.S. criminal “justice” system came down on innocent political prisoner, 30-year veteran human rights attorney and radical political activist Lynne Stewart today, July 15, 2010.
In an obviously pre-prepared one hour and twenty minute technical tour de force designed to give legitimacy to a reactionary ruling Federal District Court John Koeltl, who in 2005 sentenced Stewart to 28 months in prison following her frame-up trial and jury conviction on four counts of “conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism,” re-sentenced Stewart to 120 months or ten years. Koeltl recommended that Stewart serve her sentence in Danbury, Connecticut’s minimum security prison. A final decision will be made by the Bureau of Prisons.
Stewart will remain in Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center for 60 days to prepare an appeal.
The jam-packed New York Federal District Court chamber observers where Koeltl held forth let our a gasp of pain and anguish as Lynne’s family and friends were stunned – tears flowing down the stricken and somber faces of many. A magnificent Stewart, ever the political fighter and organizer was able to say to her supporters that she felt badly because she had “let them down,” a reference to the massive outpouring of solidarity and defiance that was the prime characteristic of Lynne’s long fight for freedom.
Judge Koeltl was ordered to revisit his relatively short sentence when it was overturned by a two-judge majority of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Judges Robert D. Sack and Guido Calabresi ruled that Koeltl’s sentence was flawed because he had declined to determine whether Stewart committed perjury when she testified at her trial that she believed that she was effectively operating under a “bubble” protecting her from prosecution when she issued a press release on behalf of her also framed-up client, the blind Sheik Omar Abdel Rachman. Rachman was falsely charged with conspiracy to damage New York state buildings.
Dissenting Judge John M. Walker, who called Stewart’s sentence, “breathtakingly low” in view of Stewart’s “extraordinarily severe criminal conduct” deemed the Second Circuit’s majority opinion “substantively unreasonable.” Walker essentially sought to impose or demand a 30-year sentence.
The three-judge panel on Dec. 20, 2009 followed its initial ruling with even tougher language demanding that Koeltl revisit his treatment of the “terrorism enhancement” aspects of the law. A cowardly Koeltl, who didn’t need this argument to dramatically increase Stewart’s sentence, asserted that he had already taken it under consideration in his original deliberations.
Government prosecutors, who in 2005 sought a 30-year sentence, had submitted a 155-page memorandum arguing in support of a 15-30 year sentence. Their arguments demonstrated how twisted logic coupled with vindictive and lying government officials routinely turn the victim into the criminal.
Stewart’s attorneys countered with a detailed brief recounting the facts of the case and demonstrating that Stewart’s actions in defense of her client were well within the realm of past practice and accepted procedures. They argued that Koeltl properly exercised his discretion in determining that, while the terrorism enhancement provisions of the “law” had to be taken into consideration, the 30-year-prison term associated with it was “dramatically unreasonable,” “overstated the seriousness” of Stewart’s conduct” and had already been factored into Koeltl’s decision.
Stewart’s attorneys also argued convincingly in their brief that the Special Administrative Measure (SAM) that Stewart was convicted of violating by releasing a statement from her client to the media was well within the established practice of Stewart’s experienced and mentoring co-counsels– former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and past American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee president Abdeen Jabarra. Both had issued similar statements to the media with no government reprisal. Clark was an observer in Koeltl’s courtroom. When he testified in support of Lynne during her trial one overzealous prosecutor suggested that he too be subject to the conspiracy charges. The more discreet team of government lawyers quietly dropped the matter.
As worst in such matters, government officials refuse defense attorneys client visiting rights until an agreement on a contested interpretation of a SAM is reached. This was the case with Stewart and her visiting rights were eventually restored with no punishment or further action. Indeed, when the matter was brought to then Attorney General Janet Reno, the government declined to prosecute or otherwise take any action against Stewart.
But Koeltl, who had essentially accepted this view in his original sentence, reversed himself entirely and proceeded in his erudite-sounding new rendition of the law to repeatedly charge Stewart with multiple acts of perjury regarding her statements on the SAM during her trial.
Koeltl took the occasion to lecture Stewart regarding the first words she uttered in front of a bevy of media outlets when she joyfully alighted from the courthouse following the judge’s original 28-month sentence. Said Stewart at that time, “I can do 28 months standing on my head.” A few moments earlier Stewart, with nothing but a plastic bag containing a toothbrush, toothpaste and her various medications, had stood before Koeltl, who had been asked by the government to sentence her to a 30-year term, effectively a death sentence for Lynne, aged 70, a diabetic and recovering breast cancer victim in less than excellent health.
Koeltl dutifully followed the lead of the Second Circuit judges, who feigned outrage that Stewart could possibly appear joyful that her life was spared despite 28 months in prison. Koeltl insisted that Stewart’s remark was essentially contemptuous of his sentence and insufficient to convince Stewart of the seriousness of her “crime.” Lynne’s defense was that while she fully understood that 28 months behind bars, separating from her “family, friends and comrades,” as she proudly stated, was a harsh penalty, she was nevertheless “relieved” that she would not die in prison. Koeltl needed a legal brick to throw at Lynne’s head and ignored her humanity, honesty and deep feeling of relief when she expressed it to a crowd of two thousand friends, supporters and a good portion of the nation’s media.
The same Judge Koeltl who stated in 2005, when he rendered the 28-month jail term, that Lynne was “a credit to her profession and to the nation,” clearly heard the voice of institutionalized hate and cruelty and responded in according with its unstated code. “Show no mercy! Thou shall not dissent without grave punishment” in capitalist America.
Lynne was convicted in the post-911 generated climate of political hysteria. Bush appointee, Attorney General John Ashcroft, decided to make an example of her aimed at warning future attorneys that the mere act of defending anyone whom the government charged with “conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism,” could trigger terrible consequences.
On July 15 Judge Koeltl made the decision of his career. Known for his meticulous preparation in such matters, and already having enraged the powers that be with his “light” sentence of Stewart, he bent full tilt to the reactionary political pressures exerted on him by the court hierarchy. He had the option to stand tall and reaffirm his original decision. The “law” allowed him to do so. He could have permitted Lynne to leave prison in less than two years, recover her health, and lead a productive life. His massively extended sentence, unless overturned, will likely lead to Lynne’s demise behind bars – a brilliant and dedicated fighter sacrificed on the alter of an intolerant class-biased system of repression and war.
Courage is a rare quality in the capitalist judiciary. For every defiant decision made, usually driven by a change in the political climate and pressed forward by the rise of mass social protest movements, there are thousands and more of political appointees that affirm the status quo, including its punishment of all who struggle to challenge capitalist prerogatives and power.
Lynne Stewart stands tall among the latter. We can only hope that the winds of change that are stirring the consciousness of millions today in the context of an American capitalism in economic and moral crisis keeps the movement for her freedom alive and well. The fight is not over! What we do now remains critical. Lynne’s expected appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court cannot be written off as absurd and hopeless. What we do collectively to free her and all political prisoners and to fight for freedom and justice on every front counts for everything!
Write to Lynne at:
Lynne Stewart 53504-054
150 Park Row
New York, NY 10007
For further information call Lynne’s husband, Ralph Poynter, leader of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee
718-789-0558 or 917-853-9759
Send contributions payable to:
Lynne Stewart Organization
1070 Dean Street
Brooklyn, New York, 11216