Victory! Lynne Stewart is free!

By JEFF MACKLER

Jeff Mackler is the West Coast coordinator of the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee.

Lynne Stewart is free! With almost 100 family and supporters chanting, “We love you, Lynne,” she rose from a wheelchair and bravely walked forward for a half-hour rally at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. She landed at 1:10 p.m. on New Year’s Day after a whirlwind, if not unexpected turn of events. “How does freedom feel, a bevy of reporters asked? “It’s the best,” Stewart replied, as she explained why all prisoners desperately need the kind of solidarity that she received. “I’m here to fight,” said Stewart undaunted.

On Dec. 31, Federal District Court Judge John Koeltl ordered that the crusading attorney be released from prison. The judge’s order stated, “The defendant’s terminal medical condition and very limited life expectancy constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons that warrant the requested reduction” in the time she must serve of her sentence.

Stewart’s attorney, Bob Boyle, noted that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had at long last certified the recommendation for compassionate release by FMC Carswell prison officials, and that the Justice Department then gave the stamp of approval needed for Judge Koeltl’s final action. Koeltl had stated in court several months earlier that if the BOP/Justice Department made such a recommendation he would be inclined to approve it. And he did, almost instantly.

Lynne’s husband, Ralph Poynter, en route to a routine visit to Lynne at the time, was unaware of these developments until he landed at the Fort Worth, Texas, airport. Poynter immediately contacted prison officials, who agreed to Lynne’s immediate release. Poynter met Lynne, still in prison-issued clothing, at the door to Carswell’s visiting room, and off they went, a few boxes of medical and other materials in hand, to a local hotel for a few moments of exhilarating relaxation and to book the first flight home. After three years at Carswell, an ecstatic Lynne told me that evening, it was like jumping into a “parallel universe.”

Prison doctors have predicted that Lynne’s Stage 4 metastasized breast cancer may allow her some 12-18 months to live. But Sloan Kettering Hospital has pledged to do their best to retard her incurable cancer, in an effort extend her life even longer. Lynne is set to visit a parole officer in the next few weeks, where she will learn if any restrictions are placed on her political activities.

A million thanks to everyone who joined the international effort to press the BOP to grant compassionate release. We have always believed in Lynne’s total innocence and fought against the malicious 10-year sentence imposed on her for faithfully representing her client, the “blind sheik” Omar Abdel Rachman, an Egyptian cleric who was similarly a victim of a U.S. government frame-up on terrorism charges.

Lynne was originally convicted on charges of conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism stemming from her release of a press statement on behalf of Rachman. This alleged violation of a government-issued Special Administrator Measure (SAM), even if valid, usually carries with it the most minor of punishments—perhaps a letter of reprimand from a government official and a ban on attorney-client visits for a few months. In Lynne’s case, Judge Koeltl, who originally had sentenced her to 28 months in prison in 2005, extended the sentence to 10 years after federal prosecutors appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals with the argument that 28 months was too lenient.

Lynne should not have served a single day in prison. Having made that clear, her impending freedom will be nevertheless our collective victory. Having her home, safe, and in the care of family and friends is the best that we could have hoped for in these times when civil liberties are being trashed as never before in recent memory.

Lynne’s release did not come easy, Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people demanded it—repeatedly calling, writing, and e-mailing the BOP and Justice Department head Eric Holder. We celebrate this victory and wish everyone well for a fighting New Year, where we must continue the battle for justice for all political prisoners and all who suffer the plagues of oppression that the U.S. government spreads around the world.

Photo: Lynne Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter, speaks at a rally in New York. By Tony Savino / Socialist Action.