Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lynne Stewart

[posted by Callimachus]

My first reaction was that something was wrong with the judge's reasoning in the relatively light sentence handed down to Lynne Stewart.

Lynne Stewart, the feisty 67-year-old civil rights lawyer who spent a lifetime helping unpopular defendants and political causes, was sentenced Monday to 28 months in prison for helping a blind, imprisoned Egyptian sheik unlawfully communicate with followers.

Stewart, who lost her law license after her 2005 conviction in the case, was facing up to 30 years in prison but caught a break from U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl. He cited her years of advocacy for the poor and down-trodden as a reason for a more lenient term behind bars.

"Ms. Stewart performed a public service, not only to her clients but to the nation," said Koeltl, who refused a prosecution request to sentence Stewart, who is battling breast cancer, to a 30-year term.

Read way, way down in that sympathetic coverage and you'll discover Stewart's trial concerned her connections to the notorious "Blind Sheikh," Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as well as a failed plan (called "The Day of Terror") to destroy the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, the U.N. building, and the George Washington Bridge.

Very well. If a poor man is charged with killing a rich one, and a noted lawyer steps forward to defend the poor man, that can be a noble and virtuous act. Because even the most notorious criminals should get a fair trial and a capable defense -- not for their sake, but for justice's. So maybe the lawyer knows this and acts accordingly. Maybe it's personal; maybe the lawyer's father was a poor man once, too.

But there's another possibility. Maybe the lawyer takes the case because he likes to see rich people get slaughtered.

In the first case, the advocacy weighs on the side of mercy toward that lawyer, should he come before the law himself as a suspect. In the second, it seems to me, it should be set into the other pan of the scale. If it is a case of both, they perhaps counterbalance each other.

And it seems to me Lynne Stewart has made clear, in many, many statements of her beliefs, touted by her enemies but uncontested by her friends, where she stands on that:

"As Stewart got to know her new client [the Blind Sheik], she came to see him as a fighter for national liberation on behalf of a people oppressed by dictatorship and American imperialism. She came to admire him personally too, for his honesty, his strength of character, his teasing humor."

"I don't believe in anarchist violence but in directed violence," she told the NY Times in 1995. "That would be violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism, sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions and accompanied by popular support."

"I don't have any problem with Mao or Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel locking up people they see as dangerous. Because so often, dissidence has been used by the greater powers to undermine a people's revolution. The CIA pays a thousand people and cuts them loose, and they will undermine any revolution in the name of freedom of speech."

If you want to grant her mercy because she's old and sick, just say that.

On the other hand, odious as the suspect in this case is to me, I can appreciate the serious problems with the case against her and sympathize with the legal minds who are critical of the case.

Ms. Stewart's constitutional right to speak to the news media about a matter of public interest is absolute and should prevent the government from prosecuting her. And since when does announcing someone else's opinion about a cease-fire - as Ms. Stewart did, saying the sheik no longer supported one that had been observed in Egypt - amount to advocating an act of terrorism?

I'd rather have seen her not convicted. Yet, bad case or not, she was convicted in due process. This is about the sentence, not the charge.

In the end, what swayed me that maybe the judge's mercy was justified was the testimony of people I least expected to speak up in behalf of it, like Andrew C. McCarthy

Don't get me wrong. I do despise what Lynne represents. To hear the media's "civil rights lawyer" tag monotonously attached to her name is Orwellian to the point of inducing dysentery. In America, we have an ingenious constitutional framework that promotes unprecedented economic and social freedom, not to mention nigh-uninhibited human creativity. It is rightfully the envy of the world. It is the fortress that safeguards all civil rights worthy of the name. And ... it is the system that Lynne Stewart, in her hallucinogenic adulation of bloody revolution for the sake of nothing more than revolution (and its attendant idol worship of monsters like Mao and Stalin and Castro and, of course, Abdel Rahman), would supplant. Thus, it's been impossible to read the fawning pro-Stewart coverage in the New York Times for the past two years and not wonder whether either the newspaper or Lynne understands that if the causes they promote ever actually achieved their ends, the very first thing the new regimes would do is shut down useful idiots like the New York Times and Lynne Stewart.

But none of that changes the maddening part of the equation. To the extent all that rah-rah coverage β€” and the Times is far from alone in this β€” has repeatedly extolled Stewart's good-hearted, grandmotherly manner, it is not wrong. Indeed, when my own grandmother died in the midst of one of the trial's most contentious moments, no one was kinder or more solicitous than Lynne.

... Yes, Stewart's reputation was all too true. But it made progressively less sense as I got to know her better. In her public pronouncements, she was a true believer. These, moreover, no doubt echoed in the chamber of the brain where self-image resides: In some epistemological fog she had surely convinced herself that American capitalism was the root of all evil, and that unvarnished revolution was a social good no matter what impelled it. But in her private, professional behavior, she was the very antithesis of an anarchist or a revolutionary.

Much to my surprise, she was a pleasure to deal with. Sure, she did some infuriating things that prosecutors expect defense lawyers to do and then get mad about when they do them. She filed motions well out of time, she held back required disclosures about witnesses she planned to call in the Sheikh's defense, and she occasionally tried the case in the press which is a major no-no in a jury trial. But, frankly, I had steeled myself for a barrage of these shenanigans, and they turned out to be comparatively infrequent. The reason for this, it turned out, was that Stewart actually believed in the trial process β€” notwithstanding that it is a quintessentially American process.

Sad, isn't it, that I wouldn't trust any of her ideological messmates to know the difference between a love of justice and a hatred of America, or that there even is such a difference to be discovered.