Today’s Los Angeles Times has an interesting editorial on the Lynne Stewart case. Stewart is a 72-year-old criminal defense lawyer from New York who is now serving a 10-year sentence in a federal penitentiary. She was convicted in 2005 of supporting terrorism, an offense that arose during her defense of Omar Abdel Rahman, a radical Islamic cleric known as the “blind sheik.”
The Times’ editorial addressed the length of Stewart’s sentence. She was originally sentenced to a term of 28 months. The government appealed that sentence, however, claiming that it was too short, saying that Stewart should have received a higher sentence for three reasons: (1) that she supposedly committed perjury when she testified at trial; (2) that she abused her role as an attorney; and (3) that she wasn’t remorseful for what she had done.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the government and remanded the case to the District Court, ordering a reconsideration of Stewart’s sentence in light of those three factors. The District Court then proceeded to increase Stewart’s sentence from 28 months to 10 years.
Why did the government, the Court of Appeals, and the District Court feel that Stewart wasn’t remorseful for her crime? After receiving the original sentence of 28 months, Stewart told supporters outside the courthouse that while she thought the sentence was fair, she also declared, “I can do that standing on my head.” A few days later, she was asked by a journalist if she regretted the conduct that led to her conviction, and she replied, “I might handle it a little differently, but I would do it again.”
Stewart is appealing her resentencing on First Amendment grounds. Represented by one of the country’s premier First Amendment lawyers, Herald Price Fahringer, Stewart is arguing that she should not be punished for simply speaking out about her sentence. The case is now back in the hands of the Court of Appeals, where it was argued last month.
The Times states: “But her actual comments don’t justify a quadrupling of her sentence. The appeals court needs to make sure that the harsher punishment wasn’t a reaction to Stewart’s assertiveness or her ideological identification with her client.”
It seems to me that there’s another factor here. At Stewart’s original sentencing, the judge had the responsibility at that time to determine the degree of her remorsefulness. If he failed to make an accurate determination of that factor or even failed to take it into account, that’s his fault. Why should any statements made by a defendant after sentencing be allowed to affect his original sentence? Suppose Stewart had expressed her sentiments two years after sentencing. Could the judge go back and increase her sentence then?
Moreover, why should a perjury claim by the government affect Stewart’s sentence? That’s not what she was charged with. If the government believed that she committed perjury, the government had a remedy — secure another grand jury indictment and prosecute her for that. Then, if she is convicted, sentence her for that. Why should she receive a higher sentence for the original offense of supporting terrorism based on an unproven assertion by the government on a completely different offense?
The third ground for increasing her sentence seems the most ridiculous of all — that she abused her role as an attorney. Isn’t that a completely different matter from what she was convicted of? Why, as far as I know, that’s not even a criminal offense. Moreover, she got punished for that with automatic disbarment. Where is the justice of getting punished again with a higher sentence for a civil offense that she’s already getting disbarred for?
The most fascinating point of the Stewart prosecution, however, involves why she was convicted in the first place. Her offense, for which she is now serving 10 years in jail, reveals a lot about the U.S. government’s pro-empire foreign policy and its “war on terrorism.”
Stewart was charged violating what was called a “special administrative measure,” some sort of regulation that the government instituted after 9/11 which governed terrorist suspects and their legal counsel. As part of that regulation, Stewart agreed not to pass messages between Abdel Rhaman.and third parties, including the media. What she was ultimately charged with doing was releasing a statement to the media by Abdel Rhaman blessing the resumption of violence against the government of Egypt, which at that time was headed by President Hosni Mubarak.
Yes, the same Hosni Mubarak who was later ousted from power by the Egyptian protestors and who is currently on trial for violent crimes against the protestors!
The Egyptian people have long suffered under one of the most brutal dictatorships in history, a military dictatorship that was long headed by Mubarak.
But understand something important here: This brutal dictatorship has long been an important ally and partner of the U.S. government. In fact, part of what has sustained the dictatorship has been U.S. taxpayer money and weaponry in form of U.S. foreign aid. During the past 30 years of the dictatorship, the U.S. government has plowed billions and billions of dollars and armaments into the dictatorship, helping it not only to survive but to do so by brutally oppressing and suppressing the Egyptian people.
In fact, one of the major ways that the dictatorship has been able to keep people in line is with its department of torture. The regime is renowned for the brutality and effectiveness of the manner in which it tortures Egyptian critics of the regime. That’s in fact why the U.S. government chose the regime to serve as a rendition partner, one that would torture suspected terrorists on behalf of the U.S. government.
Recall that when the CIA kidnapped a suspected terrorist in Italy, they renditioned him to Egypt for torture, a violent crime that the CIA agents were later convicted of in Italian courts. Unlike Stewart, however, those CIA agents are not serving any time for their crime because they refused to return to Italy to face the music.
During the last 30 years of Egypt’s military dictatorship, both the Pentagon and the CIA have treated Egypt’s dictatorial regime as a close friend and partner of the United States. Through it all, U.S. funds and weapons have flowed into the regime.
When the Egyptian people rose up in revolt against their nation’s tyrannical dictatorship, the U.S. government ended up turning on their own friend and ally Mubarak but not on Egypt’s system of government. The U.S. government continues to support the military dictatorship, implicitly agreeing with the regime that this is the best way to keep the nation safe from terrorism and to maintain “order and stability.”
In fact, the irony is that the post-9/11 powers that the U.S. government, including the military and the CIA, now wield over the American people — the power to assassinate them, round them up, torture them, and execute them — have long been wielded by Egypt’s military dictatorship over the Egyptian people. The Egyptian protestors have demanded a relinquishment of such powers, so far without success.
Thus, it seems that the U.S. government’s position was that any Egyptian group that used violence to overthrow Egypt’s tyrannical dictatorship was a terrorist group.
That seems strange for a country that prides itself on its Declaration of Independence, which expressly states that people everywhere have the right to violently overthrow a tyrannical government.
What better example of a tyrannical government than a military dictatorship, especially one that uses its omnipotent powers to round up critics of the government, incarcerate them, torture them, and execute them?
It seems that under the U.S. government’s pro-empire foreign policy, if a tyrannical regime is a friend and ally of the U.S. government and a recipient of U.S. foreign aid, any citizen of that country who is committed to violently overthrowing the tyranny will automatically be considered a terrorist not only by the foreign dictatorship by also by its supporter, the U.S. government.
Strangely though, the U.S. government seems to take the same position with respect to China, which is also ruled by one of the most brutal and tyrannical regimes in history, a communist regime. For years the U.S. government incarcerated without trial at its prison camp in Cuba a group of people called the Uighurs. There was never any indication that the Uighers were anti-American terrorists. Their sole “crime” was their wish to violently overthrow China’s communist regime.
For that, the U.S. government labeled them terrorists and kept them incarcerated without trial for years in Cuba, which would seem somewhat strange since China is not a partner in the U.S. government’s war or terrorism or a recipient of U.S. foreign aid, as the Egyptian military dictatorship is. Perhaps it’s because the Chinese communist regime is one of the U.S. government’s principal creditors, having loaned the U.S. government the money to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan.
Thus, it seems that Stewart was convicted of passing a message from a client that told people in Egypt that it was okay by him if they violently overthrew Egypt’s military dictatorship, a tyrannical dictatorship that was a close partner and ally of the U.S. government and a recipient of its money and armaments.
The U.S. government’s pro-empire foreign policy and its “war on terrorism” sure produce fascinating results sometimes.