Former New York City attorney Lynne Stewart is back in the news. Having been convicted in federal court of being a terrorism supporter, she is currently serving a 10-year sentence in a federal penitentiary. According to an article in today’s New York Times, the 73-year-old Stewart’s recent request for an early release from prison has been rejected by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Stewart, who is suffering from terminal breast cancer, based her request on a program that permits an early compassionate release for terminally ill inmates. Stewart is now taking her request to the judge who sentenced her.
I still consider Stewart’s conviction for being a terrorism supporter to be a bit bizarre.
Stewart was convicted of reading a note to the press from her client, the convicted terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman. Here is what the note said:
I [Omar Abdel-Rahman] am not withdrawing my support of the cease-fire, I am merely questioning it and I am urging you, who are on the ground there to discuss it and to include everyone in your discussions as we always have done.
The message was addressing a group in Egypt that had been labeled a terrorist group by both the Egyptian and American governments.
As I read that message, however, it seems to me that what it’s saying is that Abdel-Rahman is NOT withdrawing his support of the cease-fire between the Egyptian government and the terrorist group — that he is simply QUESTIONING it and is urging the group to DISCUSS it.
Yet, the U.S. government construed the note to mean the opposite — that Abdel-Rahman was, in fact, withdrawing his support of the ceasefire.
In other words, in the minds of U.S. officials, when Abdel-Rahman said he was NOT withdrawing his support for the ceasefire, that apparently meant that he really WAS withdrawing his support of the ceasefire.
Here is what the presiding judge wrote:
A rational jury could have inferred that, by relaying a statement withdrawing support for a cessation of violence by an influential, pro-violence leader of a terrorist group, Stewart knew that she was providing support to those within the IG (Islamic Group) who sought to return to violence….”
But wait a minute. Does that make any sense? The judge says “by relaying a statement withdrawing support for a cessation of violence.” But didn’t the message specifically say the opposite: “I am NOT withdrawing my support of the ceasefire.”
More important, however, is how the Stewart conviction sheds light on the mindset of those who operate within the national-security state apparatus that became a permanent part of our constitutional order during the Cold War.
During the time that the Stewart matters took place, Egypt was run by one of the most brutal military dictatorships in the world. While the figurehead at the top of the dictatorship was Hosni Mubarak, the real power in Egypt lay with the military regime itself, a dictatorship that remains in power even to this day.
Yet, because Egypt’s military regime has been a loyal ally of the U.S. government and a loyal recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid for decades, the fact that it is a brutal military dictatorship is considered irrelevant and immaterial by U.S. officials. All that matters is that the dictatorship is a loyal friend and ally of the United States, an ally that was more than willing to even serve as one of the national-security state’s premier rendition-torture partners in the “war on terrorism.”
When Egyptian demonstrators took to the streets during the Arab Spring to complain about Mubarak’s brutal dictatorship, they caught U.S. officials by surprise, for Mubarak was an old friend and ally of the U.S. government. After a while, however, seeing how the Arab winds were blowing, U.S. officials expressed a willingness to throw their old friend Mubarak under the bus.
It was always understood, however, by both Egyptian and U.S. officials, that the Egyptian people were not to alter the fundamental structure of their government by dismantling the military dictatorship which governed their country. The Egyptian military made it clear that it would continue to be Egyptian state, answering to no one but itself. Elections would be permitted but would be subject to the final approval of the military regime.
For its part, the U.S. government has continued pouring its $1.3 billion of foreign aid into the Egyptian military, especially with weaponry, in order to fortify its dictatorial hold over the Egyptian people. All that matters is that the regime continue to be a friend and ally of the U.S. national-security state. The U.S. government, just like the Egyptian military, isn’t about to permit anyone or anything to alter the dictatorial hold that the Egyptian military regime has over Egypt.
Ironically, In the Declaration of Independence, whose anniversary the United States celebrated just last month, Thomas Jefferson writes that whenever any government becomes tyrannical, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, even if that takes violence.
But when it comes to Egypt, both the country’s military officials and U.S. officials obviously take an opposite position: they consider anyone who tries to overthrow the Egyptian military dictatorship by force to be a terrorist, not a freedom fighter.
And that’s why Lynne Stewart is dying in a federal jail — for sending a message to Egyptians that supposedly suggested that they should end a ceasefire that might result in the violent overthrow of one of the most brutal and tyrannical regimes in the world, one that remains a loyal recipient of $1.3 billion of U.S. annual foreign aid. It’s just one more example of how the national-security state has warped the morals, principles, and values of the American people.