Volume 74, Number 36 | January 12 - 18, 2005


Stewart feels confident as jury is set to deliberate

By Mary Reinholz

Last fall, after federal prosecutors played a videotape of Osama bin Laden and attempted to link one of her Arabic co-defendants with the 9/11 mastermind, radical Downtown lawyer Lynne Stewart admitted to a reporter that she was worried about the outcome of her trial on charges of materially aiding international Islamic terrorism.

A few days later, during her own testimony on the witness stand, Stewart, 65, briefly welled up with tears when she spoke about the impact of the government’s prosecution on her law practice and on her personal life.

But these days, the former school librarian raised in Queens appears to have entered a whole new realm of cool now that the trial is winding down before Federal Judge John J. Koeltl in Room 110 at the U.S. District Courthouse in Foley Sq. Anonymous jurors could begin deliberations next week once Stewart’s lead attorney, Michael E. Tigar, completes his summation, the government offers its rebuttal and Koeltl delivers instructions.

Stewart, who faces 45 years in prison, showed no emotion when assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember in his summation contended that she was part of an international conspiracy to smuggle messages of murder and mayhem to Muslim militants abroad from her convicted terrorist client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Rahman is serving a life sentence in isolation at a U.S. prison hospital for inciting the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and conspiring in a failed plot to blow up New York City landmarks.

Stewart even seemed amused on Jan. 3 when Dember claimed she had “secretly” hoped to help violent Islamic fundamentalists overthrow the Egyptian government by issuing a May 2000 press statement on behalf of the sheik to a Reuters reporter in Cairo. In the press release, the sheik called on fellow members of the fundamentalist Islamic Group to consider withdrawing support for its 1997 ceasefire with the Egyptian government.

Dember said Stewart’s press statement — made during a long-distance telephone call and constituting the government’s central allegation against her — was a “call to violence and killing” by the I.G., which has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department. Dember also contended Stewart lied and defrauded the U.S. government when she broke a signed prison gag rule here in issuing the statement for the blind and diabetic sheik, a Muslim cleric.

Her co-defendants, Arabic interpreter Mohamed Yousry and Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a former U.S. postal worker and paralegal for the sheik, also seemed to find some of Dember’s accusations comical. But the prosecutor’s fiery rhetoric drew several unsuccessful motions for a mistrial from Tigar, who later ripped into the government in his summation, claiming prosecutors had “hyped” their case against Stewart. He variously described their allegations as cynical, arrogant and “reckless and cruel,” and argued Stewart was treated “like some kind of disposable accessory.”

Tigar seemed intent on separating Stewart from her co-defendants, especially Sattar, whose more than 85,000 intercepted telephone conversations with various Islamic militants over a seven-year period comprise most of the prosecution’s evidence. Sattar, who faces the most serious charges in the case and could spend life in prison if convicted, had conversations with an Egyptian I.G. member named Rifai Taha, who disagreed with the ceasefire and fled to Afghanistan where he became an associate of bin Laden, prosecutors say. Although Koeltl had warned the jury that bin Laden was not involved in the case, prosecutors were able to play a 2000 tape in which bin Laden threatened to attack the U.S. as means of winning the sheik’s release from prison.

Like Kenneth A. Paul, Sattar’s lawyer, Tigar claimed the government was playing on post-9/11 “anger, grief and fear.” He contended prosecutors had indiscriminately used words like “terror” and “terrorism,” because, he said, “terrorism is not an element in any of the charges in this case.” He dismissed the notion that Stewart participated in an Islamic conspiracy, noting that of all the government’s intercepted wiretaps of telephone conversations presented as evidence, “not a one supports the idea that she was aware of any conspiracy if one exists,” and stressing repeatedly that Stewart does not speak or “understand Arabic.”

Stewart, during breaks in the six-month-long trial, seemed relaxed, even peaceful, laughing and chatting with supporters and family members who packed the courtroom for Tigar’s summation. Two days before Tigar addressed the jury, Stewart told The Villager she was “confident” that Tigar would successfully answer all charges against her “in the fullness of time.”

In his opening remarks, Tigar asked the jury to consider “reasonable doubt” in assessing the prosecution’s case against Stewart. He said she should not be convicted for breaking U.S. prison regulations limiting Abdel Rahman’s contacts with the outside world because she believed she interpreted the regulations in “good faith.” Stewart’s goal, he said, was to help a “sick, old man” buried in an American prison to “get back to Egypt.”

Tigar also asked the jurors not to consider the 1997 murders of 58 tourists at an architectural site at Luxor, Egypt, by I.G. members whom the prosecution also claims sought to win the release of the sheik, “because it is not charged here — it happened,” adding that Abdel Rahman “condemned the violence” at Luxor. He said the ceasefire initiated by Abdel Rahman’s Islamic Group continues.

Tigar noted that former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, one of the sheik’s lawyers who has testified at Stewart’s trial, had “chosen” her to represent Abdel Rahman at the sheik’s trial, because “he felt it was an important goal to have someone dispel the idea of Muslims being against women. [Clark] felt the world should know the sheik had aggressive representation.”

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