22 June 2004
Transcripts of trial:
New York Times, June 22, 2004
By JULIA PRESTON
Just days before going on trial on charges of materially aiding terrorists in Egypt and lying to the government, Lynne F. Stewart struck a forthright - even defiant - stance. In an interview on Saturday in her offices, blocks from federal court in Manhattan, she said she and her team would go beyond defending her unorthodox approach as a lawyer and lay out the radical views that she says underline her legal work.
"My politics and my views are defensible, they are - dare I use that word? - correct," she said.
She said this approach is central to her strategy to overcome a fear of terrorism in New York that has permeated the atmosphere of her trial.
"It's a worry to me in my case," she said. "Can we pick a jury that can get past that emotional impact" of the Sept. 11 attacks, "that wallop, the T-word?"
At the same time, Ms. Stewart, 64, described how her legal work had dried up since she was indicted in April 2002. She was known for taking on difficult clients, including Mafia lords and drug dealers. But she said, "People in that kind of trouble don't want a lawyer who has trouble."
Just as her trial moves into high gear, she has to move to new offices this week, after her landlord abruptly refused to renew the lease on offices in the Lower Broadway building she has occupied for years.
Ms. Stewart is charged for actions she said were part of her defense of a publicly reviled client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind Muslim cleric who was sentenced in 1996 to life in prison for conspiring to wage a terrorist war against the United States, including inspiring a plot to bomb landmarks in New York City. Judge John G. Koeltl oversaw the final selection yesterday of 12 jurors, 8 women and 4 men, and 6 alternates.
Before opening arguments, which were scheduled for this morning, Ms. Stewart's defense team filed a motion yesterday asking the judge to throw out the case against her on grounds that prosecutors were going after the lawyer for her political views. The Associated Press reported Ms. Stewart's motion and said Judge Koeltl told the government to provide a written response next week to the defense team's papers.
In Saturday's interview, Ms. Stewart stuck to her defense of her client. She said that Mr. Rahman is not a terrorist "in the classical sense of the way this government would use it," and said that prosecutors had overreacted by charging her with a felony for violating some rules of his imprisonment. "First of all, he's ailing and infirm," Ms. Stewart said. "He's not competent, capable of doing it. Also, Islam prohibits the blind from participation in jihad,'' or a holy war.
She acknowledged, however, that "his preaching certainly does not shy away from endorsing terrorism." Mr. Rahman repeatedly issued calls for attacks on the United States before he was sentenced and confined to maximum security, where he is allowed to communicate only with close relatives and his lawyers.
Many defendants in Ms. Stewart's position might avoid the news media on the eve of such a complex trial. In this case, prosecutors have issued subpoenas to three reporters to get them to testify in court to confirm statements by Ms. Stewart that they published. The prosecution argues that her comments show that she has been a long-standing supporter of terrorist violence.
But although the judge barred Ms. Stewart from representing herself in the courtroom, she said that she believes she remains her best defense.
She disputed the government's charges that she had helped Mr. Rahman issue a call to arms from his cell when she publicized a news release with his comments.
"Oh, no, not at all," she said. "Oh, my God. No! I've said many times that if I thought it contained even a whisper of such a thing I wouldn't have done it at all."
She said that in the letter she publicized, the sheik was calling on his followers, members of the militant Islamic Group in Egypt, to reconsider the effectiveness of a cease-fire they were observing, not to abandon it.
But Ms. Stewart said she would not be afraid to tell the jury that she believes political violence is justified to overthrow what she called illegitimate governments, to explain her unrelenting defense of the sheik.
"I think of myself as a political person," she said. "I didn't evolve my political ideas without a lot of thought. That's why it's so important that I take the witness stand and have a chance to speak directly to the jury."
She restated the views that prosecutors signaled as evidence of her intent to support a campaign of violence inspired by Mr. Rahman.
"I believe that you must confront illegitimate governments with force of arms," she said. "You don't win these battles by sitting in and singing songs." She compared the campaign of Mr. Rahman's followers against the government of Egypt to the anti-apartheid fight of Nelson Mandela.
"I don't believe in anarchistic approaches, violence for the sake of violence," she said. "There has to be a firm political backing for what you're doing. In other words, you don't just go out there and say, let me blow up the police station, because maybe some people will come around and think that's a good idea. You better have the people backing you 100 percent."