Stewart, 65, was one of the lawyers for Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, from 1994 to 2002. Abdel-Rahman, a Muslim cleric, was convicted on frame-up charges of conspiracy to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993 and attack other city landmarks. In 1996 he was sentenced to life in prison plus 65 years, and is being held at the maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado.
U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl set sentencing for July 15. Stewart faces a maximum of somewhere between 20 to 45 years in jail, according to media reports that give different figures. The jury also found her co-defendants guilty of all charges. Mohammed Yousry, an Arabic translator, faces up to 20 years in prison for providing material support to terrorists. A possible life sentence hangs over Abdel-Sattar, a paralegal for Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted of conspiracy for plotting to kill and kidnap persons in a foreign country, according to an Associated Press dispatch.
For more than two years the government had wiretapped conversations between Stewart and her client, Abdel-Rahman, and videotaped their meetings in prison. Since October 2001 the Justice Department has had the authority to conduct surveillance of prisoners with their attorneys without judicial oversight. At a pretrial hearing, a prosecutor acknowledged that intercepted calls are the backbone of the government case.
On April 9, 2002, then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft personally announced the charges against Stewart, claiming she had violated the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, passed under the administration of William Clinton.
After the verdict was announced, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales immediately boasted that the case set a precedent that the government would use to press ahead with similar prosecutions. The convictions handed down by a federal jury in New York today send a clear, unmistakable message that this department will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist them with their murderous goals, said Gonzales.
We are not giving up, obviously. We are going to fight on, Stewart told the media as she left the courthouse after the verdict came down. You cant tell lawyers how to do their job. Youve got to let them operate, she said, I know I committed no crime. I know what I did was right. Stewart said she would appeal her conviction. She is free on bail, under restrictions that prohibit her from traveling outside the state of New York. Convicted of a felony, she was immediately disbarred.
Stewart was convicted on two terrorism counts, according to the New York Times, for conspiring to provide material aid to terrorists, by making the views and instructions of Mr. Abdel Rahman available to his followers.
Part of the prosecutions evidence included showing videos of Osama bin Laden meeting with one of Abdel-Rahmans sons. Following that the judge felt compelled to instruct the jury that Stewart was not on trial for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. At the courthouse after her conviction, Stewart told the media, When you put Osama bin Laden in a courtroom and ask the jury to ignore it, thats asking a lot.
Stewart was also convicted on three counts of violating the Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) that Washington imposed on Abdel-Rahman, which include restrictions on his access to mail, telephones, and visitors, and a prohibition on his speaking to the media. Because Stewart released a statement to the press from Abdel-Rahman in June 2000, the Times reported, She was also convicted of three counts of perjury and defrauding the government for flouting federal prison rules.
During the trial Stewart said she was not guilty of the SAMs charges because she had been fulfilling her obligation as an attorney to her client. By getting his message out, she said, she was able to keep his case alive and help expose both his prison conditions and the charges on which he was convicted.
A New York Post editorial cheered the prospect of Stewart spending a very long timebehind bars, the day after her conviction. The editorial disparaged the governments use of trials, in which defendants can bring evidence and witnesses before a jury, as being an effective means to carry out Washingtons war on terrorism.
It is true that yesterdays conviction demonstrates that the criminal-justice system can indeed work in some terror cases. But it by no means follows that the War on Terror can be fought primarily as a law-enforcement exercise, wrote the Post editors. Theres a place for vigorous criminal prosecutions in the War on Terroras long as no one loses sight of the fact that theres also a critical role for the 101st Airborne Division.
Supporters of Stewarts case are planning actions to protest the convictions. In a February 11 statement, the National Executive Committee of the National Lawyers Guild called on its local chapters to organize actions February 17 in a National Day of Outrage.
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