Thursday, February 10, 2005

Repression in the United States

A recent crackdown on speech in the United States has lead to the conviction and possible 35 year sentence of attorney Lynne Stewart.

Usually an attorney is allowed to represent her client to the press. She can make statements protesting innocence, or give information to the general public about the case. In 1996, however, Congress passed 28 C.F.R. ยง 501.3 The Prevention of Acts of Violence and Terrorism, which allowed the attorney general, the director, or the bureau of prisons to give someone Special Administrative Measures ('SAM'). This prevents some people who may not have been convicted of anything from using the mail, the media, the telephone, or visiting with non-family members.

Lynne's client, Sheikh Abdel Rahman was given 'SAM', after he was convicted of ordering the world trade center bombing in 1993. He was believed to have provided religious guidance to the bombers, and he was also implicated in a plot to kill the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak.

Lynne Stewart has been Sheikh Abdel Rahmen's court-appointed attorney since the bombing. The government imposed SAM prevented Stewart from speaking to the media about the case, and she was not allowed to talk to her client about anything other than the case. Stewart does not speak Arabic, and her client does not speak English, so they communicated via a translator, Mohammed Yousry. The complaint alleged that on a few occasions Stewart spoke in English and Yousry did not translate, but provided special information to Rahman. Rahman communicated other information to the translator but Stewart was not privy to this. The government charged that Stewart somehow knew that the information was not being translated appropriately, and that she made extraneous comments in order to 'cover' for the actual exchange.

The exchanges were all videotaped, as per the SAM requirements. It is unclear whether Stewart was aware of the videotaping, or whether the Patriot Act allowed the federal government to videotape her without permission.

Later, Stewart held a press conference to inform the public that Rahman was no longer supporting the cease-fire. The public already knew this, as Yousry had issued a statement via the new leader of Islamic Group, Ahmed Abdel Sattar. Stewart is also charged with condoning a statement by Sattar that Rahman was being denied his insulin in prison.

Stewart was convicted of speaking in English, and informing people of something they already knew. Her actual charges were: (1) Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to Islamic Group (2) Providing Material Support to Islamic Group; (3) Conspiracy to Defraud the United States; (4) False Statements. She was convicted on all counts today after a jury deliberation of 13 days. During Stewart's trial the jury was subjected to a video of National Enemy Osama Bin Laden calling for the release of her client. The court somehow found this sufficiently relevant to Stewart's case to allow the jury to view it.

Oddly, an organization actually committed to terrorizing Stewart is not being prosecuted.

The right wing media is presently attacking its next target: Ward Churchill. Bob Newman, right-wing pundit has discovered the Treason statute: 18 USC 2381, and he is trying to drum up public support for a prosecution. His argument has migrated from AM radio to the Colorado Governor's Office, and Joe Scarborough's show on MSNBC. Churchill has resigned as the chair of the Ethics Department, and the Board of Regents is currently combing through his voluminous body of work to try to find a statistical anomaly that will allow them to fire him from his tenured position.

Lawyers and academics unfriendly to the United States are being purged. It's getting dangerous.