Lynne Stewart Gets 28 Months for Aiding Terrorists

by Andrew C. McCarthy

Welcome back to September 10th.

For a terrorism offense committed to benefit Islamic militants during our nation’s war against terrorism by Islamic militants, radical lawyer Lynne Stewart got a slap on the wrist from a federal judge — urged on by the legal community’s activist left.

For an offense the point of which was to inspire proven savages to ignore the self-imposed restraints of a truce and begin killing again, Stewart was sentenced to a prison term of 28 months — not years, months.

This is inexplicable.

Given the mitigating factors of Stewart’s age (67) and medical condition (recovering from breast cancer), there was certainly an argument for a less severe sentence than the 30 years the government was urging. But anything less than ten years under these circumstances mocks the gravity of terrorism offenses at a time when terrorism is our top-tier national-security challenge. Indeed, even ten years would have been generous.

The sentence, however, is a useful object lesson. It — or something even weaker than it — was sought by those in the vanguard of opposition to treating Islamic terrorism as a war rather than a crime. The law-enforcement model of our September 10th slumbers is what they would take us back to. And, if they succeed, this is the sort of result we should expect.

Terrorism is out-sized extortion. It is a method of seeking policy accommodation by acts and threats of mass homicide. That, bluntly, is what anyone who promotes it is promoting. Valuing such promotion at 28 months in prison — which is about ten percent of what corporate executives get nowadays for financial fraud — is unserious.

It is the equivalent of responding to suicide bombings by merely issuing grand-jury subpoenas or adding counts to an indictment. That is what the law-enforcement model gave us throughout the Clinton years (except, of course, in the cases of the Khobar Towers and U.S.S. Cole bombings, as to which indictments were not even filed).

You know the law-enforcement enthusiasts. They are the ones who typically ridicule George Bush because — in the course of killing and capturing hundreds of terrorists in just a few months — he purportedly allowed Osama bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora. Funny, no one ever seems to ask them why it was appropriate — in the course of convicting less than three dozen mostly low-level terrorists in eight years — to allow bin Laden to continue operating with impunity even though he had been under indictment since the spring of 1998 — that is, before the embassy bombings, before the Millennium plot, before the Cole bombing and before 9/11. How deterred to they figure he was?

Lynne Stewart’s sentencing is our crystal ball for the return of September 10th America. Indeed, as noted here yesterday, it even featured a plea for mercy from former top Clinton Justice Department official Jo Ann Harris, who championed an anti-American activist lawyer (unanimously convicted of terrorism offenses by a jury of twelve New Yorkers) while deriding the government’s efforts as “unwarranted overkill.”

Stewart was convicted of providing material support to terrorists — specifically, of providing the Egyptian Islamic Group (Gamaat al Islamia, one of the world’s most barbaric terrorist organizations and an al Qaeda ally) with the guidance of its leader, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who was otherwise unable to communicate with the outside world due to the sentence of life imprisonment he is serving for leading a terrorist conspiracy in the U.S. (the case I prosecuted).

And we are not talking here about just any kind of support. The message she conveyed was that Abdel Rahman no longer supported the Islamic Group’s ceasefire in Egypt. Translation: Let’s get back to slaughtering innocents, like we did in the 1997 Luxor massacre, in which the Islamic Group brutally killed nearly 60 tourists, inserting into some of the mutilated corpses pamphlets demanding the blind sheikh’s release.

Stewart was not a babe in the woods. She defended anti-American radicals her entire career. She was not an attorney for the Legal Aid Society or the federal panel of lawyers who routinely take on the representation of indigent defendants in any kind of case, no matter how trivial. She was, instead, a self-styled “political” lawyer — an outsider who volunteered to represent, as she put it, “unpopular” clients.

“Unpopular,” it should be noted, is a euphemism for people whose heinous crimes are motivated by hatred of American government and society. To commonsense Americans, such people deserve to be unpopular. Yet, in the September 10th blinders that so comfortably fit our legal elites, going out of one’s way to represent such scoundrels is somehow an act of patriotism that merits not only our admiration but a discount from the penalty when the lawyer finally steps over the line and gets a little unpopular herself.

Stewart defended the blind sheikh through a ten-month trial in which she dealt, again and again, with his calls for massive killing of infidels, especially Jews and Americans. In her summation to the jury, arguing about allegations that the sheikh had solicited and conspired to accomplish the murder of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, she contended not that he was innocent but that the jury should see him as a “freedom fighter” who sought to displace the secular Egyptian regime “by any means necessary.”

Lynne Stewart knew what this was about. It was about murder. That the Islamic Group has apparently not acted on the sheikh’s instructions (at least, that we know of) is more a miracle — or a tactical respite — than a point in her favor.

And speaking of tactics, it is noteworthy that Lynne executed the standard defense sentencing playbook masterfully — and with great success. She affected contrition for what she portrayed as mistakes of judgment (not real crimes, of course), and pleaded with the sentencing judge to be lenient because she had already suffered enough with the loss of her precious law license. “The end of my career truly is like a sword in my side,” the New York Times reports her as plying the court’s heartstrings. ”Permit me to live out the rest of my life productively, lovingly, righteously.”

So what happened once she got the much sought after slap-on-the-wrist? Why, she marched right outside the courthouse and defiantly proclaimed: “This is a great victory against an overreaching government. I hope the government realizes their error, because I am back out … [a]nd I am staying out until after an appeal that I hope will vindicate me, that I hope will make me back into the lawyer that I was.” 

Translation: Despite my conviction, I won and the government lost. And once the appeals court fixes things, my conviction will be gone and I’ll be right back in business.

And what about the cancer, which sentencing judge John Koeltl also relied on to rationalize his ill-conceived beneficence? The Times relates that the “feisty” Stewart — sounding a lot more like a professional crook than a professional lawyer — brayed that if it eventually comes down to serving the 28 months, “I could do it standing on my head.” Apparently, she’s feeling better.

The rest of us should be feeling worse. We’ve tried responding to terrorism by standing on our heads and sitting on our hands. It didn’t work out too well, and Act II promises only more of the same.

 Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.