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The Ordeal of Stanley L. Cohen: Justice as Farce

Posted on Oct 5, 2014

By Chris Hedges

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The use of the courts to erode our civil liberties, as well as expand the ability of the state and corporations to commit fraud and other crimes with impunity, has been accompanied by a campaign to silence the handful of activist attorneys who defend those demonized by the government. The state has imprisoned the great civil rights attorneys J. Tony Serra, who has served two terms behind bars, and Lynne Stewart. And it looks as if Stanley L. Cohen is now on the list. When lawyers who defend the unpopular must suffer severe punishment at the hand of the government, the judiciary is a farce.

Cohen has furiously battled back against the excesses of state power for 25 years. He has worked as an attorney for the leaders of Hamas, including Mousa Abu Marzook, whom Cohen prevented from being extradited to Israel after he was detained at Kennedy Airport in New York. Cohen represented the Kuwaiti-born cleric Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who was the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden and a spokesman for al-Qaida. Abu Ghaith, who requested that Cohen handle his case after he was extradited from Jordan to the United States, was sentenced in September to life in prison. Cohen has represented hackers, Occupy activists, the homeless, anti-war protesters, Muslim clerics, American Indian activists, Weather Underground members including Kathy Boudin, members of the Black Liberation Army and some of those who were charged in the 9/11 attacks. He brought a federal suit in Washington, D.C., to bar Israel from receiving U.S. aid, charging that the Israeli government carried out a “program of killing, torture, terror and outright theft” against the Palestinians. He defended the PayPal 14 in Northern California, a Muslim radio station in South Africa and the accused in a “terrorist” case in Romania and has an ongoing case against Egypt in the African Union for its closure of the Rafah border crossing into Gaza. He often worked on cases with Lynne Stewart, who was convicted of supporting terrorists by passing to the press some messages from her client, the blind sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, was disbarred as a result and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison before being released in 2013 because she has cancer. Cohen was a protégé of the attorney William Kunstler, with whom he defended Mohawk Indians who mounted an armed uprising in 1990 on a reservation in Quebec. Cohen had to reach his clients, who were surrounded by Canadian army troops, in a canoe. He was indicted by the Canadian government for his work on behalf of the Mohawks during the uprising and charged with “seditious conspiracy,” although he was later cleared. The FBI has carried out raids on his home and his law office, confiscating his electronic equipment. And he is banned in Israel and Egypt because of his defense work.

Two U.S. federal district courts have indicted Cohen on tax-related charges, claiming, in essence, that he did not file tax reports for some of his income as an attorney. Cohen, whom I reached by phone in his law office in New York, said the charges were “politically motivated” and that he was “tired of wasting so much time, energy and resources in a personal defense with no realistic end in sight.” He accepted a plea agreement with the government April 14. He will be sentenced in November by Norman A. Mordue, a senior judge of the Northern District of New York. Cohen expects to receive a prison term of 18 months.

Cohen said in the telephone interview that the government campaign over the past few years had been designed to “wear me down and silence me, although it won’t.” “The harassment began over 10 years ago,” he said, “when the Department of Justice began an investigation to attempt to charge me with material support for terrorism because of my work as an attorney for a variety of groups, especially Hamas, which is a Palestinian national liberation movement that I am proud to be associated with and defend. During my work with Hamas in the late 1990s I began to hear reports from Palestinian activists in Virginia and Chicago that the FBI was questioning them about me. The FBI, knowing that I spent a lot of time overseas in places like Beirut and the occupied territories, asked activists what my role was with Hamas. They wanted to know if I ever conveyed information or money either to or from Hamas. They were fishing for anything they could use against me.”

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg, who has carried out witch hunts against numerous Muslim activists including Dr. Sami Al Arian, has joked about a suspect undergoing torture, has improperly confronted another suspect in public and has denounced “the Islamization of the American justice system,” according to sworn affidavits by defense attorneys. There is said to be a picture hanging in Kromberg’s office showing Cohen with two of his clients who were later assassinated. Reportedly, each client has an X marked on his face and Cohen’s face is marked with a circle.

Cohen believes those targeted by the United States and Israel have a right to defend themselves. And he finds in their acts of resistance an undeniable heroism.

“The biggest tripwire in the Middle East is the inability of the West to communicate with, understand and deal realistically with liberation movements, and especially Palestinian liberation movements,” he said. “There will be no peace in the Middle East until there is justice for the Palestinian people. I have been associated with Hamas for 20 years. I have spoken at their seminars and attended their gatherings. I know the Hamas leadership. Hamas is a dynamic national liberation movement. It is not hierarchical. It has a singular commitment to a homeland for the Palestinians. It has made tremendous advances on behalf of the 11 million stateless Palestinians. Any people under occupation have a right to resist. In fact, they have an obligation to resist. And resistance is a dirty and painful business. I have always been proud of my relationship with Hamas.”

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Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt, By Chris Hedges, Truthdig Columnist and Winner of the Pulitzer Prize -- Get Your Autographed Copy Today Also Available! Truthdig Exclusive DVD of Chris Hedges' Wages of Rebellion Lecture The World As It Is: 
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