By Alexander Reed Kelly
Early in the Bush administration, six months after the attacks of Sept. 11, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced he would prosecute attorney Lynne Stewart on the grounds that she had materially aided a terrorist organization. The trial—a farcical inquiry into the claim that she had passed a message from a client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian cleric convicted of planning terrorist attacks—took place during 2005. Ashcroft originally sought a 30-year prison sentence, but the length was reduced to 28 months by the end of proceedings, and pushed up to 10 years after Obama entered office following a presidential appeal.
Despair turned to hope for Stewart and her supporters however when her family’s application for a “compassionate release” on the grounds of her having developed stage 4 metastatic cancer was granted on Dec. 31, 2013, after her doctor said she had only 18 months to live. The joy over her release was captured on a cellphone recording showing her arrival home from the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas. “Democracy Now” host and reporter Amy Goodman interviewed Stewart on the spot. (See Stewart’s homecoming below.)
Eight months before Stewart’s release, Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, who described Stewart as a “martyr” in the “vindictive and hysterical world of the war on terror,” captured some of the raw fire of her spirit in a conversation via email. “Rev up the military-industrial complex,” the librarian-turned-civil defender wrote to Hedges when he asked her what the “war on terror” was for. “Keep the populace terrorized so that they look to Big Brother Government for protection. Cannon Fodder for the ‘throwaways’ in our society—young, poor, uneducated, persons of color.”
For almost 10 years, Stewart was one of those throwaways. And she knows that the convergence of coming ecological and economic crises means the government has sought the means to consign more Americans who oppose its commodification of life and near exclusive service to corporations. “I fear we are headed into a period of ever increasing cruelty to those who can least stand it,” she added in her letter to Hedges. “As corporate agendas become national agendas there is a profound disrespect for all those who are not able to even get to the starting line. We do not love the children except when they are massacred—the daily mental, emotional deaths in the public schools are ignored. We are now a nation of Us and Them. I would HOPE that the people would recognize what is happening and make a move. After all, who in the fifties could have predicted the uprisings of the sixties? There must be a distaste and willful opposition to what is happening and a push to take it back—local movements scaring the HELL out of the Haves.”
With what time remains in her life, Stewart has vowed to champion the cause of all of society’s “throwaways,” in particular, female prisoners. Due to her cancer, she appears to have little time left. But her story, if told and remembered by people who believe a better world is worth fighting for, should serve as an emboldening example to all who feel disgust at the indifference and hostility of the corporate state. For her sacrifice and contributions to that cause, we honor her as our Truthdigger of the Week.
Attorney Lynne Stewart and husband Ralph Poynter leave federal court in Manhattan in February 2005 after she was convicted on five charges related to aiding terrorism, assisting terrorism and making false statements. AP/David Karp