Monday, October 16, 2006

Be Afraid. Be very afraid.

Paying attention to the NSA wiretapping matter (which is still unresolved), we have this little tidbit, from the conviction of Lynne Stewart, attorney at law:

AMY GOODMAN: Your lawyers have filed motions to compel the government to disclose whether it was the National Security Agency who recorded you or your lawyers by wiretapping without warrant?

LYNNE STEWART: Right. That motion was denied late Friday afternoon. It was a peculiar -- after we were Alice in Wonderland down the rabbit hole, because everything is secret, you see. We brought the motion. Then they answered in secret. Then we argued to the judge. Then the judge made a secret order to them. Then they answered that order in secret. Then the judge made another order to them. Then they answered that order in secret.

So we really -- we have no idea what’s going on, except that the judge allowed one paragraph to be made public out of this, and it has to do with an old wiretap of my client, Ahmed Sattar, a wiretap that was a garden variety wiretap, Title III, went to a federal judge, got a warrant, and he was overheard on it. So, we don't know what that means, and we don't know why it wasn't divulged ages ago in connection with the case. But that is where the NSA motion stands today. Very confusing, but it will, of course, be part of an appeal, which is coming next. We will undoubtedly have a long appeal process.
These are the Star Chamber proceedings the Bush Administration wishes to use when it can't stay out of court altogether. Basically, what you don't know can't hurt the government's attempt to incarcerate you.

It's worth noting that Lynne Stewart received 28 months for her conviction on 5 counts of conspiring to aid terrorists and lying to the government. Her convictions were obtained "rimarily on transcripts from more than 85,000 secretly recorded audio and video clips of meetings between Stewart and her client as well as the home phone of Ahmed Abdel Sattar." What she has not been able to determine, then, is how this evidence was gathered against her. At this point, she doesn't even know what the government's arguments are for keeping these matters secret from her. The government sought the maximum sentence of 30 years (Stewart is 67), but the judge found that, while she was guilty:

There was “no evidence that any victim was in fact harmed” by her actions, the judge said. He also cited her long career as a “lawyer to the poor and the unpopular.”

“It is no exaggeration to say that Ms. Stewart performed a public service not only to the court but to the nation,” he said, adding that she did not chose her cases to become wealthy.
And from a lawyer's point of view, here is what's going on:

The fact that they have used this to make a chill effect on the profession, that they have shortened the court, if you think of it more in terms of a basketball court as opposed to a courtroom, but the court in which we operate now is so changed that lawyers are afraid that they are -- the Guantanamo lawyers have to think twice before they even tell their clients how their children are, because they’re limited to only discussing the case. So if the client says, “You’ve spoken to my wife. How are my children?” they have to say, “Can I tell him this? Is this going to be off bounds?”
And if you doubt this can happen to almost anyone: don't. How many of us, after all, have the name recognition of Ramsey Clark? How many of us even know (the New York Times article doesn't mention it) that Ramsey Clark was a lawyer in the case Stewart was convicted for?

LYNNE STEWART: I think for all my political life and for all my understanding of the government and the way it works, Amy, I think I was reckless in the sense that I never understood they would really come after me in the way they have. I believed that I was -- I had enough prestige, I had been 30 years at this business. I had a certain cachet when I walked into court. Even the very prosecutors that I had been up against in the Sheik’s case would say, “You may not like the words she says, but no one ever said it better than she did.” So I always felt I was removed from it. I think I was also lured into this to some degree, because Ramsey made so many -- Ramsey Clark, that is, made a number of press releases --

AMY GOODMAN: The former U.S. attorney general.

LYNNE STEWART: Right. And there was never even a letter to him about, you know, the [inaudible] were breached by your press release. Of course, I’m not Ramsey Clark. I’ve said many times my father was not on the Supreme Court of the United States. He was a schoolteacher in Queens. And I certainly never attained the stature that he had.

This is not to demean Ramsey in any way, who has actually written a remarkable letter to the judge challenging the facts that the U.S. attorney has put forth. He pointed out, among other things, that if I’m supposed to be the communications hub for the Sheik, how come I only visited him about once a year, if that, rarely, if ever, took a phone call, because I was in court trying cases? So, he points out all of this, that if anybody was the hub, he was the hub. And yet, of course, they would not go after someone with his prestige and position.
Somebody tell me which Democrats are going to make sure this is stopped in January. Please. Tell me. Somebody. I could use some reassurance about now.

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