This week, Maria Hinojosa talks to Lynne Stewart, the veteran civil rights lawyer, about why she broke the law for a jailed terrorist sheik and whether or not she would do it again.
A judge in New York sentenced Lynne Stewart to 28 months in prison this week on a terrorism charge, a far cry from the 30 years federal prosecutors were pushing for.
Lynne Stewart outside the courthouse after her sentencing.
Credit: Lorcan Otway
Stewart was convicted last year of helping Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, a client who plotted to blow up New York City landmarks, communicate with his followers. It was the first time the federal government prosecuted a defense attorney in a terrorism case.
When sentencing Stewart the judge said there was ample evidence that she smuggled messages between Abdel Rahman -- also known as the 'blind sheik' -- and senior members of an Egyptian-based terrorist organization. He said the move could have had "potentially lethal consequences."
Although the judge called Stewart's crimes "extraordinarily severe criminal conduct," he also cited more than three decades of work by the 67-year-old for serving the poor, disadvantaged and unpopular clients. Stewart's former clients include black nationalists, members of the Weather Underground, and a former mob hit man.
In a letter to the judge prior to the sentencing Stewart -- who is recovering from breast cancer -- said she did not intentionally enter into any plot or conspiracy to aid a terrorist organization. "I am not a traitor," she said.
Stewart, who was disbarred after conviction, said she believes the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks made her behavior intolerable in the eyes of the government and gave it an excuse to make an example out of her. Stewart remains free while she appeals the judge's decision.
"I had a client, and I cared very much for him, it's what happens, it's what happens with good defense lawyers. We get into a position where the client is very close to us."
"He [Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman] had harsh words for the United States but I never believed that he had formed an intent to hurt anyone in the United States."
"When I see that habeas corpus has now been voted out ... Voting out of habeas corpus is to say that the government can throw anyone in jail, they can languish there forever and those lives don't count, those lives don't matter."
"We must keep people aware, we must organize people. The greatest prevention of these times in which we live is not to become cocoon-like and say 'well there are bad guys out there and my government will protect me,' but is to analyze why America is so hated in the world."
"I have shed many tears over world events. I hardly have tears left almost, but I still shed them because I'm still human."
"I believe I would consider representing [Osama bin Laden]."
"I walk down the street and people give me the thumbs up ... the love expressed by the people is really for me what this struggle has been about."
Find Law: Lynne Stewart Indictment
Lynne Stewart's Letter to Judge Koeltl [pdf]