Defense attorney Lynne Stewart is prepared for the fight of her life to begin today when her trial for providing material aid to a terrorist group begins before a federal jury in Manhattan.
Stewart, 64, said she believes that her own testimony will convince a jury that prosecutors overreacted when they accused her of aiding the government-designated foreign terror organization Islamic Group in a broad conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping.
Her aid to the terrorists came as she allegedly helped her client, Islamic Group spiritual leader Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, pass messages to the group in defiance of prison restrictions imposed on the sheikh — and in violation of her own promises to abide by those restrictions.
Stewart said in an interview Wednesday that prosecutors from the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office will try to prove the charges against her through “blinding the eyes of reason” by invoking the Sept. 11 attacks and the war on terror.
The government, she said, “is overreaching, and they’ll try to get those jurors on board as terror fighters without much critical analysis. We think that’s what they will be doing. Wrap themselves in the flag.”
Stewart sees her trial as the logical culmination of a career rooted in the radicalism of the 1960s, one spent defending both run-of-the-mill criminal defendants and more infamous clients with controversial political agendas.
She pushed for a quicker trial, she said, believing that the case is now “bureaucratically entrenched” to such a degree that there is no hope for a change of heart by the prosecution.
She is heartened, she said, that the government had suffered some courtroom losses on its measures and prosecutions in the post-Sept. 11 era and hopes that the passage of almost three years since the World Trade Center attacks will help the jury put her case in perspective.
Stewart remains concerned about getting a fair trial when the government is allowed to invoke the specter of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden and the destruction of the World Trade Center — and portray her as being supportive of terror attacks.
“I can’t be who I am and not at least be thoughtful about 9/11, but I am also disturbed that the government doesn’t ask why it happened,” she said.
One of her proposed character witnesses, she said, will be a former client and criminal defendant who lost his mother in the World Trade Center attacks.
“I’m against attacks on civilian populations,” she said. “And I think anyone, from my end of the movement, at least, abhors it.”