Treasonous Lawyer Begs for Mercy

Lynne Stewart, a lawyer who helped Omar Abdel Rahman get messages back to terrorists who are at war with the United States, is going to argue she deserves mercy because she was too emotionally invested in the case to make sound judgments.

The New York lawyer who was convicted of material support for terrorism after carrying messages for her client, terrorist sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, is scheduled to be sentenced today to as much as 30 years in prison.

She and her allies are pinning their hopes for leniency on a strategy that argues she became so emotionally involved in the sheik’s case that she acted irrationally — a strategy that is underpinned by a sealed letter to the court from a psychiatrist. A psychiatric report submitted to the federal judge in Manhattan who will decide the sentence, John Koeltl, claims that several emotional events in Stewart’s life suggest her actions were motivated by “human factors of her client and his situation” and not by politics, according to portions of the psychiatric report.

The psychiatrist, Steven Teich, points to 11 emotional events that he claims prompted her to want to take action on Abdel Rahman’s behalf, Stewart’s attorneys say. Among the events that make Dr.Teich’s list are her experiences seeing Abdel Rahman incarcerated and the 1995 suicide of a drug defendant named Dominick Maldonado, whom Stewart had once represented.

So what? We’re supposed to be lenient toward someone who committed treason against the United States because she was sympathetic to a client who attempted to kill thousands of people at the World Trade Center? Boo frickin’ hoo.

And, interestingly, this is an entirely different tune than she was singing during the evidenciary phase of the trial.

Judge Koeltl has wide leeway to sentence Stewart as he sees fit. Stewart’s case file contains hundreds of letters from supporters ranging from state Senator Thomas Duane to an assistant attorney general from 1993 to 1995, Jo Ann Harris, who seek to sway Judge Koeltl towards leniency. Stewart’s lawyers have asked Judge Koeltl to spare Stewart prison time. The government has requested a 30-year prison term. A term of that length would likely mean that Stewart, who is 67 and plagued by health problems, would die in prison.

Truly a shame, that. But, as the old joke goes, while she’s probably not going to be able to serve out the entire thirty years, she should do the best she can.

Stewart was convicted in 2005 of providing material support for terrorism for passing on the messages Abdel Rahman gave her and her translator during visits with him in federal prison in Minnesota. Abdel Rahman, the spiritual leader of a terrorist group in Egypt, is serving a life term following his 1995 conviction in a conspiracy to blow up landmarks around New York. Following a conversation with Abdel Rahman in 2000, Stewart called a Reuters reporter in Cairo to say that Abdel Rahman had withdrawn his support from a ceasefire that his terrorist organization, the Islamic Group, was observing in Egypt.

Since being indicted four years ago, Stewart had defended her actions. “I would do it again— it’s the way a lawyer is supposed to behave.” Stewart told reporters the day of her conviction, the Washington Post reported. But Stewart has switched tacks as her sentencing approaches. Now she blames her decision to serve as Abdel Rahman’s mouthpiece on the emotional attachment she feels for the 68 year-old, blind and ailing sheik.

So, she’s not only a traitor but a liar.

Doug Berman argues that the judge will likely “decide to lean heavily on the guidelines to provide a kind of cover for his sentencing decision” but is unclear exactly which guidelines apply.

Update (Steve Verdon): She gets 28 months.

Update (James Joyner): Details on the sentencing from AP.

Civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart was sentenced Monday to 28 months in prison on a terrorism charge for helping a client who plotted to blow up New York City landmarks communicate with his followers, a sentence far less than 30 years prosecutors wanted.

Stewart, 67, smiled as the judge announced he would send her to prison for less than 2 1/2 years.

“If you send her to prison, she’s going to die. It’s as simple as that,” defense lawyer Elizabeth Fink had told the judge before the sentence was pronounced.

Stewart, who was treated last year for breast cancer, was convicted in 2005 of providing material support to terrorists. She had released a statement by Omar Abdel-Rahman, a blind Egyptian sheik sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted in plots to blow up five New York landmarks and assassinate Egypt’s president.

Prosecutors have called the case a major victory in the war on terrorism. They said Stewart and other defendants carried messages between the sheik and senior members of an Egyptian-based terrorist organization, helping spread Abdel-Rahman’s call to kill those who did not subscribe to his extremist interpretation of Islamic law.

Kimberly Stewart Traitor In a letter to the judge before her hearing, Stewart proclaimed: “I am not a traitor.” “The end of my career truly is like a sword in my side,” She said in court Monday. “Permit me to live out the rest of my life productively, lovingly, righteously.”

In a pre-sentence document, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl that Stewart’s “egregious, flagrant abuse of her profession, abuse that amounted to material support to a terrorist group, deserves to be severely punished.”

Stewart, in her letter to the judge, said she did not intentionally enter into any plot or conspiracy to aid a terrorist organization. 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. “The government’s characterization of me and what occurred is inaccurate and untrue,” she wrote. “It takes unfair advantage of the climate of urgency and hysteria that followed 9/11 and that was relived during the trial. I did not intentionally enter into any plot or conspiracy to aid a terrorist organization.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember argued at her sentencing that the case had nothing to with Sept. 11. “What she was doing was smuggling terrorism messages and smuggling out Abdel-Rahman’s responses,” Dember said.

Needless to say, I agree with Dember’s characterization. Since so few have been convicted of anything remotely similar to Stewart’s crimes, it’s difficult to know what the standard should be for punishment. Still, 28 months strikes me as very little punishment for treason. Hopefully, her lawyer is right and any prison sentence at all amounts to a death sentence. Sadly, she’s being permitted to remain free while she appeals, which is outrageous given that she does not dispute the facts of the crime.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Billy says:

    Just for the record, she was never convicted of, or even charged with, treason. Whether she actually committed it is another question.

    There truly are 1st amendment issues implicated by the government’s overzealous persecution of this woman. Additionally, the question of resource allotment springs to mind immediately with regard to this case. Was she stupid? Inarguably. Were her actions criminal? More than likely. Was this prosection, when there are actual terrorists intent on harming AMERICANS lurking in the shadows, a frivolity perpetrated for the purposes of enhancing the resumes of these prosecutors? You can take it to the bank that it was.

    30 years. We don’t give murderers, who ACTUALLY KILL AMERICANS with their own hands, that much time. We don’t even ask for it in most cases.

  2. James Joyner says:


    I’m not claiming she was convicted of treason; merely that she committed it. Treason is incredibly hard to prove and traitors, including American intelligence agents who spy for other countries, are almost always charged with some lesser included offense for that reason.

    Stewart directly facilitated a communication from a terrorist leader to his groups for the purpose of signaling them to continue to commit acts of violence. That’s more heinous, in my mind, than some drugged out kid with a moron level IQ shooting someone.

  3. Bandit says:

    So, she’s not only a traitor but a liar.

    Sorry but that’s a surprise? And she certainly should be the number 2 indictment for treason.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Reminds of the guy who killed his parents throwing himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan.

    At whose behest did she meet with the client and form the sympathy?

  5. anjin-san says:

    Sounds like a traitor to me. And not someone deserving any leniency from the court….

  6. Ugh says:

    Based on your post and the NYSun article it appears she was convicted for relaying Rahman’s message that he no longer supports a truce with the Egyptian government, how is that treason?

  7. vnjagvet says:

    She got 28 Months.

    Per the NYT report:

    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.

    Ms. Stewart will be released on bail, pending an appeal that her lawyers are expected to file on her behalf.

    In a letter to the judge, Ms. Stewart had proclaimed, “I am not a traitor.”

    The judge noted that as a result of her conviction 20 months ago, Ms. Stewart lost her license to practice law and that she is banned from having any contact with her former client.

    “The occasion for the crimes to be repeated will be nil,” he said.

    But in turning down her request for no prison time at all, the judge indicated that she was not without culpability in this case, pointing to what he called “an irreducible core of very severe criminal conduct.”

  8. Ugh says:

    Seriously, where in those stories are the facts that show she committed treason? I’m not saying she didn’t, I just don’t see the facts anywhere.

    Hopefully, her lawyer is right and any prison sentence at all amounts to a death sentence.

    Well, that’s a lovely sentiment James.

  9. Phil Smith says:

    Let’s see.

    Adheres to our enemies? Check.

    Gives aid and comfort? Check.

    “How’s that treason?” Give me a break.

  10. Phil Smith says:

    Seriously, where in those stories are the facts that show she committed treason?

    Even your own summation of the facts shows that she knowingly assisted our country’s enemies in the transmission of strategic planning advice. Seriously, how is that NOT treason?

  11. Billy says:

    I suppose in a world where an “enemy” can be defined on a post hoc basis, then “comfort” thereto can be retroactively defined as treason.

    Seriously, though, Abdel-Rahman, terrorist though he may be, is basically a criminal, not a leader of a military enemy as Congress has as of yet defined it. Facilitating his communications with other criminals not even within the jurisdiction of the United States is undoubtedly a criminal act in and of itself, but it is neither tantamount to murder (for one thing, it lacks the specific mens rea), nor treason. To assert otherwise is to give thugs like Abdel-Rahman far too much credit.

  12. James Joyner says:

    Billy: Rahman is part of the al Qaeda network which declared war on the United States in 1996 and which Congress declared a state of war on (although not “war”) in 2001. Stewart aided and abetted his terrorist acts after both.

  13. legion says:

    Folks, AQ is a terrorist group. They can no more declare “war” (in any legally-meaningful fashion) than a nation (like us) can reciprocate. That’s why hashing out the whole Geneva Conventions issues are such a pain.

    Stewart aided and abetted his terrorist acts after both.

    _That’s_ why she’s going to prison, and deservedly so. She may be a traitor in the moral sense, but trying to stick her with the criminal charge would be like sending the corner pot dealer to Gitmo for siding with our enemies in the “War on Drugs”.

  14. Steve Verdon says:

    Sounds like a traitor to me. And not someone deserving any leniency from the court….

    Who are you, and what have you done with anjin-san?

  15. Karl says:

    Billy wrote:

    We don’t give murderers, who ACTUALLY KILL AMERICANS with their own hands, that much time. We don’t even ask for it in most cases.

    But Billy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A 30 year sentence for murder would not be uncommon. In Illinois, for example, the average murder sentence is about 36 years.

    In 26 states, the sentence of life without parole is mandatory for anyone who is found guilty of committing first-degree murder.

  16. anjin-san says:


    Just because I am not willing to goose-step along behind Bush in his insane war in Iraq, and his efforts to degrade the constitution as well as to question the patriotism of anyone who has doubts about his policies, does not mean I do not take national security seriously.