WW3 REPORT EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Lynne Stewart: Veteran Radical Attorney and War on Terrorism Defendant speaks about her case, Islamic fundamentalism and the struggle for Constitutional rights after 9-11
by Bill Weinberg
Lynne Stewart, 62, a veteran defense attorney of over 25 years, now faces up to 40 years in prison on charges of collaborating with terrorists. The charges are related to her representation of the notorious Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, an exiled Egyptian cleric, in his 1995 trial for conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks. Known to New Yorkers as "The Blind Sheikh," Abdel Rahman, 63, is serving life in prison, and is considered spiritual leader of the men convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Now Stewart is charged with providing "material support" to the Sheik's Egypt-based organization, the Islamic Group--largely by facilitating communications between the Sheikh and his Egyptian followers. Currently free on a $500,000 bond, Stewart says she was only doing her job. She pledges to fight the charges, claiming that FBI eavesdropping on her conversations with the Sheikh is more egregious than anything she did. Arrested with Stewart on related charges are para-legals and translators Mohammed Yousry, Ahmed Sattar and Yassir al-Sirri.
WW3R:You've said the government's attack on the sanctity of attorney-client privilege is at the heart of this case. You are accused of breaking SAMs or "special administrative measures," which were imposed in the Sheikh Rahman case. Do you want to talk about that?
LS: They've tried to do away with attorney-client privilege many times and many ways, but this is probably the most egregious attempt. And they are doing it on the basis that my client is probably an extremely unpopular person in the states. For most Americans, he's not someone they would really want to protect. I'm sure if I was representing Martha Stewart, they might feel differently about her. And for that reason, and because they're able to tie it to their great bete noir of terrorism, which they have to protect against at all moments, they're able, basically, to make an excuse--that this was justified, to listen in, to protect the nation. Of course, they listened in to "protect the nation" and then did nothing for two years. They did not bother to stop my visits, they did not bother to stop our telephone calls. They were content to merely keep listening in. So it sort of defeats the ultimate underpinning of the notion that this was done to prevent terrorism, and they were the only ones who stood between terrible acts and me.
The real problem, I think, is that they would like to somehow curb in what were known as the political lawyers--the Bill Kunstlers of the world, who do go beyond just representing someone by just showing up in court and then going back and hanging out with the boys. The group who think of ourselves as political lawyers--and I count myself, Liz Fink, Susan Tipograph, Ron Kuby, Stanley Cohen--do go the extra yard for our clients, do feel that each client must be protected in his own special way.
Now, certainly somebody like Sheikh Omar, who was a world figure, someone who was listened to by the entire Muslim population for being a very learned scholar, deserved to have a platform, deserved not to be entombed in the middle of America and not able to speak. The SAMs attempted to do that. The SAMs decreed that the Sheikh could make one phone call a week to his lawyers, and one phone call a month to his wife. He would not be allowed to speak to his children while he was on the phone. And that one phone call was basically at the behest of the prison authorities. If they forgot it, or couldn't place the call, or no one picked up, then he forfeited that call. So the lawyers had to sign on to agree that they would do nothing to facilitate his contact with the outside world--including the press.
So one of the ways that I'm accused of--quote--"materially aiding terrorism," is because I made a press release on his behalf after I visited him. I was in touch with Reuters, Reuters ran a story in Egypt (it was never even run in this country) that the Sheikh had alerted members of his party, the Gama'a Islamiyya or IG, Islamic Group, that he thought that the cease-fire was not working, that men still remained in jail, that there were new arrests, that nothing seemed to be happening, so what was the purpose of the cease-fire? He ended it--this part I remember so particularly--by saying, I'm not in Egypt, I don't know, you have a better handle on it than I do, but this is just how it appears to me.
The story was run in some of the Arabic and Egyptian papers. It caused quite a furor because the group got into splits over it as to who they should listen to and what they should do. But I did not hear from the federal government for about two months. Then I got a call from the chief of the terrorism section in the US Attorney's office, Pat Fitzgerald, who called to say, "You made a press release! You can't visit, you can't talk on the phone anymore, you're cut off from him!"
WW3R: This was 2000?
LS: July 2000. At that point, Stanley Cohen, who has always represented me and is my dear friend, called up Pat and said "Listen, you know, we need to get back on track here. She needs to visit him, she needs to discuss what happened, she needs to find out if she's gonna continue representing him." So Pat said, "Well, she'll have to sign on again." Then we went back and forth for six months as to the wording of the SAMs I was to sign on again. Part of it sounded like I was admitting to be in the conspiracy--something like, "The SAMs are important because the Sheikh orchestrated the killing of tourists at Luxor"--as if I know this! They said the Sheikh was responsible for, I dunno, everything except flat feet. They made it sound like a world-wide conspiracy. So we rewrote that whole section. And early the next year, under this new SAM, which was provisional, I went to visit him again. This was probably in February of 2001, and he said he did want me to accept the SAM, because he did want me to continue the visits. And that, we understand, was the first visit they listened in on.
WW3R:In which prison?
LS: Rochester, Minnesota. Its a federal medical facility. He has severe diabetes, he takes insulin by needle for it, has ever since I've known him, and he has a heart condition. Plus he's blind. So he was not in good shape when we saw him that February. He was in a wheelchair, and we thought he might need surgery.
When we went to see him again in July--and by "we" I mean me and Mohammed Yousry, who was teaching as an adjunct professor at York [CUNY] and a candidate for a PhD at NYU--apparently they listened in on that also. That's where they claimed there were "diversions" taking place, which, as we recall it, were simply instances where it seemed like the guards were listening to us, so we changed the tenor of the conversation. Little did we know we were being taped! Ha ha! And also video-taped, I believe at that point!
WW3R: With hidden devices?
Yes, with hidden devices. We were never informed that this was going to happen. And they claim that this was legal because these were so-called FISA wiretaps. That's this very pernicious law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Originally, it was supposed to be embassies only, and only hostile nations, so we would know if they were planning anything--and never to be used in litigation, never to be used in criminal proceedings. It basically involves one rubber-stamp judge who sits in a room in the Department of Justice, and he's never turned down an application that we know of. And these FISA warrants are very pernicious because they operate 24/7 and they follow the person around. They're not on a phone or a place, they're on a person--where-ever that person uses the phone they may listen in. So they apparently got a FISA wiretap and they wiretapped our paralegal, who was Ahmed Sattar on Staten Island, who also was arrested in connection with this case. And also the interpreter, Mohammed Yousry, who since the arrest has been terminated at York. York basically said, "Well, we'll continue to pay you, but don't ever show up on campus again." That's being fought by his union, I hope very vigorously.
WW3R: He's also out on bond?
LS: He's also out on bond, yeah. The FBI, when they searched his house, took his complete dissertation and [research] materials, because it was being done on the Sheikh and his relationship to the Gama'a Islamiyya. They took everything that he had, including his notes from telephone calls, et cetera, et cetera.
So the tentacles certainly spread. Now we understand that the latest SAMs, which have been presented to Abdeen Jabarra and Ramsey Clark, who remain as the Sheikh's lawyers, include a paragraph where they must agree to electronic surveillance in exchange for being able to speak with him. They have refused to sign that, so no one has actually spoken to the Sheikh since the time of the arrests. They were informed that he's been moved to Florence [Colorado], which is the maxi-maxi in the federal system, and does not have a medical center component that we know about.
WW3R: You've said the Sheikh has been "disappeared"--that his whereabouts in the federal system is unknown. [On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, May 6]
After that story appeared, they did contact Ramsey Clark and tell him that he was at Florence. I think they are constrained by law to notify after removement. They also said that he would be permitted to call his family in Egypt, but that he hadn't asked to do so. So until he asked they weren't going to give him the phone call. [Laughs] Now, if you don't know to ask, and you assume you're under very rigorous restraints...
WW3R: What is the history of SAMs? When were they first imposed?
I think there's about fifteen people in the federal system who are under special administrative measures. One of them is [Native American political prisoner] Leonard Pelteir, who is also not allowed to call certain people, relatives, et cetera. I think the head of the Latin Kings [Luis Felipe] was convicted and then attempted by telephone to put a hit on somebody. So he can only call his lawyer, he cannot have any contact with anybody else. In special cases, like Son of Sam, you might want to have special administrative measures to keep him from setting up more murders. But it should be more coherent than to use it in a political sense. The Sheikh is hardly in a position where he would be able to say, "Move the tanks to the south ridge, boys, we'll give 'em hell from there." I mean, he hasn't been in Egypt since 1989. When he was there, he was under house arrest. He's a blind, elderly, sick man. He may be a spiritual head, he may be intellectually involved in their struggle there. But he's certainly not a combatant in any sense whatsoever.
And part of being his lawyer is to maintain that integrity for him. Because we all know stranger things have happened than the political climate changing in a certain country, and it could be very important that that person is still perceived as worth exchanging, perhaps, for someone else. In the Cold War, many, many times people were imprisoned here as spies and were later exchanged for Americans who were imprisoned there as spies. So we do not know what the future holds. It could be that there's a new regime in Egypt--[President Hosni] Mubarak disappearing, hopefully, being probably one of the most opprobrious of US allies. He holds elections every four years--of course, he's the only candidate! But that makes it a democracy--something like Bush being elected in Florida, I guess.
And I believe, as most political lawyers believe, that the political message has to get out, even if it is not one that the Department of Justice wants to be heard.
WW3R: What do the SAMs have to do with the Sheikh's ability to be traded in the event of a political turn-around in Egypt?
LS: When he was a pre-trial detainee at the MCC [New York City's Metropolitan Correctional Center], he was interviewed by many reporters, TV, radio. Even after he was convicted and moved to a federal medical facility in Springfield, Missouri, he was interviewed by Japanese public television. I think, given the age of media in which we live, the intent of the SAMs is to cut him off completely. And once he has the rock rolled over his mouth and becomes a non-person on the international scene, he loses currency, he loses credibility. He is no longer someone who perhaps would be viable for people to consider in some kind of swap or exchange.
Also, there's the general First Amendment principle. We have people with many views in federal prison, They don't automatically lose their right to speak just because they're convicted.
WW3R: Do you feel the SAMs are unconstitutional. or are being applied in an unconstitutional way?
Both, I think. I think they are unconstitutional in that they restrict First Amendment rights. Certainly in the Sheikh's case, where there is a political message. Certainly with Leonard Peltier, where he was involved with a viable movement. They are being litigated. One of the lawyers in the Africa embassy bombings case is litigating the fact that his client has restricted access to him and to other people. We will see more on this. Of course, its not the best climate to be litigating this stuff. So when people say to me, "Why didn't you go to court and fight the SAMs?" Well, because we were not hopeful of any great relief being given by a federal judge under the current climate.
WW3R: Apart from the First Amendment angle, speaking more to your case, there are Sixth Amendment implications here--right to counsel.
LS: Yes, the SAM certainly impeded that. I think anyone who's ever had a legal problem and gone to a lawyer--whether you were being sued in civil matter, or arrested, even for DWI or something innocuous--wants to feel that they can sit with that lawyer and say, "Look, I knocked back six beers, but I wasn't drunk. I didn't tell the cops this." Then the lawyer can go into court knowing what he must prove, understanding his client's level of culpability or lack of culpability. I don't think anyone who's ever visited a lawyer would want anyone listening in on that. This a confidential communication that the lawyer is duty-bound not to reveal!
So don't ask me what I was doing! Ask what the government was doing listening in! And of course Ashcroft has admitted that nothing I ever did led to anything. There's never been any connection between the press release or anything else and any violence, in Egypt or anywhere else in the world.
WW3R: So you passed the press release on from the Sheikh to Reuters. In what language?
LS: The Sheikh gave it to Yousry in Arabic, Yousry translated it into English and gave it to me. We came back here [to New York] and had some discussion about what should or shouldn't be done and the possible consequences--including that I would be cut off from the Sheikh and wouldn't be able to visit him. But it was very important to him to get this out, so we decided to go ahead with it--maybe even test the waters, see what would happen. But nobody expected it would become the centerpiece of an indictment that carries 40 years. I mean, let's litigate this, let's fight over it, bring the BoP in--but to make me criminally liable? That really goes beyond--and talk about a chill effect! This just sends them to the freezer, the rest of the bar. They're not gonna want to represent people like the Sheikh if this is the kind of trouble that's in store for them.
WW3R: The press release did not concern legal matters. So why was it protected by attorney-client privilege?
LS: The Sheikh, as the person I'm representing, has the right to communicate outside the SAMs. They suckered me. I signed an agreement saying this won't happen again and in return I would be able to visit my client as an attorney. They never intended to keep that agreement. They clearly had another agenda there, and their agenda was to listen in on whatever I was saying.
WW3R: So after the Justice Department found out about the press release, they made you sign a new SAM. Is there a double-jeopardy issue here?
LS: Double-jeopardy? I don't think so, because I was never charged with anything. I think we deal with it in the law by calling it finality. I mean, if you and I have a dispute, and we agree to resolve the dispute, and we both sign off on the agreement, they can't then raise that again. So we are certainly going to raise the issue that this indictment is flawed by the concept of finality--that when the government dealt with Stanley [Cohen] as my attorney to negotiate the new SAM, they were essentially signing off on this.
WW3R: So what is the crux of your defense strategy?
LS: The crux of my defense strategy is that I'm a lawyer, and I did what the kind of lawyer who vigorously defends clients always does--and that is not adhering to a narrow little stage of action. Its bigger than that, especially with a client who has had wide publicity, who the government is giving wide publicity. You represent them in a different way than you necessarily would a pick-pocket or a shoplifter--but no less vigorously. And for me, I think my main goal in this--apart from not wanting to go to jail!--is to enlighten my fellow lawyers and the public itself of the inroads that are made on their rights. I mean, really the attorney-client right is not the attorney's right--its the client's right! And if people are going to be listened in on, maybe they'll want to do something about this. I really see it all as part of the right-wing parade orchestrated by Bush and Ashcroft, which really masks their economic goals, to exploit the Third World and divert Americans' attention from the fact that our economy seems to be tanking right now. If I am the poster-child now for the anti-Ashcroft forces, I'm happy to be that. I really think they made a mis-step in this case, and I hope we can exploit it.
WW3R: What was the mis-step?
LS: To indict me for doing nothing more than what any lawyer would ever do under any circumstances, and hoping to parlay it into a political victory because everyone's so afraid of terrorism, the big T-word. My own lovely grandson asked my son, who's also a lawyer who works together with me--"Did grandma really help the terrorists?" When they put that T on your forehead, it sticks. So I hope that if we really take the government on in this case instead of pussy-footing around, that perhaps we can expose them for what they really are doing, which is taking away civil rights in the name of fighting terrorism--but really because its easier to run things when people don't have civil rights.
WW3R: Apart from the legal consequences, just speaking in terms of its appropriateness or ethics, how do you feel about what you did? How do you feel about handing on the press release?
LS: Oh, I would do it again in a minute. You know, when I was interviewed in another media [60 Minutes, May 5], I used the words "Well, maybe it was a mistake, but it wasn't a crime." What I meant is, nobody likes to go back on their word. I signed a piece of paper that said I wouldn't do this, right? Just like when you get married you say, "I do," and you're gonna love, honor and et cetera, et cetera. And five years down the road something comes up and you find out you can no longer love and honor, and that oath you took to this other person has to be broken for many reasons. So when I signed that SAM, I was perfectly willing to obey it. But when something came up that made it impossible for me to balance my duties as a lawyer with what the government was requiring of me, I chose my duties as a lawyer. I'd like to think I would do that again. I'm not saying I signed this thing maliciously thinking "I will break this thing the minute I get a chance to." And the proof is in the pudding--in the visits I made after that, I never broke it. After I signed the new SAM, nothing came up that obligated me to break it. So when I said it was a "mistake," I meant I don't like the idea of signing something and then breaking it. But I felt very guilty after my first divorce also. So maybe it works the same way.
WW3R: Do you believe the Sheikh was innocent of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks?
LS: I actually think that as a criminal, legal matter, he was not guilty. That whatever his role, it was not a role that we punish for traditionally in this country. And I argued this to the jury. We do not punish the bishop who preaches against abortion when somebody else goes out and blows up a clinic, although we can say he was the spiritual leader of that person. I don't think the Sheikh was ever involved in any act of plotting, I don't think he ever gave his approval or even knew about any plans that were taking place. And I think the case did prove that.
I do think he was anti-Mubarak, and a portion of the case dealt with a so-called plot against Mubarak, which was engineered by an informant and never had any chance of actually getting off the ground, but to which he certainly--I wouldn't say "gave his approval," because that's their sort of terminology, but he certainly said it wouldn't be a bad thing if it happened. But as far as him being part of a nefarious cell that plotted to do certain things, and they would come to him and say "We're going to do this," and he would pat them on the head and bless them and say "Go do it"--that never happened. And the government knew that never happened. But they also knew the climate of the times even back in '95, post-World Trade Center one, was such that Americans were ready to take people they perceived as dangerous off the streets.
WW3R: What if the Sheikh's advice was taken, and the cease-fire was broken in Egypt? The terrorist attack at Luxor in 1997 left over 50 Egyptians and tourists dead, and the Islamic Group claimed responsibility. Do you think it would be a good thing if these sort of attacks were to resume?
LS: Americans are very two-faced about violence, aren't they? I mean, we came out of the Boston Tea Party and throwing rocks at soldiers on the Boston Commons and finally taking up arms and going against the British army. War has changed since 1776, but the basic desire of people to be free hasn't changed. And I'm not sure that I want to second-guess what methods other people use. I'm not saying that if I had been told to carry the message "There are a hundred rifles hidden at the battery and they should be taken up to the Egyptian embassy and everybody murdered up there," that I would carry such a message. But a political message, a message which is aimed at a group which is deciding things politically, although they have a military wing--I don't think I would draw the line there. I think somebody like the Sheikh, just like Joe Doherty [IRA militant extradited from New York to Northern Ireland in 1992] and the Irish prisoners, has a right to be heard. And its not up to me to decide what action should be taken after that.
WW3R: Do you support an Islamic revolution in Egypt? It didn't work out too well for women and progressives in Iran and Afghanistan.
LS: You know, I'm always asked this question, its very interesting. The fact of the matter is I believe in self-determination. I believe people have the right to decide for themselves how their lives should be led, under what kind of government. Ashcroft is really in favor of many of the same things as the Sheikh; the American right is certainly anti-woman, anti-inclusiveness, and I certainly oppose that here in my own country for my own sake, for my children's sake, for the way I want to live. But I'm not going to second-guess people who are living in Egypt under conditions they know better about than I do. They have to decide for themselves. And my understanding is that Islamic revolution is the only hope of ever succeeding in unseating a group of what I consider to be charlatans--and I mean Mubarak, the king of Jordan, the people who run the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. They are not there in their people's best interest, and if their people see that they want to re-instate a system of law and government that was in existence for hundreds and hundreds of years, I'm not going to judge.
WW3R: Which was what?
LS: There's a body of law, the shariah, that was in place, and can be put back in place. I do not hold myself out to be any expert in Middle Eastern history or law, but this system of shariah was certainly in place, it certainly can be re-instated. And it was certainly not what the Taliban were living under--they had their own system which was probably to the right of what most Islamists consider to be law. I only know what I read from sources in this country, but certainly if they were not permitting women to attend school, this is not Islam. I mean, the Sheikh--whatever he is and whatever you want to say about him--he does not twist what he sees as the law of Islam to suit his own desires. He certainly does not say "I don't like women to be out there going to school, so I'm gonna say its un-Islamic to go school." He basically sees the Koran as championing women in some ways that Westerns might do well to emulate. Women do not take their husbands' names. Women marry under contract, which can be broken--with the husband's consent, I admit.
WW3R: Well, I don't want to get too much into the Sheikh's personal views, but does he explicitly oppose what was the Taliban's policy on women?
LS: No, but he and I had a lot of discussions, especially about women--because here I am, I'm defending him and I'm a woman. So right away you can see that he's a not a traditionalist who thinks this is not a suitable job for a woman. (They're supposed to stay home and have babies, right?) He is extremely, extremely bright--I mean he's a genius in his subject, which is Islam and the Koran. By the time he was nine years old he was what is called a hafiz, someone who has memorized the entire Koran, which is supposed to be a great blessing. As a child they would take the blind children who couldn't work in the fields and take them to the mosque, and he happened to be one of the smart ones. He went from there to al-Azhar university, the Oxford of the Middle East, and ended up as a PhD writing a thesis on an obscure point in Islamic interpretation and history. He was perfectly happy to discuss all this, and I don't think he would adhere to anything he thought was un-Islamic. And I know that he is very, very big on education; he's very, very big on women being educated, because they make better mothers, better people if they were well-educated.
You know, its an interesting thing. The left has sort of been led down this primrose path--and I have to think it's media-and-government-orchestrated--into saying, "Oh, those Islamists, they do terrible things to women! So therefore, we can't support them." But actually, we do terrible things to women here too. And actually, the left has a love affair with people like Malcolm X, who was an Islamist, if you will. And no one ever questioned his adherence to Islam. We only followed his political lead because we knew he was a brilliant political thinker. And the Sheikh also believes that this is his religion, and it could govern countries that want to be governed in that manner. But he's not necessarily imposing his will on us. And part of the way that they are able to debunk Islam is to use over and over and over the women issue. So unless they intend to make equal pay for women and not quibble over Title Nine and all the other things they do in this country, I find that it's sort of the pot calling the kettle black.
WW3R: That's a point. On the other hand, if we don't oppose what the Islamists are doing to women in Afghanistan and Sudan and Iran, what legitimacy do we have to oppose what the Ashcrofts of this world are trying to do to women here?
LS: I think what's difficult is to make a value judgement on another culture. And I'm not willing to make that value judgement. I know many, many women who are very strict Islamists, and they do not ask to be rescued from this. On the other hand, I know Islamists who have a different interpretation of the Koran vis-a-vis women, and who express and fight for that different interpretation. And perhaps they will ultimately persevere and win out, and that will be the interpretation. There are women throughout the Koran. It was a woman who founded Mecca [Hagar, wife of Abraham]. There was a woman in a very famous battle who, when all the men were running away, shielded Mohammed with her body and said "throw me your weapons if you're running away!" And Mohammed said "Yes, she will use them, you will not!" [Umm Umara at the Battle of Uhud, 625]
For me, I'm not sure I want to substitute my view of what women should do in their country, with their lives, for their own view. I'm willing to support them if they are clear that that is what they want to do. But I don't think that I can say "I don't like what they do to women in such-and-such a place so therefore I'm going to oppose them." If in fact the people of those nations do not oppose them themselves.
WW3R: Your co-defendants Ahmed Sattar and Yassir al-Sirri are accused of relaying an October 2000 edict from the Shiekh urging Muslims everywhere "to fight the Jews and to kill them wherever they are." [AP, Apr. 10] Do you think this would be a good thing?
LS: Obviously not. I don't know about it. We haven't seen the tapes, we haven't heard anything yet. I was certainly never a party to that. Not that I wish to distance myself from them, but I'd like to see the context in which it was said, whether it was ever broadcast or if it was just idle chit-chat, if this edict was ever really put out. It seems strange it never made the newspapers here if it was--its the kind of thing the Times loves to print. There are thousands and thousands of tapes and conversations and e-mails and what have you, all in Arabic, so, like I say, I want to see the context. I don't think it's a good idea, I don't think its a great thing to put out there, but it seems without real content in a political sense.
WW3R: Why? Because it wasn't an explicit military order?
LS: No, because its the kind of hate-mongering thing that somebody else might say and then say "they said it." I was around in the New York City school struggle when anybody who opposed Al Shanker [teacher's union boss during 1968 strike] was immediately labeled an anti-Semite...
WW3R: So you don't believe that the Sheikh said that?
LS: No, I don't think he said that. I think it was a thing that was made up and put in his mouth. I don't trust the government. I want to know exactly how this came about, what it was about. If you read the indictment carefully, it says this was a fatwa or an edict that Sattar made up and passed on to al-Sirri. When the Sheikh was questioned about it--not by me but his other lawyers--he basically said, "Don't disavow it," because it was something that he might have said, or it was not a bad thing to say. I don't know what he said, but I'm sure they were recording telephone conversations, so we'll find out exactly.
"Justice for Lynne Stewart" website
has a picture of an Israeli flag next to a Palestinian one saying "give peace a chance." This is certainly not the politics of your clients. Is it really your politics?
LS: Actually, you know, I'll have to look at the web page again, I guess! You know, it's interesting. Those of us who do believe in struggle, and armed struggle, do want to give peace a chance! We may love peace more than these people who want to keep the peace but want to keep the injustice as well. There can never be peace without justice. So I want peace, but I want justice. Is there going to be an Israel? Of course, there will be an Israel. There will be a Palestine. But I'm not "give peace a chance." I think there has to be a resolution of deep-seated problems before peace can be given a chance. Peace is in this country equated with status quo. Give status quo a chance? Not me.
WW3R: You recently shared a press conference with Ramsey Clark [Newsday, June 21]. How do you feel about [indicted Serbian war criminal] Slobodan Milosevic, who Clark seems to vigorously support?
LS: I like to think, at least, that I'm not a liberal in the sense of someone who would take on any case. There are a lot of people I wouldn't represent. I wouldn't represent [Charles] Schwarz, the cop who supposedly held [New York police torture victim Abner] Louima down. I don't represent people who are accused of hurting children in any way, either sexually or violently. I wouldn't take a Nazi case, or an Aryan case. My politics are those of inclusion, and I hope that my politics are represented in the people I actually represent. I do make judgement calls about who I represent. I think that Ramsey is part of a different tradition, he's a part of the ultra-liberal American lawyers who will represent the most despised just because its a person needing defense. If I can't give it my heart and soul, I won't represent somebody.
WW3R: Well, if Clark was just representing Milosevic at The Hague, I would actually consider that more legitimate. My problem is that he seems to be fronting for him politically through his International Action Center.
LS: I'm really not prepared to answer. I don't know enough about the situation. I do know that Ramsey has been around a long time, he has taken on many unpopular causes, people that other attorneys would not represent. I have a healthy respect for Ramsey, and he serves in a way that I couldn't serve.
WW3R: When the FBI searched your office, they seized your computer. So presumably they now have access to confidential files on a lot of cases which have nothing to do with terrorism. The Justice Department has appointed a so-called "walled" Assistant US Attorney to review the seized material and protect privileged information from being passed on to prosecutors. Do you feel this is an adequate safeguard?
LS: I'm happy to report a small victory for the people. We did go to court on the day I was arrested, and Susan Tipograph did ask the judge to order them to hold whatever they took from the office under seal. We don't know that they did this, but that was what the judge ordered. We then did motions asking that they not be allowed to go through the files, that they be turned over to what they call a "special master"--an independent person who would make a decision whether the things that they took had any relevance to the case. And the judge agreed with us, and he did appoint this special master. And it is a criminal defense lawyer in this town, an ex-US attorney who is taking on this task of going through the files.
WW3R: What makes him any more independent than the "walled" AUSA?
LS: Well even if you build a "wall" around him, he's still working for Team America. The special master will keep privileged information out of the hands of the government. My clients have a greater chance with a special master that their privacy will be protected. I think Judge John Koeltl, who is an ex-Watergate prosecutor, took a principled stand on this one. So that was a small victory, but a nice one, at the outset of the litigation.
WW3R: Are you optimistic?
LS: I'm always optimistic, sometimes to my own detriment! I've been in the struggle 40 years, approximately. And I always believed the people will triumph, that people are good--they are misled many times, and they find it much easier to do nothing than to do something. But ultimately I am optimistic about the case. I think that we can win. I think that they have no case against me. I hope only that the cloud that permeates everything--the sense of despair, that we just have to do anything we can do to brick the walls and keep those people out--is not so pervasive that we can't find twelve jurors who can see beyond that and understand what the case is really about.
WW3R: Any closing words?
LS: I guess is the last word is I am a believer that there is something more important than security--and that is freedom. And hopefully we can fight for that.