Free Lynne Stewart: Save Her Life

Back in 2005, when Lynne Stewart was prosecuted for aiding terrorists in her role as a civil rights defense attorney representing Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 of plotting to blow up the United Nations building in New York, it was clear the feds were aiming to fry her. I wrote then:

Americans less brave than Lynne Stewart — which, frankly, means the rest of us — are easily cowed. It doesn’t take much to scare the shit out of people. As William Burroughs once wrote, “anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death,” and Dear Leader owns the biggest frying pan of all.

Lynne Stewart

Lynne Stewart

After she was sentenced to 28 months in prison, the feds appealed and her sentence was upped to 10 years. There is now a PETITION making the rounds online asking the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to release her from incarceration “for extraordinary and compelling reasons” — that is, to save her life. She has Stage Four breast cancer, which has spread to her lymph nodes, shoulder, bones, and lungs, and cannot get the medical treatment she needs at the federal prison in Carswell, Texas, where she is serving her sentence.

According to the petition, “ready access to physicians and specialists under conditions compatible with medical success” is lacking. “It can take weeks to see a medical provider in prison conditions” and “weeks to report physical changes and learn the results of treatment.” Moreover, despite her weakened physical condition, Stewart’s “trips to physicians involve attempting to walk with 10 pounds of shackles on her wrists and ankles.” And “when held in the hospital,” she is “shackled wrist and ankle to the bed.”

“This medieval ‘shackling’ has little to do with any appropriate prison control,” the petition points out. “She is obviously not an escape risk.” The petition also “demand[s] abolition of this practice for all prisoners, let alone those facing surgery and the urgent necessity of care and recovery. It amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of human rights.”

Stewart’s friends and allies will hold a RALLY to support the petition near the Federal Court Building in New York, at Foley Square, on Thursday (Aug, 8) from noon to 2 p.m. Here’s the legal memorandum asking for her release:

Memorandum of Law filed 7-29-13 in support of Lynne Stewart’s release.


Postscript: Aug. 8 — In a letter to Judge Koeltl, Stewart wrote:

“I do not intend to go ‘gently into that good night’ as Dylan Thomas wrote. There is much to be done in this world. I do know that I do not want to die here in prison — a strange and loveless place. I want to be where all is familiar — in a word, home. … I have no grandiose plans — just good food, conversation, music. That is what I look forward to. And of course, my beloved husband Ralph — my hero and help, my heart, through all the last 50 years. I need him and his strength and love now to be close to me as I get ready for the nearing moments of transition and then rest. If you indeed represent the merciful hand of the law, as against, in this case, a heartless bureaucracy, do not punish me further. Grant me release and allow me to die in dignity.”

PPS: Aug. 9 — I’m amazed, though I shouldn’t be, by the fact that there’s nothing in today’s NY Times about yesterday’s hearing in Manhattan federal court on Stewart’s request. Nada. Not in print and not online. The Wall Street Journal has an online piece (“Judge Hints Against Early Release for Lynne Stewart”) and so does the NY Daily News (“‘Terror Lawyer’ Lynne Stewart likely to stay in prison despite terminal cancer”). It’s lousy news, but at least you can read it there.

Further Update: Aug. 10 — Finally, the NYTimes has a story today at the bottom of page A15 in this morning’s print edition, reporting the outcome of the hearing (“Dying Lawyer’s Request for Release From Prison Is Turned Down”). It’s also online listed at the bottom of the N.Y/ Region page. The editors’ rationale for waiting this long must’ve run like this: “When the judge rules, we’ll report it. That’s news.” I don’t buy it but in any case, the hearing turned out to offer a glimmer of hope for Stewart:

The judge, John G. Koeltl of United States District Court, said he could not order such a release under a federal Bureau of Prisons program for terminally ill inmates without the bureau’s first making a motion seeking such action. But the judge suggested that he would look favorably upon such a request if it were presented by the bureau.

“The court would give prompt and sympathetic consideration to any motion for compassionate release filed by the B.O.P, but it is for the B.O.P. to make that motion in the first instance,” he wrote.

Neither the NY Daily News nor The Wall Street Journal followed up on their previous reports. I suppose I should mention that The Washington Post published an AP story on the judge’s ruling, following up on an AP story about the hearing yesterday.

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  1. says

    In a recent speech, Jimmy Carter noted that America no longer has a functional democracy. One thinks of the gridlock, the squandering of unimaginable amounts of wealth through pork barrel politics, the militarism, the bankruptcy of Detroit and its 78,000 abandoned homes, etc, etc., etc. It seems like poor government inevitably leads to massive spying on its citizens and amassing the largest prison population in the world both in absolute and per capita terms. The persecution of Lynn Stewart by government zealots is just one more part of this dysfunction. We see that the greatest danger to American society has become its own government.

  2. says

    Has she publicly made the sad observation that a government and “justice” “system” that keeps Guantanamo open (and especially keeps those it has “cleared for release”) is one that she expects to be irrational and unjust about her situation too?