The following is the speech that Ralph Poynter, the husband of Lynne Stewart, presented half of during his limited speaking time at the National Lawyers Guild convention, October, in Pasadena, California. As his speaking time was running out, before the end of the speech, he called upon the delegates to stand, as a commitment to support Lynne’s struggle for justice and freedom, at which time the Guild members provided a thundering standing ovation. Thanks to Carole Seligman for the transcript and Roxana Orell for the photo.
Brothers and Sisters, Comrades, Supporters and Friends, I hope you’re not saying Lynne Stewart is just old news. Those of you who know her personally and remember her at these conventions know she will always be a vital force among us. Those of you who were still in high school when she was arrested back in 2002 owe it to yourselves to find out about her, her career, and her case, which is still crucial to all that the Guild stands for.
Let me just say that I am Lynne’s husband and a lot prejudiced in her favor. I have lived with her, fought with her and beside her, and loved her for almost 50 years. I want her to be out of Prison where she has languished for the last three years. Did I say languish? – Lynne can’t languish – she is always the activist, always political, always compassionate. They can’t jail her spirit. But WE need her out here with us on the front lines!
The federal government locked her up because they wanted to control her defense of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and she believed that ethically and morally she had obligations to her client; and that her adversary should not, could not, dictate or curtail what strategy a lawyer must adopt. Maybe you would not have been audacious in the same way Lynne was, in issuing a press release, but she was representing a man who had been subjected to a vicious solitary confinement for many years, was ill, and appeared to be fading. It was “mandatory” to do this to save him. Now that Mubarak has been toppled and the new President has been calling for the repatriation to Egypt of that client, Sheik Omar; Lynne was right, and the lie has been put to the government’s’s strident and false claims that her actions somehow contributed to terrorism. And we are still fighting her case – now in a petition for Certiorari to the US Supreme Court due in December.
The last thing I want to speak on at this convention of lawyers are the legal arguments that are available in Lynne’s petition and the chances that any of them might have before the Supremes.
Many of you are familiar with the trial and have followed her appeal, and then her re-sentencing, and that appeal. I do want to say that Lynne’s case should be important to all criminal defense lawyers and particularly to Guild lawyers because what the Government has done to her can happen again. And it can particularly happen to Guild lawyers who regularly take on the cases of people whom the Government despises and who they believe cannot be permitted to win. In essence, using regulations promulgated by the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons, Lynne’s adversaries attempted to thwart her campaign to keep her client alive in Egypt and the world. Her press release, not secret, to Reuters, mirrored the many that her co-counsel Ramsey Clark had issued in the face of the same regulations. But they came after her. She is nothing more, or less, than a smart woman with great politics from a working class background. But her amazing loyalty and relationships with her clients were a threat.
Lynne’s case is important for all of you to support because someday you may be confronted in your professional life with a choice between conforming to conduct that pleases the “system”, “authority,” and doing that which you know to be right and just. Lynne chose her client and her obligation to him, and if you want to increase the safety zone for lawyers centered as she was, you will support her. To be reminded of just who Lynne is, she asked me to read a portion of a speech she gave to the Guild in Minneapolis at the convention there in 2007. It is her credo:
“I believe we have formidable enemies not unlike those in the tales of ancient days. There is a consummate evil that unleashes its dogs of war on the helpless. Our enemy is motivated only by insatiable greed with no thought of other consequences. In this enemy there is no love of the land or the creatures who live there, no compassion for the people. No thought of future generations. This enemy will destroy the air we breathe and the water we drink as long as the the dollars keep filling up their money boxes.
We have been charged here, once again, with, and for our quests, … to shake the very foundations of the continents. We go out to stop police brutality; to rescue the imprisoned; to change the rules for those who never have been able to get to the starting line, much less run the race, because of color, physical condition, gender, mental impairment.
“We go forth to preserve the air and land and water and sky and all the beasts that crawl and fly. We go forth to safeguard the right to speak and write; to join; to learn; to rest safe at home, to be secure, fed, healthy, sheltered, loved and loving, to be at peace with one’s identity.
“Our quests are formidable. We have in Washington poisonous government that spreads its venom to the body politic in all corners of the globe. We have wars – big war in Afghanistan, smaller wars in Palestine, Central Africa, Columbia, Kashmir …. Now we have those Democratic and Republican candidates and then an election, with the corporate media ready to hype the results and drown out the righteous protests.”
I now need to raise to you the plight of political prisoners in the US, (not just because Lynne is one) – numbering more and more Muslims, Earth Firsters, veterans of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s defense of minority communities, resisters, peace activists… brave men and women, held in the harshest conditions, some for more than 40 years. This is more than a worthy focus for Guild lawyers, whose opposition to illicit power should be consistent and militant. Check these folks out at Jericho and Project Salam websites. And join their struggles. Many have no legal representation or contact. Even if you correspond, or visit, or join a defense team, or take on one of their cases, your reward will be great – the satisfaction of doing the right thing with people who remain the best among us.
In closing I want to urge you to defend and champion Lynne Stewart, one of our own! Defend and champion all political prisoners! Set her free! Set ‘em all free!