Another vindictive assault has taken place against a courageous people’s lawyer.
On Aug. 8, District Judge John Koetl rejected Lynne Stewart’s most recent appeal for compassionate release from prison, claiming that the court cannot intervene until the Federal Bureau of Prisons has filed a motion in support of her release.
Stewart, a political prisoner known around the world, is suffering from Stage 4 breast cancer, which was first diagnosed before she entered prison. Now 73 and in the fourth year of a 10-year sentence, she has been given a medical estimate of less than 18 months to live. Stewart was convicted of aiding “terrorism” by allegedly passing a note from one of her clients, a Muslim cleric, to Reuters news service. She was tried in a climate of extreme anti-Muslim prejudice, which has continued along with U.S. military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries.
The BOP regularly delays or rejects the processing of compassionate release applications, in turn allowing the courts to wash their hands of any decision. This type of cold-hearted legal maneuvering is typical of the U.S. (in)justice system, which uses technicalities to deny justice to those who courageously challenge the status quo of U.S. imperialism.
Even as Stewart was first applying for compassionate release, the inspector general of the Department of Justice released a report condemning the BOP for refusing to fulfill its obligation to release terminally ill prisoners. The report called the BOP’s compassionate release program “poorly managed and implemented inconsistently, likely resulting in eligible inmates not being considered for release and in terminally ill inmates dying before their requests were decided.” (New York Times, May 5)
In an Aug. 9 letter to her supporters, friends and comrades, Stewart writes, “It was clear yesterday that Judge Koetl was not going to act solely within the ‘spirit’ of the law but would instead rely upon the Bureau of Prisons to make a ‘legal motion’ on my behalf. … The DC Prison Bureaucracy clearly would just as soon see me die here.” (lynnestewart.org, Aug. 10)
But to the prison bureaucracy and to the whole U.S. (in)justice system, Lynne Stewart’s situation is about so much more than Stewart herself. Keeping Stewart in prison not only is a torturous death sentence but is meant to be an explicit warning to other lawyers, other activists and anyone struggling against imperialism and capitalism. They know that letting her out would unleash a flood of joy from well-wishers all over the country and the world.
Their message is that the system will show no mercy to those who fight against the political and economic repression it has been established to uphold. It’s the same reason that so many other political prisoners are forced to linger in so-called “correctional institutions” throughout the U.S., even when every false justification for their imprisonment has been exposed. The system hopes that it can suppress not only Stewart, but the whole anti-imperialist and pro-worker movement that she has served in her legal career.
These champions of capitalism are notoriously short-sighted, however. They think that by keeping our freedom fighters locked up, we’ll either forget about them or abandon our own struggles in fear. Instead, we continue to stand by their side. Hundreds packed the courtroom for Stewart’s Aug. 8 hearing in New York City. The more the oppressors cast aside even a modicum of decency in their persecution of her, the more widely she becomes known and the more committed become her supporters.
“Not to be discouraged or disheartened by this latest legal impediment,” she writes, “the wall of Jericho DID come tumbling down, eventually!”
Continue the struggle to free Lynne Stewart. Visit lynnestewart.org and iacenter.org.