Lynne Stewart

Lynne Stewart

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: Robert Bruce Livingston at English Wikipedia


  • Maoist
  • Self-described “radical human rights attorney”
  • Represented the convicted Islamic terrorist Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman
  • Was arrested for providing material support to Rahman’s al Qaeda-connected Islamic Group
  • Said that if given the opportunity, she would have defended al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden
  • Considers Muslim fundamentalists to be “liberationists”
  • Supporter of organizations and movements led by the Revolutionary Communist Party
  • Supporter of “violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism”
  • Died on March 7, 2017


Lynne Stewart was born on October 8, 1939 in Brooklyn, New York. She attended Hope College and American University before earning her B.A. in Political Science from Wagner College in 1961. She then went on to acquire a Master’s Degree in Library Science from Pratt Institute, and in 1975 she earned a J.D. from the Rutgers School of Law.

Maoist & “Radical Human Rights Attorney”

Before long, Stewart, a devoted Maoist, proudly proclaimed herself to be a “radical human rights attorney.” Over the course of her legal career, she would defend many notorious figures, including Weather Underground bomber Kathy Boudin, Black Panther Willie Holder, Mafia turncoat Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, cop-shooters like Richard Williams and Larry Davis, and members of the Ohio Seven and the Black Liberation Army. She also was on record saying that, if given the opportunity, she would have defended the al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

“There are a lot of people I wouldn’t represent,” Stewart said in a 2002 interview with WW3 Report. “I wouldn’t represent [Charles] Schwarz, the cop who supposedly held [New York City police torture victim Abner] Louima down [in 1997]. 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. … If I can’t give it my heart and soul, I won’t represent somebody.”

Advocating “Violence Directed at the Institutions Which Perpetuate Capitalism”

“I don’t believe in anarchist violence but in directed violence,” Stewart told The New York Times in 1995. “That would be violence directed at the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism, sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions and accompanied by popular support.”

Contempt for Conservatives

Holding conservatives in contempt, Stewart said in a 2002 interview with WW3 Report: “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.”

Arrested & Imprisoned for Providing Material Support to an Islamic Terror Group

Stewart made national headlines in April 2002 when she was arrested for providing material support to the Islamic Group (IG), an Egypt-based terrorist organization with close ties to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

Stewart’s connections to IG dated back to 1994-95, when, at the behest of her mentor and confidante Ramsey Clark, she represented the organization’s spiritual leader, the “blind sheikh,” Omar Abdel-Rahman, during his federal grand jury trial in New York City. Rahman ultimately was convicted of seditious conspiracy for planning to wage a “war of urban terrorism” against the United States. In addition, he was found guilty of plotting to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1993. In January 1996, three months after his convictions, Rahman was sentenced to life-in-prison plus 65 years. In June 1997, the U.S. government, in an effort to terminate Rahman’s collaboration with active terrorists, blocked him from communicating with anyone in the outside world.

The guilty verdict against Rahman left Stewart in tears — in large part due to the close personal relationship she had developed with her client. As a September 2002 piece in the New York Times Magazine explained, Stewart’s affection for Rahman was profound:

“As Stewart got to know her new client, she came to see him as a fighter for national liberation on behalf of a people oppressed by dictatorship and American imperialism. She came to admire him personally too, for his honesty, his strength of character, his teasing humor. ‘I’ve made up my mind,’ the sheik would say. ‘I’m going to marry you, and that will solve everything.’ ‘And what do women get if they fight in jihad?’ [Stewart] would ask.’”

Their friendship, along with Stewart’s counsel, continued after Rahman was imprisoned at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota. Due to federal authorities’ concern that Rahman might attempt to issue fatwas (religious decrees) and to direct IG activities from his prison cell, Stewart, as a prerequisite to being permitted to continue her work as Rahman’s attorney, was required to agree to a Special Administrative Measure (SAM) stipulating that she could only talk to Rahman about legal matters, and explicitly barring her from conveying messages from the Sheikh to anyone in the outside world, including his family, friends and the media. As Sharon Chadha observed in the Middle East Quarterly: “Since the sheikh had already been convicted and had exhausted his appeals, Stewart’s role should have been limited to assuring his humane treatment in prison.” The SAM allowed an Arabic translator, Mohammed Yousry, to accompany Stewart on her visits to the sheikh.

But Stewart chose not to keep her end of the bargain. Instead, she repeatedly did precisely the things she had sworn never again to do. And meanwhile, throughout the year 2000, FBI agents, working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), secretly videotaped Stewart’s prison visits to Rahman and wiretapped telephone conversations between the two. An FBI affidavit prepared by agent Kimberley Whittle detailed the measures to which Stewart had resorted during her prison visits in order to protect Rahman and assist the IG. According to the affidavit, Stewart “made random comments out loud for the [prison] guards to hear in order to conceal the real conversation” between Rahman and Yousry. During one such exchange, Stewart — while pretending to take notes in her legal pad — misled nearby guards by loudly inserting, into a discussion between Rahman and Yousry, the nonsensical phrase: “Yes, the um … I am talking to you about … him going out on a, uh, chocolate eh … heart attack here.” The affidavit against Stewart stated that she, along with Rahman and Yousry, had “shared laughs” about the “fine acting job that [Stewart] was doing in successfully tricking the guards.” At one point, a cackling Stewart told her accomplices: “I can get an award for it.”

In mid-June of 2000, Stewart, in direct violation of the SAM, released to the international media a press release containing a statement by Rahman indicating that he was “withdrawing his support for the cease-fire” that had been in effect since 1998. That statement signaled Islamic Group members to resume their campaign of terrorist violence against the Egyptian government — violence exemplified by a 1997 incident in which a number of Rahman’s followers, in an effort to force the U.S. government to release their leader, had gunned down 62 people at the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, Egypt.

Stewart also smuggled out of Rahman’s prison cell a fatwa that bore the sheikh’s name and exhorted “the Muslim nation to fight the Jews and to kill them wherever they are” by means of violent “Jihad.” In that same fatwa, Rahman instructed his fellow Muslims to “treat [Americans] with brutality” and to “drown their ships, shoot down their airplanes, kill them on earth, in the sea or in the sky, kill them everywhere you find them.”

Stewart’s support for Rahman’s objectives was clearly heartfelt. In a May 2000 conversation that the FBI secretly recorded, Yousry informed the sheikh and Stewart that the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group had kidnapped some tourists in the Philippines and was threatening to execute them if Rahman were not set free. “Good for them,” Stewart retorted in praise of this “very, very crucial” development that she hoped would elevate Rahman’s standing among jihadists..

In April 2002, federal agents arrested Stewart outside of her Brooklyn apartment for the crime of having illegally transmitted to the outside world the messages that Rahman had spoken from his prison cell. After Stewart’s arrest, a litany of leftwing organizations and activists instantly rushed to her defense. These included:

Another ally of Stewart was Osama bin Laden, who expressed his support for the attorney and her client via videotape.

All of this public attention soon made Stewart a veritable icon of the left; she was invited to speak at college campuses all across the United States.

In a 2003 interview with WW3R, Stewart characterized her client, Omar Abdel Rahman as “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.” Added Stewart: “They [U.S. authorities] said the Sheikh was responsible for, I dunno, everything except flat feet. They made it sound like a worldwide conspiracy … He’s a blind, elderly, sick man. He may be a spiritual head, he may be intellectually involved in [the Islamic Group’s] struggle [in Egypt]. But he’s certainly not a combatant in any sense whatsoever.”

In that same 2003 interview, Stewart said the following regarding the transgressions that had led to her arrest in April 2002: “Don’t ask me what I was doing! Ask what the government was doing listening in!… They suckered me … I really see it all as part of the right-wing parade orchestrated by Bush and [Attorney General John] 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.”

Also in that 2003 interview, Stewart was asked: “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 [to the media] the press release [on Omar Abdel-Rahman’s behalf]?” She replied:

“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 [Special Administrative Measure], 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.”

In that same 2003 interview, Stewart was asked: “Do you believe the Sheikh was innocent of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks?” She answered:

“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.”

On February 10, 2005, Stewart was convicted of helping Rahman communicate with his Islamic Group followers in the Middle East.

At an April 2005 rally for Stewart’s defense at San Francisco State University, antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan publicly lauded Stewart, depicting the latter as “my human Atticus Finch,” a reference to the heroic attorney in the book To Kill a Mockingbird. Explained Sheehan: “He [Finch] did what he knew was right, but wasn’t popular. And that’s what Lynne [Stewart] is doing.” At the same rally, Stewart said: “The sheikh asked me to make this press release and we all thought it was a good idea because we felt our duty was to keep his name alive in the world, in the real world. That when somebody sinks below the level, where nobody remembers him, he’s not heard of, no one cares what happens to him, at that point, that person is, indeed, doing a death penalty, even though we call it ‘a life sentence.’” Moreover, Stewart said that she thought of herself as a victim of U.S. government oppression:

“But I do think that I’m now facing 30 years, not because of what they accuse me of having done, which really I’m completely innocent of and they understand that, too, but really for being 30 years as a movement lawyer and for the 10 years before that, being opposed to their war in Vietnam, being opposed to the racist policies of the Board of Education of the City of New York and fighting against that and standing up for people, regardless of the circumstances, who really were designated enemies of the state.

“So, I’m here today, as an enemy of the state myself … But when I say ‘the state,’ I think of myself, and I know that the tabloid press of New York, notably the New York Post, refers to me as [a] ‘traitor lawyer.’ And that, to me, is not at all true. I think that I’m a greater patriot because I didn’t just come out in the sunshine and when it was good weather but I came out when it was bad weather, and when things were very, very much at a low ebb and I spoke up and I said what had to be said, and I continued with my work and I defended the people who needed defense. That was my job, that’s what I did.”

At Stewart’s sentencing in October 2006, Clinton-appointed U.S. District Court Judge John George Koeltl (Manhattan) opted to break with guidelines that, given the serious nature of her crimes, should have landed the defendant in prison for 30 years, and instead sentenced her to only 28 months. Koetl explained that while Stewart’s actions did indeed constitute “extraordinarily severe criminal conduct” – as well as “dishonesty and breach of trust” with “potentially lethal consequences” – during her long legal career she had “performed a public service, not only to her clients, but to the nation.”

Because her prison term was so short, a gloating Stewart instantly depicted herself as the victor in the case. Soon after her sentence had been handed down, she told a crowd of supporters: “He [the judge] gave me time off for good behavior, and he gave it to me in advance of the sentence … he said that my extraordinary work meant that I could not get a sentence that the government wanted.” Stewart then told the press that she could serve such a brief period “standing on my head.”

Stewart was slated to begin serving her prison sentence in late 2006 but received numerous reprieves while seeking treatment for breast cancer. She remained free on bail pending a decision of her appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

On November 18, 2009, Stewart began serving her 28-month prison term. The night before her incarceration began, she was interviewed on Amy Goodman‘s “Democracy Now!” program. Goodman asked her: “Lynne, would you do anything differently today, or would you do anything differently back then, if you knew what you knew today?” Stewart replied:

“I think I should have been a little more savvy that the government would come after me. But do anything differently? I don’t—I’d like to think I would not do anything differently, Amy. I made these decisions based on my understanding of what the client needed, what a lawyer was expected to do. They say that you can’t distinguish zeal from criminal intent sometimes. I had no criminal intent whatsoever. This was a considered decision based on the need of the client. And although some people have said press releases aren’t client needs, I think keeping a person alive when they are in prison, held under the conditions which we now know to be torture, totally incognito—not incognito, but totally held without any contact with the outside world except a phone call once a month to his family and to his lawyers, I think it was necessary. I would do it again. I might handle it a little differently, but I would do it again.”

In 2010, prosecutors filed an appeal of Stewart’s sentence, arguing that a more appropriate prison term would have been in the range of 15 to 30 years. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit – after considering how egregiously Stewart had abused her position as an attorney in her dealings with Rahman, and how Stewart had subsequently committed perjury when testifying at her trial – overturned the original sentence and sent the case back to Judge Koeltl, asking him to consider lengthening Stewart’s jail time. Koeltl concluded that Stewart’s self-congratulatory statements and jovial demeanor in the aftermath of her first sentencing indicated “a lack of remorse” on her part, and suggested that “the original sentence was not sufficient.” Thus, he increased her sentence from 28 months to ten years.

Moments before Judge Koeltl issued his ruling on Ms. Stewart’s extended sentence, the defendant, seeking mercy, told the judge that she had found prison life to be much harsher than she could ever have imagined: “Over the last eight months, prison has diminished me. Daily, I confront the prospect of death, losing pieces of my personality. My sense of inquiry and compassion have turned to weariness, my thoughts regimented, my world, once filled with love and laughter and family, slipping away from me.”

At the end of 2013, Judge Koeltl ordered that Stewart, who was suffering from terminal cancer and was not expected to survive longer than another 18 months, be released from prison on grounds of compassion. His decision was in response to a request that the director of the Bureau of Prisons, which is a subdivision of the Justice Department, had issued through the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

When Omar Abdel-Rahman died in February 2017, Stewart told The New York Times: “He was a personification of an American hero. I feel very strongly that he suffered. He suffered unjustly because he was convicted of this bogus crime.”

Justifying 9/11 & Other Islamic Terror Attacks

In a September 2002 interview with The New York Times, Stewart expressed her view that the 9/11 attacks were a predictable response to U.S. aggression overseas. “I’m pretty inured to the notion that in a war or in an armed struggle, people die,” she said. “They’re in the wrong place; they’re in a nightclub in Israel; they’re at a stock market in London; they’re in the Algerian outback—whatever it is, people die.” Citing America’s use of atomic weapons during World War II, as well as the U.S.-British firebombing of Dresden, Stewart added: “So I have a lot of trouble figuring out why that is wrong, especially when people [Islamic terrorists] are sort of placed in a position of having no other way.”

Portraying Muslim Fundamentalists as “Forces of National Liberation”

In 2002 as well, Stewart, hailing Muslim fundamentalists as “forces of national liberation,” identified “Islamic revolution” as “the only hope” for the oppressed peoples of Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf states, and Saudi Arabia. “If their people see that they want to reinstate a system of law [Sharia] and government that was in existence for hundreds and hundreds of years, I’m not going to judge,” she said.

Asserting That Americans Were Blind to the “Wrath” of Others

In September 2002, Stewart told The New York Times Magazine that on 9/11 the Pentagon was “a better target” that the World Trade Center, because the people in the towers “never knew what hit them. They had no idea that they could ever be a target for somebody’s wrath, just by virtue of being American. They took it personally. And actually, it wasn’t a personal thing.”

Speaker at “Not In Our Name” Rally

On October 6, 2002, Stewart was a special guest speaker at an anti-war rally organized by Not In Our Name, a project of the aforementioned Revolutionary Communist Party leader C. Clark Kissinger. Stewart was joined at the podium by Sami Al-Arian, the onetime North American head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Guest of Honor at Socialist Scholars Conference

In December 2002 Stewart was a guest of honor at the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York.

Supporting Dictatorial Tyrants

“I don’t have any problem with Mao or Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel [Castro] locking up people they see as dangerous,” Stewart told Monthly Review in a November 2002 interview. “Because so often, dissidence has been used by the greater powers to undermine a people’s revolution.”

Stewart’s Communist & Mass-Murdering “Heroes”

During her keynote address at a 2003 convention of the National Lawyers Guild, Stewart said: “And modern heroes, dare I mention? Ho [Chi Minh] and Mao [Zedong] and Lenin, Fidel [Castro] and Nelson Mandela and John Brown, Ché Guevara … Our quests, like theirs, are to shake the very foundations of the continents.”

“Im Not a Pacifist”

In June 2004, The Washington Post quoted Stewart saying: “I’m not a pacifist. I have cried many bitter tears. There is death in history, and it’s not all rosebuds and memorial services. Mao, Fidel [Castro], Ho Chi Minh understood this.”

Self-Identified “Revolutionary”

In 2004 as well, Stewart characterized herself as a “revolutionary with a small ‘r’” and emphasized her belief that “basic change is necessary.” While “some of it will be accomplished nonviolently,” she said, overcoming “the entrenched voracious type of capitalism that is in this country that perpetuates sexism and racism,” might require violence.

Signatory to “World Can’t Wait” Statement

In 2005 Stewart was a signatory to a statement crafted by World Can’t Wait, an organization established by the Revolutionary Communist Party to discredit conservatives as warmongers and “fascists.” Some excerpts from the statement:

“Your government, on the basis of outrageous lies, is waging a murderous and utterly illegitimate war in Iraq, with other countries in their sights.

“Your government is openly torturing people, and justifying it.

“Your government puts people in jail on the merest suspicion, refusing them lawyers, and either holding them indefinitely or deporting them in the dead of night.

“Your government is moving each day closer to a theocracy, where a narrow and hateful brand of Christian fundamentalism will rule.

“Your government suppresses the science that doesn’t fit its religious, political and economic agenda, forcing present and future generations to pay a terrible price.

“Your government is moving to deny women here, and all over the world, the right to birth control and abortion.

“Your government enforces a culture of greed, bigotry, intolerance and ignorance.

“People look at all this and think of Hitler—and they are right to do so. The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come. We must act now; the future is in the balance.”

Speaker at Anti-Iraq War Rally

On September 24, 2005, Stewart spoke at the “Call to United Mass Action,” an anti-Iraq War rally in Washington, D.C. which was organized by International ANSWER and United for Peace and Justice.

Supporter of Cynthia McKinney’s Presidential Campaign

In 2008, Stewart endorsed Cynthia McKinney‘s candidacy for U.S. President on the Green Party ticket.

Advisory Committee Member for World Can’t Wait

As of 2008 as well, Stewart was an advisory committee member for World Can’t Wait. Other notable members of that committee included Mark Crispin Miller, Gore Vidal, Sunsara Taylor, Cynthia McKinney, and Howard Zinn.

Supporting Mumia Abu Jamal & Leonard Peltier

In her later years, Stewart continued to champion the causes of those whom she viewed as “political prisoners,” such as Mumia Abu Jamal (who murdered a Philadelphia police officer in 1981) and Leonard Peltier (who killed two FBI agents in 1975).

Defending the Motives & Actions of Cop-Killers

Regarding Black Lives Matter-affiliated activists who had recently murdered 5 police officers in Dallas and 3 others in Baton Rouge, Stewart said in a 2016 interview: “They are avengers They spoke for some of us when they did that.” She added: “They are not brazen, crazed, you know, insane killers. They are avenging deaths that are never and have never been avenged since the ’60s and ’70s.” Stewart further said of the gunmen, “They spoke for some of us when they did that.” Moreover, she speculated that the murders had, at least for a brief period of time, acted as “a deterrent” against additional unwarranted killings of unarmed civilians by police.

Stewart also had a message for the families of all police officers who might be killed in the line of duty: “[T]hey enlisted in an army that maybe they never realized was put out there to ‘keep the peace’ for those who are very interested in maintaining things the way they are.”

Stewart’s Death

Stewart died on March 7, 2017, from complications related to cancer and a series of strokes.

* Portions of this profile are adapted from the article “Cheerleaders for Terror,” written by Erick Stakelbeck and published by on June 17, 2003.

Additional Resources:

Cheerleaders for Terror
By Erick Stakelbeck
June 17, 2003

Lynne Stewart, Jihadi Lawyer
By Sharon Chadha
Winter 2006

Superseding Indictment Adds New Charges Against Ahmed Abdel Sattar, Lynne Stewart, and Mohammed Yousry
By U.S. Department of Justice
November 19, 2003

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