Free Speech In America? What About Lynne Stewart?
10 January 2015
By Jacob G. Hornberger
In the aftermath of the terrorist
attack in France on Charlie Hebdo, U.S. officials are
telling the world how committed they are to the
principles of freedom of speech.
How about Lynne Stewart, the New York lawyer who was
convicted and sentenced to serve time in a federal
penitentiary for doing nothing more than speaking the
following words to the press:
I am not withdrawing my support of the cease-fire, I
am merely questioning it and I am urging you, who are
on the ground there to discuss it and to include
everyone in your discussions as we always have done.
The “I” in those words referred to a convicted
terrorist named Omar Abdel-Rahmanj, who Stewart, a
famous New York lawyer, was representing. Those
specific words that Stewart spoke to the press were
actually a note that her client had written and asked
her to read to the press.
What was Stewart convicted of? Supporting terrorism.
One obvious question arises: What else did Stewart do
to deserve her criminal conviction, her time in jail,
and her disbarment as a lawyer?
Did she participate in planning sessions for terrorist
attacks? Did she serve as a recruiter for terrorists?
Did she herself initiate terrorist attacks?
The answer is no to those three questions. She didn’t
do anything else. All that Stewart did was to speak
those particular words to the press.
So, the next question arises: What in particular makes
those particular words a crime to speak to the press?
Let’s analyze each phrase:
I am not withdrawing my support of a ceasefire.
What’s wrong with not withdrawing support for a
ceasefire? I can sort of see some federal prosecutor
wanting to make a federal case out of someone
withdrawing his support for a ceasefire. But I’m not
sure how one makes the case that terrorism encompasses
not withdrawing support of a ceasefire. Doesn’t a
ceasefire connote the absence of violence? If someone
is supporting a ceasefire, or nonviolence, why is that
I am merely questioning it and I am urging you … to
How is questioning a ceasefire and urging people to
discuss the ceasefire terroristic? Doesn’t questioning
involve nothing more than a mental process on the part
of the utterer? Can thinking really be considered a
Moreover, why is simply discussing whether a ceasefire
should be ended considered a criminal act? What if the
discussions end up with everyone supporting the
ceasefire? Should that matter?
Here is what the presiding judge in the Stewart case
A rational jury could have inferred that, by relaying
a statement withdrawing support for a cessation of
violence by an influential, pro-violence leader of a
terrorist group, Stewart knew that she was providing
support to those within the IG (Islamic Group) who
sought to return to violence….”
But wait a minute! That isn’t what Stewart did. She
didn’t relay “a statement withdrawing support for a
cessation of violence.” She did the exact opposite!
She specifically said: “I am NOT withdrawing my
support of the cease-fire….”
It would seem that in the Orwellian world of the U.S.
national-security state and the much-vaunted “war on
terrorism,” yes means yes and no means yes.
But let’s assume that the note read as that judge said
it did. In fact, let’s assume the worst. Let’s assume
that the note that Stewart read to the press expressly
called on people to end all ceasefires and to
violently overthrow the government.
Well, under U.S. national-security law it would depend
on which government Stewart was referring to. If, for
example, she was referring to Cuba or Venezuela, then
U.S. officials would never have prosecuted her because
in that case, her words would not be considered a
criminal offense under U.S. national-security law.
Indeed, that’s precisely what the 54-year-old U.S.
embargo against Cuba is all about. Its very purpose is
to inflict as much economic harm on the Cuban people
as possible, in the hope that the Cuban people will
rise up and violently overthrow the Castro regime.
That’s what the CIA’s sneak attack on Cuba in 1961 was
all about — getting the Cuban people to violently
overthrow their own government. In fact, ever since
Castro took power, U.S. officials, including the CIA
and many members of Congress, have gone out of their
way to exhort the Cuban people to violently overthrow
the communist regime in Cuba and re-install a pro-U.S.
dictator, similar to the pro-U.S. dictator who Castro
ousted, Fulgencio Batista.
So, why then was Stewart prosecuted, convicted, and
jailed for doing nothing more than speaking words to
the press, words that did nothing more than express
her client’s continued support for a ceasefire and
calling on his followers to question it and discuss
Under U.S. national-security law, Stewart’s offense
was in picking the wrong country and the wrong regime.
She picked Egypt, which has long been run by one of
the most brutal and corrupt military dictatorships in
history, one that has long been notorious for
disallowing elections, murdering peaceful protesters,
shutting down critical newspapers, running torture
chambers, operating commercial enterprises,
maintaining strict secrecy on military expenditures,
and all the other things that military dictatorships
Why was Egypt treated differently from Cuba and
Venezuela insofar as Stewart’s words are concerned?
Egypt is a pro-U.S. military dictatorship, one that is
a loyal partner of the U.S. government, while Cuba and
Venezuela have steadfastly chosen to remain
independent of the U.S. national-security state. In
fact, it would be difficult to find a dictatorial
regime that has proven more loyal to the U.S.
government than that of Egypt.
Consider just one example: When the U.S.
national-security state needed foreign regimes to
torture people as part of its war on terrorism after
9/11, Egypt eagerly and loyally came forward to
volunteer to be part of the U.S. national-security
state’s rendition-torture program and, in fact,
actually tortured people at the request of and on
behalf of the U.S. government.
In fact, it’s been the U.S. government that has long
provided the resources, primarily in terms of
weaponry, that has enabled the military dictatorship
to remain firmly in control in Egypt. Even to this
day, U.S. taxpayer monies in the form of weapons
continue to flood into the regime to help it maintain
its iron military grip over the Egyptian people.
Under U.S. national-security law, no American will be
permitted to call for the violent overthrow of a loyal
and patriotic ally and partner like the Egyptian
military dictatorship. Lynne Stewart, who ended up
receiving 10-year jail sentence, learned that lesson.
She should have known that when Thomas Jefferson wrote
in the Declaration of Independence that people
everywhere have the fundamental right to overthrow a
tyrannical regime, he obviously meant to exclude
tyrannies that are partners of the U.S. government. He
also obviously meant to say that the exercise of
fundamental, God-given rights such as freedom of
speech has its limits.