Will they let her die in jail?

Alan Maass reports on the latest injustice suffered by a veteran champion of justice.

Supporters rally for Lynne Stewart's releaseSupporters rally for Lynne Stewart's release

A FEDERAL judge has refused a plea to free radical lawyer Lynne Stewart from an effective death sentence in prison so she can receive treatment for breast cancer that has spread to her lungs, lymph nodes and bones.

Stewart's lawyers asked Judge John Koetl--the man who presided over her original trial and who later caved to federal prosecutors and put Stewart behind bars for a 10-year sentence--to order her compassionate release. Koetl claimed he was sympathetic to the petition to save Stewart's life, but said he could do nothing until the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) filed a motion to reduce her sentence to time served.

Stewart had been diagnosed with breast cancer before she was put on trial on trumped-up terrorism charges. The cancer was in remission, but returned in advanced form after she was imprisoned. Late this spring, Stewart's partner Ralph Poynter reported that she had been so weakened by conditions in prison that she could no longer continue treatment.

The warden where Stewart is incarcerated approved her petition to be released so she can be treated at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and bureau officials vetted the request. But BOP Director Charles Samuels announced that he was denying compassionate release, on the false grounds that Stewart's "health is improving." This is a lie. Prison doctors have said Stewart has 18 months to live, and independent physicians have said the prognosis may be nearer to six months--but neither Koetl nor the BOP will act.

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THAT STEWART is behind bars at all is a travesty. After a long history of defending radical activists and the most vulnerable in society from state repression, she became a target of the "war on terror" witch-hunters of the Bush administration in the period after 9/11. Federal prosecutors fabricated charges of "supporting terrorism" when Stewart was never "guilty" of anything other than reading a press release on behalf of her client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, about an inactive Islamist group in Egypt.

The government admits that no violence ever resulted from this action, but she was charged anyway. After a trial where the judge allowed videotapes of Osama bin Laden to be played before the jury--in a courtroom located less than a mile from the site of the World Trade Center--a jury voted to convict her.

Originally, Koetl sentenced Stewart to 23 months in prison. That was outrageous enough for the "crime" of a lawyer reading a press release for her client. But the Feds weren't satisfied. Prosecutors demanded that Koetl reconsider the sentence, and the judge obliged, adding another eight years to the sentence.

Now another government agency is standing in the way of some measure of justice for Lynne Stewart--the judge who changed his own sentencing at the urging of vindictive prosecutors now claims he is powerless to act unless the Bureau of Prisons asks him to.

As Stewart wrote in a message to her supporters:

There are new and compelling facts now before the BOP--the prognosis now of 18 months and the fact that the PET scan revealed that the most serious cancer (of the lungs) is getting worse. The judge yesterday asked the Government to concede (as their papers did, by not contesting any facts) that I qualified in every respect for the release. They, of course, remained silent.

For that reason, I am asking once again that all of you send a "shout out" to the BOP, Attorney General Holder and President Obama, and express any outrage you might feel that the days and months are ticking by, and I remain in Texas. The D.C. prison bureaucracy clearly would just as soon see me die here.

Opponents of injustice need to raise their voices now to win freedom for Lynne Stewart before it is too late.