Slowly, but with growing conviction, I make my way toward the progressive movement in this city. On Thursday, May 9, I found myself at Theater 80, the landmark cultural institution on St Mark’s Place, this time to attend an evening devoted to the human rights activist and lawyer, Lynne Stewart, emceed by her husband of more than 60 years, Ralph Poytner.
The former United States attorney general, Ramsey Clark, was among the first speakers. He said, “Lynne Stewart has committed her life to justice for all…I’m asking everyone here to promote her place in history…If I were to compare her to Clarence Darrow, I’d take Lynne any day!”
The best way I know to put out the message is once again to turn to the words of Chris Hedges. His eloquence and economy serves this important subject so well. I’m including a few direct quotes from his column in Truthdig.com, posted on April 21, 2013, entitled The Persecution of Lynne Stewart:
“Lynne Stewart, in the vindictive and hysterical world of the war on terror, is one of its martyrs. A 73-year-old lawyer who spent her life defending the poor, the marginalized and the despised, including blind cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, she fell afoul of the state apparatus because she dared to demand justice rather than acquiesce to state sponsored witch hunts. And now, with stage-4 cancer that has metastasized, spreading to her lymph nodes, shoulder, bones and lungs, creating a grave threat to her life, she sits in a prison cell at the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, where she is serving a 10-year sentence. Stewart’s family is pleading with the state for “compassionate release” and numerous international human rights campaigners, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have signed a petition calling for her to be freed on medical grounds”
The good news is that since Hedges’ piece appeared, the warden of the Texas prison and other officials have granted Lynne Stewart a compassionate release. Yet as of this writing, the release order still sits on the current Attorney General Eric Holder’s desk, waiting to be signed. Lynne’s husband, Ralph, wears a cell phone on a chain around his neck. Every time it rings, he thinks it may be the call from Lynne telling him to come pick her up. His only desire, he says, is to walk his wife out of the prison, rather than bring her out in a box.
By now, you may be calling to mind Stewart’s case. In 2000, during a visit with her client, the sheik, he asked her to release a statement to the press. The Clinton administration did not prosecute her for the press release, but the Bush administration, in 2002, decided to go after her. Chris Hedges writes, “Stewart’s 2005 trial was a Punch-and-Judy show. The state demanded an outrageous 30-year prison sentence…To those of us who covered groups such as al-Qaida and the armed Islamic groups in Egypt—I was based in Cairo at the time as the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times—the government’s [case] was utterly devoid of fact or credibility…Stewart was sentenced to 28 months. The Obama administration appealed the ruling. The appeals court ruled that the sentence was too light. [The judge], Koetl, gave her 10 years. She has served three.”
On the afternoon of May 15, I joined a demonstration in Foley Square calling for her release. Once again, the mainstream press has seen fit to all but ignore this and other related events. I ask everyone to email Congressman Nadler to ask him to contact Eric Holder on Lynne’s behalf, not just for her or her family’s sake, but for the sake of your own humanity.