Saturday, October 23, 2004

Time to stop treating terrorist lawyers as legitimate attorneys - and to start treating them as collaborators

Many of the lawyers representing US-held terrorist detainees in Guantanamo should never receive the security clearances they require to defend their clients, because they have been involved in terrorist support work themselves.

“If Osama bin Laden arrived in the United States today and asked me to represent him, sure I'd represent him.” That’s what a New York lawyer named Stanley Cohen told the Village Voice within days of the al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001.

That lawyer is in the limelight again as the failed defense attorney for a prominent Muslim “activist” who copped a plea in late July on terrorism charges relating to a plot to assassinate the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. The activist, Abdurahman Alamoudi of Falls Church, Virginia, admitted that he had been recruited by Libyan intelligence. In October he was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Another New York lawyer made headlines with accusations that the United States was torturing suspected al Qaeda terrorists held at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Michael Ratner has been agitating on behalf of the al Qaeda suspects since the detention facility was first built.

They call themselves “civil rights” lawyers, and few in the media have quibbled with the characterization. A look at their careers and public statements, however, shows that they are only using the rhetoric of civil rights and constitutional protections to advance their own political cause in the spirit of their mentor, the late William Kunstler, who said of his legal vocation, “I am trying to destroy the system by whatever means necessary.”

As political tensions escalated in the United States in the mid- and late-1960s, Kunstler and other like-minded lawyers founded a group called the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The CCR and its attorneys specialized in providing legal advice, defense, pre-emptive litigation and political support to violent extremist groups while suing successfully to overturn national security laws and force the FBI to close down surveillance operations against revolutionary movements.

Cohen and Ratner are part of that CCR network of lawyers who call Kunstler their mentor. Like Kunstler, they have devoted their careers to defend the enemies of the United States through the legal system and, like hijackers who fly jetliners into buildings, skillfully manipulate the legal process as a weapon against itself.

Until just a few years ago, the CCR, which Ratner now heads, championed almost exclusively left-wing and nihilistic causes, from ‘sixties radicals to ‘eighties Marxist-Leninists in attacking “the system.” More recently they found a new cause: Islamist extremists.

The public line is that the lawyers are simply protecting society as a whole by keeping aggressive checks and balances on increasingly powerful government agencies. But Cohen’s law partner, Lynne Stewart, has been more up-front, saying that the new clients not only the enemy of their enemy, and therefore are comrades, but are “forces of national liberation.”

Cohen’s post-9/11 willingness to defend Osama bin Laden caricatured what his partner was allegedly doing behind the scenes for 1993 New York bombing figure Omar Abdel Rahman. Known as the Blind Sheik, Stewart’s client is the “spiritual leader” of Gama'a al-Islamiya, the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and murdered over 60 tourists and policemen in Luxor, Egypt in 1997. Afterward, the terrorist group called a “truce.”

Held in his maximum-security prison cell since his 1995 conviction for terrorist conspiracy in New York, the sheik was forbidden to communicate with the outside world. So Stewart allegedly did it for him, telling Reuters in 2000 that Rahman was lifting his support for the “truce” – an action which, combined with an alleged effort to foil federal eavesdropping on her client – prompted federal charges against her of materially aiding terrorism by serving as an illegal courier for the terrorist chieftain.

The CCR filed an amicus brief that persuaded a judge to dismiss the federal terrorist “material support” charges against Stewart. Her courtroom victory several weeks ago energized her supporters and confirmed their conviction that they could beat the Bush Administration’s domestic counterterrorism policies.

The Lynne Stewart case is as a warning that the CCR network of lawyers defending terrorist cases is not simply a group of civil rights attorneys devoted to upholding the Constitution. Stewart says as much herself in an interview posted on her defense committee website, “I don't have any problem with Mao or Stalin or the Vietnamese leaders or certainly Fidel locking up people they see as dangerous.” Ratner has also stated his support for the regime on the other side of the Guantanamo fence.

Stewart says she supports the causes of extreme Islamists because they are forces of liberation. On her website, an interviewer says to her, “It’s a little frightening that left-wing political prisoners are conflated in the government’s eyes with right-wing Moslem fundamentalists.”

“I don't think it's quite fair to say right-wing, because they are basically forces of national liberation,” Stewart replies. “To denigrate them as right-wing, I don't think is proper.”

According to those and other reports, the CCR and its participating attorneys have taken legal actions on behalf of:

  • Leonard Peltier, convicted of murdering FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams;
  • Victor Manuel Gerena, a Puerto Rican terrorist living Cuba and still on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list;
  • Red Army Faction terrorist collaborator Kurt Groenwold, who also provided a safe house for Philip Agee, a CIA officer who defected to Cuba, after Agee’s deportation from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France;
  • Red Army Faction members on trial for bombing U.S. Army and German police facilities, murder, and providing logistical backup for the PLO Black September faction that murdered members of the Israeli Olympic team in the 1972 Munich Olympics;
  • Red Army Faction member Kristina Berster, caught entering the U.S. illegally after nine months of terrorist training in Yemen;
  • Black Panther “Minister of Justice” H. Rap Brown (later to be known as Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin), in a case used to attack the FBI’s COINTELPRO investigation;
  • Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, convicted of murdering Georgia Sheriff’s Deputy Ricky Kinchen and attempting to murder another law-enforcement officer;
  • Cop-killers Basheer Hameed and Abdul Majid;
  • Japanese Red Army member Yu Kikamura, convicted of plotting to bomb targets in New York on behalf of Libya;
  • Convicted Puerto Rican FALN terrorist bomber William Morales (whose lawyer, Susan Tipograph, helped him escape from prison. Tipograph represented Lynne Stewart, the Blind Sheik’s lead defense lawyer, after the feds charged Stewart with illegally acting as a courier between the sheik and his terrorist allies abroad);
  • Two members of the “Ohio Seven” convicted of involvement with 10 bombings, including the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Capitol;
  • Members of the terrorist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP);
  • The late KGB agent Wilfred Burchett;
  • Convicted spy David Truong;
  • Convicted KGB spy Clayton Lonetree;
  • Al Qaeda enemy combatant and alleged “dirty bomb” conspirator Jose Padilla (in Padilla v. Rumsfeld).

And so on. When they’re not defending al Qaeda members, CCR lawyers are suing private contractors in Iraq. The CCR is behind 9 of 16 major lawsuits against the United States government to challenge post-9/11 counterterrorism policies. It is trying to strike down new laws that make it a crime to provide material support to terrorists.

As the nation re-thinks how to fight terrorism, it must take a fresh look at lawyers who abuse their protected status to further the terrorists’ cause. It is time to stop treating them as legitimate attorneys, and start treating them as terrorist collaborators.


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