Monday, January 13, 2014

  (please forward widely)
The Campaign to Free Lynne Stewart.
For doing her job of representing her client, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, Lynne Stewart, the “people’s lawyer” and UNAC coordinating committee member was charged with violating a government-issued SAM (Special Administrative Measure when she released a media statement on Rachman's behalf.  Such "violations" are usually punished with a legal "slap on the wrist," wherein the offending attorney is prohibited visiting rights for a period of time.  Indeed, then Attorney General Janet Reno declined to bring any charges against Stewart.  It was only two years later that Bush-appointed John Ashcroft decided to do so, charging her with conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism. Lynne initially was sentenced to 28 months in prison, but the government wanted to make an example of her to make sure that no other attorney dared to exercise due diligence in representing clients who had been falsely accused of engagement in so-called conspiracies.  Therefore, government prosecutors appealed the initial sentence and demanded that, Lynne's sentence be substantially increased.  The compliant trial judge, John Koeltl, complied and sentenced her to 10 years.

In prison, Lynne Stewart's breast cancer returned, and the wholly inadequate prison medical system was incapable of providing her with the necessary care.  As the cancer metastasized to other parts of her body, her husband, Ralph Poynter, started an exemplary campaign to gain compassionate release for Lynne.  UNAC and others joined in to help.  Demonstrations and press conferences were held in New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Albany, NY and other places.  Thousands sent letters, signed petitions and made calls demanding her release.  On the last day of 2013, after a hard-fought campaign, the government finally relented, and Lynne was granted compassionate release. 

During this time of precious few victories for our movement, this should be seen as one of the most inspiring.  The campaign for Lynne's release was non-sectarian. Everyone who wanted to support Lynne was welcome to do so.  Rallies included speakers from every group that joined the effort.  People were asked again and again to write, call, protest and spread the word about Lynne's plight. Those who supported her made sure that if they were not going to let her out, the governemnt would pay a political price for their attack on Lynne and their violation of democratic rights. Despite setbacks, the campaign continued  and succeeded in freeing Lynne, and, with the top-notch medical care afforded by the world-renown Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, perhaps extending her life for whatever additional time that science allows 

At the same time, the Edward Snowden revelations about our  government’s illegal spying were spreading throughout the world.  The world watched Chelsey Manning get  sentenced to 35 years for telling the truth.  Perhaps to assuage its image on democratic rights as it seeks to "spread democracy" throughout the world, and in light of the mass campaign for Lynne's compassionate release, the US government reneged. We brought Lynne home to her family, her community and to the movement for social change that she was prepared to give her life for.

Lynne’s victory is a victory for all of us.

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Seventeen People Tried for Portesting Drones in Upstate, NY
On January 25, 2012, 17 people were arrested for symbolically blocking the gates at Hancock National Air Guard Base which is a site where MQ 9 Reaper drones are piloted over Afghanistan, and the domestic center for training MQ9 Reaper pilots and technicians.   They stood in front of the gates with banners and and signs calling for an end to drone warfare, and read an Indictment for Crimes Against Peace and attacks on civilians that are illegal under international war. 

After more than two hours outside the gates, the protesters were arrested and arraigned on charges of Trespass and Disorderly Conduct, both violations.   The protesters were  also issued  Orders of Protection for Col Earl Evans which require them to stay away from the base.   Violating these OOPs, as they call them, carries potential misdemeanor or even felony charges. 

On January 2nd of this year (2014)  the Hancock 17 went to trial in DeWitt, NY.   Fifteen defendants are going before the court Pro Se, i.e. they are representing themselves before the court.   They have prepared a defense based on the fact that they were not at the base to break the law, but rather to uphold the law.   The way the drones are used in Afghanistan violates Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law.    There is little coverage of Afghan casualties in the mainstream news but according to a report by Press TV, there were 500 drone attacks in Afghanistan in the last year. 
After 12 hours in the courtroom on January 2nd and 6th, the prosecution case is nearly complete.   The defendants had an opportunity to cross examine Col Evans, a civil engineer responsible for material operations at the base, and the Security Chief at some length.  There were a number of questions about the handling of events occurring outside the Military Installation (denoted by the fence) of the Base and in the Easement which includes a public thoroughfare. 

It is expected that the defense case will begin on January 23 and continue on the 24th.     The defendants' case is supported by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Mary Ellen O'Connell of Notre Dame who is an expert on Drones and International Law, and by witness from an Afghan youth whose brother-in-law was killed in a drone strike in Maidan Shahr Wardak, Afghanistan. 

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