Patriot law hinderslegal representation

To the editor

   On Tuesday, April 9, United States Attorney General John Ashcroft launched his test case under the newly acquired U.S. Patriots Act Bill, introduced into law in October following the World Trade Center attacks.
   Indicted under this law is a leading civil rights attorney, Lynne Stewart, who is charged with violating Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) that restrict her client, the blind cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman from either sending or receiving written or recorded messages of any kind from his Minnesota prison cell where he currently serves a life sentence.
   In 1995, Sheik Rahman was arrested and convicted for having masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as well as plotting to attack the United Nations as well as both the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels.
   The Manhattan attorney is also charged with allowing her Arabic translator to read and respond to letters sent by Rahman’s supporters, and to deliver coded messages the likes of which Mr. Ashcroft claims advocated the resumption of military operations back in Egypt, prompting the SAMs rule in the first place.
   If convicted Ms. Stewart, her Arabic translator, and two of the Sheik’s supporters involved in this case could face prison terms of five to 20 years. At this time, Ms. Stewart is out on a $500,000 bond.
   It is uncertain if this is the first occurrence of an indictment, but it is the first of its kind to be publicly charged under the Patriots Act Bill.
   I use this worse case scenario come to life as a glaring example of the Bush 43 paradigm "you are either with us or you are with the terrorists" as the chickens coming home to roost.
   And whether or not you believe Sheik Rahman is innocent or guilty, or you feel that perhaps he should or should not spend the rest of his life in prison is another discussion. The most salient question here however is whether or not the attorney/client privilege (a right of which is guaranteed us by the fourth and sixth amendment) will continue to be upheld. Because these rights are being eroded by the (Ashcroft) Patriots Act Bill it should serve as a warning not only to activists and civil rights lawyers, but also to American society at large.
   Perhaps most of us will never have need of a criminal attorney, but imagine for a moment that a friend, a relative, or you do. How secure would you feel confiding in your attorney knowing that the government is a third party to your conversations, as in Ms. Stewart’s situation? Imagine the long-range affects that that would have on the outcome of your trial.
   And what does this mean for the future? Is it possible that somewhere down the line attorneys will become more selective in the cases they choose out of fear of being labeled a supporter of terrorism?
   I realize as law-abiding citizens that perhaps we cannot imagine ourselves in such a situation; perhaps Ms. Stewart’s problem doesn’t quite seem real because it hasn’t hit home. But know this America, somehow we will all be touched as the Patriots Act Bill continues to eat away at our rights. Perhaps what has happened to Ms. Stewart is just the tip of the iceberg.
   Of course, I realize that in perfect world bad things happen only to those who deserve it. But since we do not live in a perfect world, it goes without saying that there must be rules and laws in place to maintain a safe and civil society.
   It is also said, "Any society that forgets its past, is condemned to repeat it," so I hope that as Americans we are not willing to cancel our contract with the government by giving up what is afforded to each and everyone of us; our civil rights.
   And let’s not forget that any society that gives up its liberty for a little security, in the end will have neither; remember McCarthyism and The House on Un-American Activities.

Jerome Carr
Belle Mead