In April 2002, John Ashcroft stood in front of the bombed-out World Trade Center site to announce the indictment of longtime criminal defense lawyer Lynne Stewart for making a statement to the press in 2000 about Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman’s thoughts on the Egyptian ceasefire while serving as his counsel. Stewart had earlier been reprimanded—but not prosecuted—by the Clinton Administration for violating the conditions of Abdel-Rahman’s Special Administrative Measures (SAMs). The Bush Administration’s case included transcripts from more than 85,000 secretly recorded lawyer-client meetings between Stewart and Abdel-Rahman. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Stewart was released after four years, in December 2013, following her diagnosis with terminal cancer.
Equally chilling but much less focused upon was the successful prosecution of Abdel-Rahman’s court-appointed translator Mohamed Yousry. Pursuing his doctorate at NYU in Middle Eastern Studies, Yousry was appointed by the court to serve as translator for Abdel-Rahman’s attorneys. As his job required, he translated Abdel-Rahman’s statements that Lynne Stewart subsequently shared with the press. As a translator, Yousry had not been required to sign the SAMs paperwork that Lynne Stewart had to sign, and he was required by law to translate everything said. But his NYU dissertation was focused on Muslim fundamentalism in Egypt. Upon the urging of his graduate school advisor who saw that Yousry had rare access to Sheikh Abdel-Rahman and with permission of the lawyers, Yousry interviewed the blind cleric for his Ph.D dissertation. Notebooks of his discussions with the Sheikh, drafts of his dissertation and other books on Muslim fundamentalism became part of the government’s case against him. One of the jurors explained the guilty verdict against Mohamed: “People are so fearful that if you disagree with the government on one thing it makes you a terrorist.” He was sentenced to one year and eight months. In April 2011, he was released from prison.