Mumia Abu-Jamal Interviews
In a groundbreaking dialogue Mumia Abu-Jamal, award winning radio commentator and prisoner on Pennsylvanias death row, conducted this exclusive interview with attorney Lynne Stewart. Stewart is currently under indictment by the U.S. Justice Department for materially aiding a terrorist organization during her representation of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Stewart, if convicted, faces 18 years in prison.
Stewart says that the indictment, heralded by US. Attorney General John Ashcroft on David Lettermans TV show, seeks to destroy a prisoners constitutional right to counsel and seeks to suppress first amendment rights.
Mumia Abu-Jamal brings his own unique experience to the conversation. Prison officials have repeatedly tried to silence his reports from prison. In 1996, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against prison officials saying that they illegally interfered with Abu-Jamals right to counsel and his right to speak to the press.
Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio produced this interview by phone on October 19, 2002 , the first interview that Abu-Jamal has anchored in 22 years. Below is an un-edited transcript.
Lynne Stewart: Good afternoon, Mumia. What a pleasure this is.
Mumia Abu-Jamal: It is a pleasure for us both I hope.
LS: I think so.
MAJ: You have been, seems to me, singled out by the highest levels of the Justice department for something that was not a crimeneither now or even up until the signing of the infamous Patriot Act. Would you tell me what that was?
LS: The Justice Department decided that things that I did as a lawyer are now to be outlawed are now to be made into crimes in order to deter other lawyers from vigorously defending people. What I basically did was I issued a press release on behalf of my client. They said that this press release was materially aiding a terrorist organization. And, as they have accused so many others recently of that same crime, it seems to have no bounds whatsoever, and can be used just about for anything.
MAJ: So was this essentially illegal communication with your client?
LS: Well, they had put on us a certain prison regulation, this is something that Leonard Peltier also suffers under in the federal system. It is called a Special Administrative Measure, which lawyers and people that we represent must sign on to say that you will not communicate with the press on behalf of your client, thus making it impossible for any First Amendment right to be protected. In other words Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman was entombed in Minnesota; he was not allowed to communicate with anyone but his lawyers and his wife in Egypt, once a month. We, in contravention of these regulations, did make press releases on his behalf. But it is only now that that has become an indictable offense.
MAJ: Isnt this kind ofon its facea violation of the First Amendment?
LS: I could not agree with you more. But you know they hide everything behind that cloak of security within the prison and now of course security for the whole nation. They are going to be the protectors of Americans, they who have done so much to make it impossible to protect this nation.
MAJ: So is it not also a fact that the U.S. government through the Justice Department monitored your communications with your client?
LS: Yes, this press release was in May of 2000. For the next six months they went back and forth about whether they would let me into the prison again. They finally said, oh yes, you can go into the prison, and we entered the prison again. Only meanwhile they had set their cameras and tape recordings.
So, every conversation that I had with Sheik Omar by telephone or in the prison were monitored. They heard every word that was said. In total degradation of the Sixth Amendment and, of course, the attorney client privilege which is part of that.
MAJ: It appears that privilege is not just vanishing in federal prisons, it is vanishing in state prisons as well. Is that not so?
LS: Well, I think so. You know the states are not very slow to follow any leads that Big Brother gives them. So I think that most lawyers nowadays are sort of looking over their shoulders and thinking to themselves, who may be listening-in and if that doesnt create a chilling affect, as you well know, between the communication between attorney and client. We all assumed, that they might be listening, but not that they might use these things as a basis for further prosecution.
MAJ: I would hope that you have heard from a number of your colleagues who are in stark protest against this latest governmental action?
LS: The New York Times wrote a piece in their magazine called Left Behind. I think more to encourage people to leave me behind; but of course they have been saying that the left has been dead in this country for many years. But to the contrary we are alive and well and I have gotten outstanding support, not only from the so called radical or leftist lawyers of the National Lawyers Guild and other organizations but from the other organizations; from the everyday mainstream lawyers who understand that if we cant do this work, even within this racist criminal justice system, the way we have always done it, there will be no right to defend anymore. That right will just vanish. So I have gotten marvelous support. I once said that you have to die to find out how many people love you, but I am getting it in this life.
MAJ: Well that is very good to know. I think that it should also, obviously I think, be said that this is not a kind of a lawyers right, this is a right of the accused?
MAJ: So it potentially affects thousands, if not tens of thousands of people, and perhaps millions.
LS: I said to a young documentary maker, you know its really not about whether or not this can happen to you, but what it is really about is, if it does happen to you, who are you going to call? Because there wont be a lawyer to call. The whole movement aspect of lawyering will disappear completely as they just knock us off one by one. And to me that the real essence of this work is that we be permitted to lawyer in the way that we lawyered throughout the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, and defend people such as yourself as political people in these cases. Not just as defendant number 10872. [You have one minute left to talk.]
MAJ: Lynn Stewart it is been my pleasure to talk to you and have others share our conversation, other than the government of course, and I support you, and I think what you are doing is quite wonderful.
LS: And I may say, Mumia, I support you wholeheartedly. I am sitting in front of a beautiful banner with African Cloth saying Free Mumia! and All Political Prisoners, and its been my work for thirty years and it will always be my work.
MAJ: We are going to have to create a new banner saying, Free Lynn Stewart.
LS: Yes, I am for that.
MAJ: Thank you very much.
LS: Thank you.
MAJ: All the best, Ona Move.
LS: You too, dear. Bye bye.