Experts Criticize Translator's Conviction in Lynn Stewart Case

For years, conspiracy was considered the "darling of the prosecutor's nursery." Then it was RICO, the organized crime statute. Today, it's "providing material support to terrorists."

The Washington Post today revisits the improbable conviction of translator Mohammed Yousry, who was appointed by the Court to translate for attorney Lynn Stewart and her client, Omar Abdel Rahman.

Yousry now awaits sentencing in March, when he could face 20 years in prison for translating a letter from imprisoned Muslim cleric Omar Abdel Rahman to Rahman's lawyer in Egypt.

Yousry is not Muslim and had been critical of Rahman in the past. He is a U.S. citizen, married to an Evangelical Christian. Legal experts say the trial transcript show little or no evidence that he committed a crime.

Yousry had no legal training and translated nothing without instruction from defense lawyers. He passed rigorous federal security clearance checks. A PhD candidate at New York University, Yousry harbored no affinity for Rahman, writing that the cleric promoted "Muslim totalitarianism."

Justice Department prosecutors said secret recordings of meetings in Rahman's prison showed that Yousry crossed the line between legal and illegal behavior. Yousry read letters to Rahman from radical supporters, even though he understood that they were violent men.

"He stuck his head in the sand and deliberately avoided knowing what would have been obvious," prosecutor Robin Baker told the jury. "We don't need to prove why."

One of the jurors says she was pressured into convicting Yousry.

A month after the trial, a female juror wrote to U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl, complaining that fellow jurors talked of terrorist attacks and their desire to teach the defendants a lesson. "They had an agenda," Juror 39 told The Washington Post in her first interview. "People are so fearful that if you disagree with the government on one thing it makes you a terrorist.

"I have to plead guilty to being a coward," Juror 39, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said of her vote to convict. "It doesn't feel good, but I punked out."

The Judge, in denying Yousry's motion for a new trial, said it didn't matter.

Judge Koeltl recently rejected Yousry's legal appeal based on the account of Juror 39. The judge noted that juries are given great leeway. David Stern, Yousry's lawyer, cannot quite accept that. "I'm in the habit of defending bad people, and they've mostly done what they're accused of," he said. "This guy is flat-out innocent, and it's disgraceful he's going to prison."

The New York Times carried this article on Mr. Yousry in August, 2005. (link still good.)

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    Re: Experts Criticize Translator's Conviction in L (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dadler on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 11:33:41 AM EST
    And we sink further into the mud of fear and blind retribution. How this juror's comments don't constitute grounds for a new trial, I don't know. What a bunch of worthless, frightened, irrationals these jurors were. Shameful.

    Re: Experts Criticize Translator's Conviction in L (none / 0) (#2)
    by Punchy on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 12:06:17 PM EST
    I think it's safe to say the market for Middle Eastern translators has dried up significantly. If one can be convicted of...well...basically...doing his job, I'm guessing that job market is going to be non-existent. Here's my prediction: The Bush Admin will start prosecuting the LAWYERS who choose to represent these men. Under what statute, you ask? Does it matter?, I'd retort. Intimidation at its rawest. That will keep these "prisoners" without counsel and thus out of the eye of the Supreme Court. Seriously, if they can charge and convict a translator, then lawyers are next.

    Re: Experts Criticize Translator's Conviction in L (none / 0) (#3)
    by ltgesq on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 12:27:03 PM EST
    the assault of translators is just the latest in the offronts the justice department has engaged in against the free exercise of a right to trial. it started in the begining of the so called "war on drugs" where criminal defense lawyers were targeted and later charged with money laundering.