February 17, 2005,
Billionaire financier George Soros, whose opposition to President Bush's conduct of the war on terror caused him to pour millions of dollars into the effort to defeat the president, made a substantial donation to the defense fund for radical lawyer Lynne Stewart, who last week was found guilty of giving aid to Islamic terrorists.
According to records filed with the Internal Revenue Service, Soros's foundation, the Open Society Institute, or OSI, gave $20,000 in September 2002 to the Lynne Stewart Defense Committee.
In filings with the IRS, foundation officials wrote that the purpose of the contribution was "to conduct a public education campaign around the broad civil rights implications of Lynne Stewart's indictment."
Answering questions by e-mail, Amy Weil, a spokeswoman for the Open Society Institute, said the foundation contributed to Stewart's fund because "it appeared to us at that time that there was a right-to-counsel issue worthy of our support."
Stewart's legal troubles stemmed from her defense of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, sometimes known as the Blind Sheikh. Rahman led an Egyptian-based terrorist organization known as the Islamic Group.
In 1996, Rahman was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the first attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993, and for his part in failed plots to blow up the United Nations building and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels in New York.
After his conviction, Rahman's followers threatened a series of terrorist attacks against American targets unless he were released. In 1998, the U.S. government reportedly had intelligence that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were plotting to hijack aircraft in the United States in order to demand freedom for Rahman and other convicted terrorists.
Because of those threats, the government issued a special order that the imprisoned Rahman not be allowed to communicate with his followers, to prevent his inciting them to further violence. He was allowed to communicate only with his wife and with his lawyers, who were not allowed to relay his wishes to his followers.
Stewart promised to abide by those rules. But at her trial, the government produced evidence showing that Stewart and two codefendants on a number of occasions used their privileged access to Rahman to help transmit Rahman's orders to his followers in the Islamic Group.
On February 10, Stewart was convicted on two counts of providing material aid to terrorists and three counts of lying to federal investigators. She is planning to appeal.
Before the verdict, officials of the Open Society Institute characterized Stewart's work as that of a "human rights defender." In an October 2004 speech in Norway, Gara LaMarche, head of OSI programs in the United States, said, "The right to counsel, and its erosion in the United States since September 11, strikes with particular force at the role of human rights defenders. One troubling trend has been the arrest and prosecution of lawyers and other defenders as 'material witnesses' to terrorism. These include Lynne Stewart, attorney for Sheik Abdel Rahman..."
At one point, Stewart's Defense Committee website, lynnestewart.org, bore the notation, "This website is made possible by the generous support of the Open Society Institute."
Amy Weil told National Review that while the Institute initially underwrote Stewart's defense, the foundation's commitment was not open-ended. "More recently, OSI was asked for additional funding and we turned down that request," she said.