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Translator's Conviction Raises Legal Concerns

Radical lawyer Lynne Stewart was convicted of aiding terrorist activity.
Radical lawyer Lynne Stewart was convicted of aiding terrorist activity. (By John-marshall Mantel -- Associated Press)

Yousry was tried alongside Stewart, who supports armed revolution, and Ahmed Sattar, a Rahman aide and sympathizer with fundamentalist causes, in Manhattan, five blocks from Ground Zero. All three were convicted. Prosecutors played a videotape of Osama bin Laden and mentioned al Qaeda attacks, even though the case had nothing to do with that group.

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."

Out of Egypt

Yousry has round cheeks and curly hair, wears baggy sweaters and jeans and has the aspect of an absent-minded professor. He's far removed from a privileged upbringing in Egypt, where his father was a military general, a physician and a supporter of President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Yousry came to New York City in 1980. He met Sarah, and they married in a church. Their daughter graduated from a Baptist college.

In 1995, Yousry's translation agency offered him a job with the legal defense team for Rahman, a prominent Egyptian radical who was accused of conspiring to blow up the United Nations building and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels. Yousry struck up a cordial if fractious relationship with Rahman, who speaks little English. "He liked to torture me about drinking and not praying and all that good stuff," Yousry recalled.

In October 1995, Rahman was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Stewart and former attorney general Ramsey Clark, a courtly Texan with decidedly left-wing politics, set about trying to persuade the United States to transfer Rahman to an Egyptian prison. They asked Yousry to return to the case in 1997.

Yousry declined -- he wanted to write his dissertation and teach. His adviser, historian Zachary Lockman, suggested a marriage of academics and work. "Knowing that he would have access to the FBI tapes and to Rahman, I suggested a biography of Rahman and his movement," Lockman said. "I guess I'm responsible in a very sad way for the trouble he's in."

In April 1997, Attorney General Janet Reno imposed unprecedented restrictions known as "special administrative measures" on Rahman, denying him access to mail, newspapers and any visitor except his wife and attorneys. Prosecutors argued that Rahman's words were so dangerous that they constituted a weapon. Theirs was not an idle worry: Egyptian militants had slaughtered 58 tourists in Luxor in 1997 in hopes of forcing Rahman's release.

Clark and Stewart signed the administrative measures. Prosecutors did not demand the same of Yousry. The defense attorneys repeatedly tested the regulations. Clark in 1997 told reporters of Rahman's support for a cease-fire with the Egyptian government without earning a rebuke from prosecutors.

Prosecutors argue that the translator should have balked when the lawyers skirted the legal edge. This notion bemuses Clark. "Mohammed would assume that the lawyers knew what they were doing," he said in an interview.

Prison Meeting

By 2000, Stewart had taken the lead in Rahman's defense. A grandmotherly Maoist, she was an accomplished trial lawyer who eschewed Clark's diplomatic speech.

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