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August 7, 2005
'Just Following Orders' Is Never A Defense

The New York Times runs a sympathetic article on the plight of Mohamed Yousry in its Regional section this morning. Yousry worked as a translator for Lynne Stewart, the attorney representing "The Blind Sheikh" behind the first World Trade Center attack -- and he got convicted of providing material assistance to terrorists along with Stewart and Ahmed Abdel Sattar. The Times tells us that Yousry remains defiant and bemused by his conviction, claiming that he only followed orders from Lynne Stewart:

Mr. Yousry's lawyers, David Ruhnke and David Stern, showed in court that he took no actions on his own to help the sheik politically and did his translation work based on instructions he received from Ms. Stewart and other lawyers for Mr. Abdel Rahman, a blind Muslim cleric who is serving a life sentence in federal prison for conspiring to bomb landmarks in New York City.

Mr. Yousry's case seemed particularly solid, because unlike Ms. Stewart, he never signed documents pledging to abide by prison regulations. Mr. Yousry's lawyers specified that it was up to Ms. Stewart, as the lawyer, to see that her staff complied with the rules.

The prosecutors presented evidence that Mr. Yousry knew that Ms. Stewart was at least bending the prison rules when she took messages from the sheik, which had been translated by Mr. Yousry, out of jail. They argued that he knew full well of the dangers of any communication between the virulently anti-American sheik and his Egyptian followers.

Andrew Dember, an assistant United States attorney, assailed the defense arguments as "nonsense!" in his closing summation. "He knew the restrictions, what they consisted of, and he was aware of the fact that he was doing wrong because of those restrictions. He knew full well that he was bound by the restrictions himself."

He added later, "Clearly, obviously, Ms. Stewart and Mr. Yousry know what they're doing is improper, illegal, criminal."

The Times goes into great detail to show that Yousry did not run in radical Islamist circles. Julia Preston points out that he had Jewish and Christian friends, and that he even attended a bar mitzvah after helping to organize it. She quotes Yousry as claiming himself as "part of the collateral damage" of 9/11, and refusing to blame Stewart for his problems.

However, the Nuremberg defense didn't work for the defendants at Nuremberg, and it doesn't apply here, either. Yousry should know what rules and laws apply to his work as a translator for criminal defendants, especially after 9/11 and especially while working for a radical-activist attorney like Stewart. His claim that he just "followed a process that was designed by the lawyers" does not magically wipe away criminal activity at any level. When Yousry translated messages and handed them off to Sattar, who busily retransmitted them to known terrorists in Egypt, that made him part of a conspiracy to aid and abet terrorism.

It really makes no difference with whom Yousry kept company for his social calendar. If he took part in a conspiracy to pass messages along from Omar Abdel Rahman to the terrorist mastermind's minions in Egypt and elsewhere, then he deserved the conviction that the jury delivered. The Times should reserve its sympathy for the victims of the terrorism that Yousry, Stewart, and Sattar enabled through their toadying to Rahman instead of a man who claims martyrdom through the violent and brutal deaths of the 9/11 dead.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 7, 2005 10:12 AM

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