NEW YORK, June 19: A leading American lawyer accused the White House on Friday of intimidating reporters, attorneys and judges who question the Bush administration's "relentless pursuit of power."
The lawyer, Michael Tigar, made his comments during a pre-trial hearing involving his client Lynne Stewart, a civil rights lawyer charged in a terrorism case. The hearing centred on arguments by news organizations hoping to quash government subpoenas aimed at forcing reporters to testify at the trial.
Giving his support to news organizations, Tigar said that even in the best of times, the "independent voice" of the media and lawyers was always in danger.
"But these are not the best of times. Under the Bush/Ashcroft/Rumsfeld administration, the independent press and the independent bar have been in particular danger," Tigar said in an impassioned voice.
"This administration has tried to intimidate, manipulate, harass, and if necessary punish any independent voice that questions its relentless pursuit of power," he said.
Tigar is one of the nation's top defence lawyers and represented convicted Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols.
He said the administration also has not hesitated to attack "the sanctuary" of federal judges. His remarks were aimed at President George W. Bush, US Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
His client, New York lawyer Stewart, is accused of breaking the law by helping her imprisoned client Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, a radical Muslim cleric, communicate with what prosecutors say are his terrorist followers.
Abdel-Rahman is serving a life sentence after being convicted in 1995 of urging followers to bomb US landmarks.
Stewart's case has drawn attention from defence lawyers across the country who fear it is an attempt by the government to scare them away from representing unpopular clients.
Jury selection in the case is expected to conclude on Monday with opening statements set to begin on Tuesday.
Prosecutors have subpoenaed staff reporters working for Reuters, the New York Times, Newsday and a freelance journalist who have written about Stewart.-Reuters