A New York attorney who has earned haters and groupies alike by defending suspected terrorists — including Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law — spent the days before his own prison stint in a part of the world he adores, relishing a passion he promotes, rabble-rousing.
Stanley Cohen, 63, who expects to be sentenced in the coming days to 18 months behind bars for tax evasion, jetted last week to Kuwait.
There, he unleashed a torrent of defiant tweets, many punctuated with his favorite slogan, “Up The Rebels!” He thanked supporters: “We are legion.” He declared “Palestine for Palestinians” — Israel has banned Cohen, himself, from entering the Palestinian territories. And he dissed President Barack Obama: “Bridge for sale for those waiting for I Have a Drone to build his legacy on anything other than death and destruction.”
To nobody’s surprise, Cohen is not going away quietly.
A Hamas-defending, Israel-slamming Jew, Cohen simultaneously confounds and agitates. He’s known for f-bomb-laced rants against what he calls a “Zionist hijacking” of his religion. He demeans the tax charge to which he pleaded guilty in April as a government attempt “to silence me.” And he doesn’t necessarily disagree with foes who label him “a traitor.”
“Am I someone who would intentionally, willfully sell government secrets or engage in activity with the intent to hurt America or American citizens? Absolutely not,” Cohen said in an interview with NBC News. “But I am someone who will, just willy-nilly, accept the party line whether it comes out of the White House, the Congress, or nice, safe majoritarian values? No. And if that makes me a traitor, then well f*** it, I’m a traitor.”
U.S. officials will, indeed, remove Cohen from his practice of defending some of those whom the feds deem enemies of the state. The tax case against him will likely cost him his law license.
According to federal prosecutors, Cohen failed to report more than $3 million in income.
Cohen has called that investigation a “witch hunt,” driven by American powers who dislike his anti-Israeli views and clients — including Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization defined by many in the world as a terrorist group. He asserts he never hid income and only took a plea to avoid mounting an expensive, lengthy defense.
With a puff of graying hair, an unruly beard, a phone he answers personally and — occasionally — a dog sitting in his lap during media interviews, Cohen doesn’t fit the slick image of a high-living tax cheat. But to his critics, that description is entirely apt.
“Stanley Cohen is no victim here. He broke the most basic tax laws, the ones everyone else has to abide by,” said William Jacobson, a professor at Cornell Law School. He has authored several blog posts about Cohen.
“The political angle was raised not by the prosecutors but by Cohen and his supporters in an attempt to excuse clearly illegal conduct,” Jacobson said.
“I like (bin Laden son-in-law) Sulaiman Abu Ghaith very much as a person. I like his family."
Cohen said that while serving his time he will do the job he’s performed for decades: “Assisting the unjustly accused and those prosecuted because of color, class, or politics.”
Many of his outside clients carry infamous affiliations.
This year, he defended Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, who was convicted and recently sentenced to life in prison for acting as al-Qaida's spokesman after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“I like Sulaiman Abu Ghaith very much as a person,” Cohen said. “I like his family. Not withstanding the news media describing him as still being revenge directed, I think he is a very introspective, creative, smart, charismatic and dynamic guy who really did end up like a deer in the headlights.
“At the end of the day, (former U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder got his fall guy. And Barack Obama got the political mileage he wanted. But they miss the forest for the trees,” Cohen added. “Because if you want to send a message, the message (the Obama administration) may have sent is: ‘If I’m going to get life in a U.S. prison for speech, why the f*** shouldn’t I just pick up a gun and just kill the enemy? It’s the same sentence.’”
Such tirades infuriate Cohen’s detractors — the lawyer proudly posted a recent email on his legal website: “Your (sic) the scum of the earth and I hope you rot in jail!! Scumbag piece of garbage!!"
Another critic is Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern School of Law who has blogged about the legal aspects of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
“Hamas represents the kind of commitment and integrity that is so important to me."
“No one doubts the right of even the worst criminals to be represented in court, and I would not fault Cohen for this,” Kontorovich said. “Cohen goes further and openly endorses and supports terror groups like Hamas. Like a mob lawyer, he is not merely providing legal defense, but more generally, acting as part of the organization.
“As to his skills as a lawyer, they are obviously abysmal,” Kontorovich added. “Cohen does not only defend Hamas, but provides them with advice on international law. Given the organization’s M.O. consists of flagrant war crimes and mass executions, he has apparently given poor counsel.”
Think that’s going to shut Cohen up?
“Hamas represents the kind of commitment and integrity that is so important to me — the leadership in particular, is comprised largely of physicians, engineers, academics, and political scientists,” Cohen said. “So they’re a people that not only do I share a common bond with in terms of their struggle, but they’re folks who I just love hanging out with.”
Reached in Kuwait late last week, Cohen said he didn’t know if the judge will accept his plea agreement, or even if he will head straight to prison.
But, by now, Cohen is used to living a life laced with legal landmines.
“Let me put it to you this way,” he said, “I ain’t been bored for 31 years.”