TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

How CNN goes to bat for the Shoe Bomber: Another 9/11 Commemoration

One day before the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the CNN “Law Center” has chosen to post an interview that tends to exonerate Richard Reid, the “Shoe Bomber,” and provides multiple excuses for his efforts to blow up a passenger plane in midair.

The publication at this date seems timed precisely to intrude on the anniversary of the attacks in New York and Washington. The text consists of an interview by CNN’s Becky Anderson with a British human rights lawyer, Peter Herbert, who had spoken with Reid. Yet Herbert’s conversation with Reid took place four years ago, so there was nothing new or timely in Herbert’s comments. Nor did Herbert play any role in Reid’s defense: just another lawyer trying to get in on the act. Presumably CNN made the intentional editorial decision to publish Herbert’s exoneration of Reid on the eve of 9/11. As the saying goes, one can’t argue about taste.

Exoneration? Herbert does in fact report that Reid had clear political intentions:

He didn’t regard himself as evil, he regarded what he was about to do as being a necessity and in a great cause which was to bring the world and especially America’s attention to the injustices being suffered by Muslims in different parts of the world. He mentioned specifically Bosnia, he mentioned Iraq and Afghanistan

Why Bosnia? Had not the West fought on the side of Muslims there? But what do facts matter in this context.

Reid’s declaration at his trial, in fact, was explicit on his political goals, and it was reprinted in Telos (issue 129).

Yet the CNN journalist and the human rights lawyer cooperate quickly to turn this into a very different matter: not Reid as political actor, attempting (and luckily failing) to carry out a terrorist attack, but poor Richard Reid as victim of society:

Q. So what you’re saying, his radicalization was not necessarily from the preaching that he had heard in these mosques, it was more than that?

A. No it was clearly more than that, I mean, I think you have to reflect on the desolation of a number of young people, young men in particularly, young black men in custody both in America and here who generally find themselves on the receiving end of unfair treatment and racist treatment in the UK jails and therefore look to find something to explain and give them that self-confidence. (emphasis added)

So it was not Reid’s political extremism, inspired by religious fanaticism, but a bad social milieu—British racism and British jails—that led to the attempt to blow up the airplane. If anyone is to blame, then, it is not Reid but British society. The logic of liberal guilt here is breathtaking. Herbert, described as a “human rights lawyer,” evidently has no sense of human responsibility: Reid attempted to commit a terrible crime, he was prevented, tried and convicted, but CNN promotes the notion that society made him do it. No guilt. No blame.

The point is that there are many others, like Richard Reid, who may have experienced racism and who may have been in jail and who may have led difficult lives, but do not try to kill a few hundred people. The point is not that they are potential recruits, but—on the contrary—that they have the ethical sensibility to avoid opting for murderous plans like Reid’s. Yet “right and wrong” may be beyond the range of concerns of legal experts.

The interview includes as well a moment of blatant self-promotion. CNN generously provides Herbert with a platform to complain that no one paid attention to him, that the “authorities” were not interested in “debriefing him.”

I was rather surprised that nobody in [sic] would seem to know what is going on in the first place. That seemed rather odd in the aftermath of 9/11. Secondly when I returned I did mention it in the meeting with the UK Attorney-General. They were sort of interested in one level, and certainly the Metropolitan Police were aware that I’ve gone afterwards, but there was no real willingness to engage — to have a debrief. I think it would have helped.

A lawyer and no one pays attention? Shocking. In fact, had the “authorities” telephoned the good barrister and asked for a conversation, one can only imagine how he might well have protested government surveillance and the chilling effect of nosey officers. Police state!

Toward the end, the interview turns sentimental, with the question of remorse. (To cut to the chase, the answer, ultimately, is none—but Herbert tries to cushion the blow.)

Q. Peter, did he show any remorse, or any sense of regret?

A. I think it was a regret that he hadn’t been successful. There was a regret that he found himself in the situation he was and that he had been memorable not for success but for his failures, as he saw it. But I think he regrets that he had brought such suffering to his mother, and that as a consequence he clearly had in mind that innocent people would have died, and I felt there was, and it’s only my surmise, an element of regret that that might be an unintended consequence of what he was about to do, but again that is only my perception of him. But remorse, no. I can’t say, that he would have and didn’t express any clear remorse to me, in the terms that you would understand it, as a Westernized concept.

So, even his apologist concedes: Reid primarily regrets that he did not succeed. Since however he is also a good boy, he is sorry for the pain he has caused his mother. It seems as if Herbert is suggesting (he surmises) that Reid might regret that killing innocent people would have been an “unintended consequence” of his effort to blow up a plane—but that logic is too rarefied for most. One must be a human rights lawyer, I suppose, to understand how the killing of people would be an “unintended consequence” of bringing down a passenger plane.

Then another lawyerly move: the problem is not Reid, but the question, since regret is allegedly a “Westernized concept.” Is the problem now with Herbert or CNN’s editing? “Westernized” would suggest a material of non-western origin that the West adopted and changed or distorted—which makes no sense in this context. Herbert probably means “Western,” and the CNN staff failed to edit appropriately. In that case, then, the real culprit here is “Western” thinking, not Reid’s terroristic efforts. Ergo: we only have ourselves to blame.

Herbert continues to shield Reid from any personal responsibility—but should not “human rights” imply “human responsibilities”?—by blaming society and the West. Nonetheless, he concludes by wrapping himself up tightly in another set of contradictions.

For the most part, the British government said [terrorism] has nothing to do with our foreign policy; it’s all about overturning the western way of life and democracy. A concept which I just find ridiculous and clearly Richard Reid, when he was talking, said in clear and quite animated terms, that you cannot have injustice compounded by the detention of people in Guantanamo Bay without charge, and expect people all over the world to sit by and applaud the United States for making the world a safer place.

A moment ago, “westernized” thinking was the problem that blocks our understanding, but here Reid claims that the hypothesis that terrorists oppose the “western way of life” is “ridiculous.” And the social-milieu theory disappears as well, as Reid the political activist rises like a phoenix from the ashes of Herbert’s logic. The “human rights lawyer” blatantly utilizes the plight of the incarcerated Reid in order to grind his own political axe about detentions at Guantanamo. Question to the lawyer: exactly how would justice have been served if the Shoe Bomber had been successful?

And a special thanks to CNN for these apologetics for terrorism on the eve of 9/11.

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