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Q&A: Lawyer who met 'Shoe Bomber'

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- CNN's Becky Anderson interviews Peter Herbert, a British human rights lawyer who visited Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe-bomber" in a U.S. jail in 2002.

Herbert, who had no role in Reid's defense, was interviewed at his office in London. Here is the full transcript:

Anderson: So you traveled to see him? (Watch the interview -- 3:04)

Herbert: Yes, I was going to America in any case at the time to go skiing and get an award from the American Bar association -- of all things -- for human rights work in the UK and coincidently it happened to be around the same time and I asked the U.S. authorities if I could have access to him in the penitentiary. That was before his mother and his stepfather were going to see him which was some weeks later. So it was more or less to meet his U.S. lawyers; his Boston lawyers bring back news from his mum and see if there was anything I could do to help from a humanitarian point of view.

Q. This is a man, the so-called "Shoe Bomber" who is now serving a life sentence but this was before he was sentenced, of course, in a U.S. jail for his plot to kill 198 people on a transatlantic flight in 2001. Describe the man you met.

A. Well, he, as with most people ... nobody looks like a monster and nobody looks, or very rarely looks, deranged and he'd been accused of all those things. He was very ordinary, a man of mixed race, from south... clearly from south London by his accent who was rather tall, rather gangly, dressed in the orange, in the bright orange fatigues that are compulsory for somebody under that type of allegation in a U.S. penitentiary. He didn't know I was coming which was rather odd, but he was greeted by, and introduced by the U.S. consulate of the UK consulate official who introduced herself and then had liaison with him as part of her job to take care of people in detention who were UK citizens.

Q. Well, you talked at length I believe and perhaps with more detail than you might have expected about what had happened that day and indeed why Richard Reid had been involved. When you asked him why young men like himself were willing to commit mass murder and suicide in the name of Islam, what did he say?

A. Well, I didn't put it quite as directly as that as you can appreciate, but he volunteered in a sense, and felt at ease about explaining that he certainly wasn't as the press had portrayed him: mad. 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 which was unfolding at the current time and he also specifically mentioned those in detention at Guantanamo Bay and he felt an affinity with the Palestinian people which you might at first flush not recognize as somebody who was born and brought up in south London.

Q. Well let's talk about that, how does a young man from suburban south London join the violent jihad?

A. I think it's a process and I think you have to have an understanding of what people who believe about any injustice get into you go along to any campaigning organization anywhere in the world you'll find people who are very largely down that road of caring to spend their time often their money and sometimes their life for a cause that they believe in. In that respect he's no different, it just so happens that what he was prepared to do was an extreme sacrifice. He appeared to have started down that road from an adolescent that was clearly someone unhappy, that he looked to find an explanation for his own beliefs and faith which he seemed to get in Feltham -- a young offenders institution in west London -- which had an appalling reputation for the incarceration of young people and still does. Particularly reflecting the fact that often racism and social inequality drives many young people of Afro-Caribbean origin to in essence look for some sort of explanation for their circumstances in religion and politics and he was very much self-taught.

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 and I've met people who have been Black Panthers, who have been in the ANC and in prison for many years and they all have one thing in common and it's that they've survived in a sense by a search for some inner strength -- he appeared to find his through Islam and come to a better understanding of his position in the world.

Q. Does what you're saying go someway to explaining then the seeming plethora of converts to Islam that we are specifically seeing here in the UK, some of whom have allegedly gone on to be involved in terror plots?

A. Yes I think it partly does, there is a general common-sense view that the converts to any religion generally tend to be I suppose more enthusiastic ... more committed than people who have grown up in that religion and to see all the contradictions and inconsistencies in any religion when applied or enforced by men. And therefore as a convert he may have been more susceptible to that willingness to demonstrate his faith in the most extreme manner possible. So that is a factor -- not the only one. But I think as we've seen from the people who are suspects in the current wave of arrests -- they come from a wide range of backgrounds. I have represented people of Pakistani origin who were Muslim -- who were not necessarily I suppose religious themselves in a wider term but they've become so -- and they have a fundamentalist view of Islam as fundamentalists Christians have sometimes reached in U.S. even. There are actually very many similarities that do not allow for any flexibility in their view and they have a willingness to die, I suppose, as the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuance of their goals.

Q. The interview that you conducted with Richard Reid, was four years ago, you have only recently talked about what was said during that interview, the authorities here in the UK, have never asked for a debrief. What do you think the message is there?

A. I was rather surprised that nobody in 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. One, because it was the first time that anybody had had a meeting in a position of trust in one respect and not as somebody who was there as a police officer or member of the security services. And therefore able to possibly explain and allow the authorities here to understand what got Mr. Reid from being an inmate at Feltham to being on a plane in the Atlantic willing to blow people up.

Q. We know that Richard Reid was influenced at least by the imams both at the Brixton mosque, in south London, and the Finsbury mosque, in north London, associated with both Abdullah Al Faisal and Abu Hamza, both of whom are in prison in the UK now. What sort of influence did they have on his life, and how much of an influence were they in his radicalization?

A. I think it's rather difficult to quantify because he was rather circumspect in naming names and giving precise details about what they said and when and how it affected him. I think you'll never know but it is a gradual process where he has been given explanation for world events and politics which some of which was clearly not his own but which was learnt. And, I think, it's a combination of what he read and what he was still reading even when he was in custody from various book shops and texts that he was getting from a radical and Wahabist view of Islam which originates mostly from Saudi Arabia as I understand it. And therefore the impact of one preacher or another might not have been of itself the trigger, but then I think that was a mechanism that was used by the others to recruit him and obviously clearly send him for some training. And we know from his passport that he had traveled in the Far East, in the Middle East to some extent and had been clearly controlled by a source that was known later to the authorities.

Q. We have been told that his ideology was classically al Qaeda, was there anything in what he said to you, which convinced you that he was either trained by those who are associated with al Qaeda or was a "paid up member" of al Qaeda, as it were?

A. I think that the term al Qaeda is one which is a misnomer, a very Western concept of failing to understand how people such as that operate not as part of some sign-up organization as a Democratic Party or a Republican Party but as something which is an ideology which has many and different forms in different parts of the world. And therefore his explanation was that I don't think there is any typical or stereotype of the organization, I don't think they recognize themselves. It's a disparate group of people who have a very similar view of the world who are prepared to carry out very extreme programs to effect change. And the view generally, I think the central focus is, viewing America as the great Satan who is largely responsible for many of the injustices not only in the Muslim world but in the wider developing world over recent decades.

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.

Q. I just want to go back to the idea of the influences on him and his radicalization, and what the British government might have learnt then, and what it might still be learning now. Again, your interview was conducted in February 2002, we are four years on, the government officials here have never spoken to you about the conversation that you had, hadn't gleaned any further information on why people were becoming more radicalized as they obviously have been here. Has the government made a mistake here?

A. Well I think they have certainly failed to get to grips with the fact that there is a direct link between foreign policy in Iraq in Afghanistan, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with George Bush as Tony Blair has said on a number of occasions and the recruitment of people like Mr. Reid to an Islamic cause which is a distortion of Islam ... which is in a sense going to an extreme ... which to an extent the vast majority of Muslims do not endorse as a way of solving world problems. I think the government seeks to continue with a lie that its foreign policy in Iraq or Afghanistan is bringing justice, democracy and freedom to an otherwise backward group of people in the world, Muslim or otherwise. And I think they fail to recognize that other Muslims and even non-Muslims may feel that what you have is gunboat diplomacy of the 21st century which seeks to impose situations and solutions on a people who don't ask for it.

Q. When Peter Clarke, head of the anti-terror branch of the Metropolitan Police here in the UK, just a week or so ago says that he was concerned that there were thousands of potential recruits for this jihad. Does that surprise you now after the conversation you had with Richard Reid?

A. I think it's a surprise that it wasn't said earlier. I think the police themselves, the security services, it must have dawned on them because they had in the 1990s several plots by UK citizens that were directed against Israel, or possible unknown targets where the motivation seemed to be the link with injustices in Bosnia, North Africa and particularly with Palestine, and the West Bank and Gaza. For the most part, the British government said it 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.


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Police mugshot shows Richard Reid after his arrest in December 2001 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

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