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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET


Mike Levine

Washington, DC


Does Reid Case Inform Abdulmutallab Case?

January 26, 2010 - 6:00 AM | by: Mike Levine
Richard Reid

Richard Reid

In the growing debate over whether – or when – alleged “underwear bomber” Umar F. Abdulmuttallab should have been charged in federal civilian court, the case of “shoe bomber” Richard Reid keeps popping up.

But how congruent is Reid’s case to that of Abdulmutallab? Does it offer any insight into what information can be gleaned from an FBI interview right after an attempted attack? And does it show how Miranda warnings play into all of this?

Both Abdulmutallab and Reid are not U.S. citizens, both are self-professed associates of al Qaeda, both tried unsuccessfully to blow up U.S.-bound aircraft around the Christmas holiday, and both were stopped by vigilant passengers.

Hoping to address the latest debate, Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller mentioned Reid in a statement last week.

“Al Qaeda terrorists such as Richard Reid … and others have all been prosecuted in federal court,” Miller’s statement said.

In fact, at a press conference in January 2002 after Reid was indicted for his attempted bombing, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was asked whether the Bush administration considered using a military tribunal to prosecute Reid.

Ashcroft said the facts of the case were “very clear.”

“You know, the facts as developed in this case were a result of this alert vigilance and participation of the American public,” he said. “I think people were alert, and that created a factual basis for the kind of court case that we’ve alleged.”

Ashcroft said he conferred with the Defense Department and its general counsel, and “they had no objection to our proceeding in this matter.”

Speaking about the latest debate, Miller’s statement last week said, “Those who now argue that a different action should have been taken in this case were notably silent when dozens of terrorists were successfully prosecuted in federal court by the previous administration.”

Miller insisted that Abdulmutallab “has already provided intelligence, and we will continue to work to gather intelligence from him.” And, appearing on “Fox News Sunday” over the weekend, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the 23-year-old Nigerian was read his Miranda rights only after FBI interrogators got “all” of the intelligence “they could out of him.”

But Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters last week that he is “particularly concerned that Mirandizing and providing a lawyer to Abdulmutallab may have cut off valuable information.”

“He would have been a very valuable potential source for learning more about the operations in Yemen,” Bond said.

In the Reid case, court documents from the time show that during FBI questioning Reid offered information about his motives and his planning, and he established himself as an al Qaeda operative. But – even though Reid provided information useful to prosecutors building a case against him – it’s unclear whether he provided information useful to intelligence officers trying to prevent more terrorist attacks.

Within five minutes of American Airlines Flight 63 landing in Boston, Reid was taken into custody by four Massachusetts State Police officers and read his Miranda rights – something that would happen at least two more times.

At first Reid – a British citizen – was not that cooperative. A Massachusetts State Police officer “began asking defendant various questions, and defendant responded by giving noncommittal answers,” court documents filed by Reid’s attorneys said.

“The trooper asked defendant what his name was. Defendant said that his name could be gotten from his passport. The trooper asked where defendant was from. Defendant said only that he was from Europe. The trooper asked what had happened on the plane and what defendant had tried to do. Defendant asked several times why no media were present and there was a short discussion about whether the event was a ‘big deal’ or not. At some point, defendant said: ‘You’ll see, you’ll see.’ Defendant then terminated the discussion by saying: ‘I have nothing else to say,’” according to court documents.

Reid was then taken to a Massachusetts State police station, where he was again informed of his rights to remain silent and obtain a lawyer, the documents filed by Reid’s lawyers said.

Three hours later, before FBI interrogators began their own interview with Reid, they again informed him of his Miranda rights.

“A long interview began,” according to court documents. After about 50 minutes, medical personnel tried to treat Reid, but FBI agents “would not stop the interview” because “defendant ‘was being so forthcoming,’” court documents said.

In that interview, “Reid stated that although born to a Catholic mother and a Protestant father, he converted to Islam during his early twenties,” according to court documents filed by the government. “He also explained his motivation for attempting to bomb Flight 63 by stating that the United States should not be involved in Muslim affairs such as supporting Israel. He stated that democratic countries are ruled contrary to God’s will. He further stated that ‘America is the problem, without America there would be no Israel.’ He explained that, in his view, America is responsible for supporting Israel and other illicit regimes throughout the Middle East. He also stated that ‘America must remove its troops from our soil and keep its nose out of our business.’ When asked why he didn’t consider peaceful methods to accomplish his goals, Reid replied that ‘people tried peaceful methods for seventy years.’”

FBI agents questioned Reid even more the next day.

“In his second interview, Reid stated that he chose to attack an airplane because he believed an airplane attack, especially during the holiday season, would cause the American public to lose confidence in airline security and stop traveling, leading to a substantial loss of revenue which would in turn hurt the American economy,” court documents said. “Reid further stated that he switched his target from Israel to America after America began bombing the Taliban in Afghanistan (in October 2001), which made him very angry.”

Reid also told interrogators that the idea of placing explosives in his shoes came from his observations of Israeli airline security while in the Middle East, including the fact that security personnel did not check the insides of his shoes, court documents said.

After Reid agreed to plead guilty to federal terrorism charges, the lead prosecutor at the time, U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, insisted the case provided important information.

“Without the heightened awareness of shoe bombs caused by Reid’s unsuccessful bombing attempt, al Qaeda would have been free to repeatedly use the same devices to destroy more commercial aircraft,” Sullivan said in one court filing in January 2003.

In another filing, Sullivan said the Reid case “has been a showcase for the efficient and fair administration of justice in a high-profile terrorism case commenced at the height of America’s War on Terrorism.”

“This [federal] Court has previously commended the Department of Justice for choosing to prosecute Reid within the criminal justice system, with all of its procedural safeguards, including the public nature of the proceedings,” Sullivan said. “As a result, not only the American public, but the entire world, has been able to follow the administration of justice in this case.”

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