During the week just ended I came across some comments by an American judge in sentencing a terrorist. I was surprised that the comments had not had a wider distribution at the time and since, and I set them out below.
Richard Reid was born in London in 1973. Having left school at age 16, he became a petty crook who was in and out of jails for crimes against persons and property. Reid blamed his ethnic background for his failings, believing that his Jamaican and African ancestry on his father’s side caused negative racist attitudes toward him. Reid’s father suggested that he convert to Islam on the next occasion that he was to serve jail time in that Muslim prisoners received better treatment and privileges. Reid did so when he was next imprisoned.
On his release, Reid became a passionate Muslim and began attending anti-Western mosques in London. Having become a member of al-Qaeda and a follower of Osama Bin Laden, he was apprehended in 2001 when he sought to destroy a commercial jet airliner on which he was a passenger by igniting explosives in his shoes. The explosives were unable to be detonated because he had walked in the rain and also because his feet had been sweating in the shoes, causing the fuse to become too wet to ignite.
In 2002 Reid pled guilty to the various charges against him. He was sentenced to:
- life in prison on three counts: one of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the United States and two of interference with flight crew and attendants using a dangerous weapon;
- 20 years in prison on each of four counts: attempted homicide of U.S. nationals outside the United States; placing an explosive device on an aircraft; attempted murder of people on board the flight; and attempted destruction of an aircraft, the prison terms to be served consecutively;
- 30 years in prison on an eighth count of using a destructive device in a crime of violence.
Reid was to pay restitution of $250,000 for each charge -- a total of $2 million.
In his sentencing submissions, Reid's attorney said that Reid believed bombing the plane was necessary to "prevent the destruction of Islam." In court he described himself as a "soldier."
Reid himself said to the judge:
I admit my actions, I admit my alliances to Osama Bin Laden, I do not apologise for my actions and I am still at war with your country.
I'm at war with them not for personal reasons but because they have murdered more than, so many children and they have oppressed my religion and they have oppressed people for no reason except that they say we believe in Allah.
This is the only reason that America sponsors Egypt. It's the only reason they sponsor Turkey. It's the only reason they back Israel.
As far as the sentence is concerned, it's in your hand. Only really it is not even in your hand. It's in Allah's hand. I put my trust in Allah totally and I know that he will give victory to his religion. And he will give victory to those who believe and he will destroy those who wish to oppress the people because they believe in Allah.
Judge William Young:
As part of his sentencing comments. Judge Young responded to Reid’s views and statements:
Mr. Richard C. Reid, hearken now to the sentence the Court imposes upon you.
On counts 1, 5 and 6 the Court sentences you to life in prison in the custody of the United States Attorney General. On counts 2, 3, 4 and 7, the Court sentences you to 20 years in prison on each count, the sentence on each count to run consecutively. (That’s 80 years.)
On count 8 the Court sentences you to the mandatory 30 years again, to be served consecutively to the 80 years just imposed. The Court imposes upon you for each of the eight counts a fine of $250,000 that’s an aggregate fine of $2 million. The Court accepts the government’s recommendation with respect to restitution and orders restitution in the amount of $298.17 to Andre Bousquet and $5,784 to American Airlines.
The Court imposes upon you an $800 special assessment. The Court imposes upon you five years supervised release simply because the law requires it. But the life sentences are real life sentences so I need go no further.
This is the sentence that is provided for by our statutes. It is a fair and just sentence. It is a righteous sentence.
Now, let me explain this to you. We are not afraid of you or any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is too much war talk here and I say that to everyone with the utmost respect. Here in this court, we deal with individuals as individuals and care for individuals as individuals. As human beings, we reach out for justice.
You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier, gives you far too much stature. Whether the officers of government do it or your attorney does it, or if you think you are a soldier, you are not — you are a terrorist. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not meet with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.
So war talk is way out of line in this court. You are a big fellow. But you are not that big. You’re no warrior. I’ve known warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal that is guilty of multiple attempted murders. In a very real sense, State Trooper Santiago had it right when you first were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and the TV crews were, and he said: ‘You’re no big deal.’
You are no big deal.
What your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today?
I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing? And, I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you, but as I search this entire record, it comes as close to understanding as I know.
It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose. Here, in this society, the very wind carries freedom. It carries it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom, so that everyone can see, truly see, that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely. It is for freedom’s sake that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf, have filed appeals, will go on in their representation of you before other judges.
We Americans are all about freedom. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties. Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden, pay any price, to preserve our freedoms. Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. The day after tomorrow, it will be forgotten, but this, however, will long endure.
Here in this courtroom and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done. The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mould and shape and refine our sense of justice.
See that flag, Mr. Reid? That’s the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag stands for freedom. And it always will.
Mr. Custody Officer. Stand him down.