VIII. Terrorism After September 11th
All but seventy-four of the Middle Eastern individuals who were detained after September 11th have been released. Despite the heightened sense of security and the deputizing of the American public, the first alleged terrorists apprehended in the mainland U.S. before they could carry out their plans are men of African or Latino descent. Richard Reid, of African descent, is the alleged “Shoe Bomber” who attempted to blow up an airplane destined for the United States with explosives concealed in his shoes. Jose Padilla, of Latino descent, was arrested for allegedly conspiring to build and detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb.” Neither of these men is of Arab ethnicity, although they both are alleged to be Islamic extremists. Despite the jokes about racial profiling, law enforcement officials seem to be most successful in singling out and detaining those from groups with which they have had a long experience of profiling.
Since September 11th, two other individuals have been identified as terrorists, John Walker Lindh and Charles Bishop. Lindh is a white American man who was discovered fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was apprehended and prosecuted for conspiracy to kill his fellow Americans, to commit terrorism, and to support terrorists. Bishop was a mixed-race American teenager who flew a small plane into a Florida office building. Although, like Lindh, Bishop sympathized with bin Laden, no one was aware of his sympathy until after his terrorist act, in which he took only one life--his own. It is worth noting that, under different circumstances, Bishop might have done much more harm.
A. Terrorist Activities and Related Persons
1. Richard Reid
Richard Reid is a twenty-eight year old British citizen, the son of a mixed-race Jamaican man and a white British woman. When first apprehended, the authorities racially misidentified him. They thought that his British passport was “bogus” and that he appeared to be of “Middle Eastern descent.” His racial ambiguity seems to have cut two ways. First, his coloration and hair texture probably led some people to believe that he was not of African descent, and was instead Middle Eastern, which may have led to his initial detention. On the other hand, Reid's British citizenship and British accent “whitened” him, and almost allowed him to get away with his attempt.
Reid's plans to board a flight from Paris to Miami scheduled for December 21, 2001 were foiled because security officials investigated him and delayed his departure. He missed his flight when his “unkept appearance” and the fact that “he had no bags” caused the authorities to subject him to extensive questioning. Authorities probably thought that he was Middle Eastern, but he fit a legitimate, non-racial profile because he was not checking any luggage. The next day security officials reportedly recognized him and let him pass unimpeded to the waiting airplane. The officials probably realized he was the British citizen that they had questioned earlier and felt that they did not need to do a second comprehensive check.
On an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami, Reid allegedly attempted to light a fuse protruding from his shoe. The flight attendants and passengers spotted Reid acting strangely and then suddenly holding a match to his feet. Passengers and crewmembers stopped him before he could light the fuse. Given his complexion and hair texture, the other passengers probably more readily noticed his activities. Allegedly, when the flight attendant confronted him, he bit her. The passengers on the plane grabbed Reid, took away his shoes, tied him with belts, sedated him with Valium, and watched him until the plane landed. The plane was diverted to Boston, where Reid is currently incarcerated.
2. Jose Padilla
Jose Padilla, a.k.a. Abdullah al Muhajir, is a thirty-one-year-old Puerto Rican man who currently is being held indefinitely by the federal government for allegedly having taken part in a conspiracy to manufacture a “dirty bomb.” He was born in Brooklyn, New York to Catholic natives of Puerto Rico. On May 8, 2002, law enforcement officials apprehended Padilla because they said that he was involved in a plot to explode a radioactive dirty bomb. United States officials say they have “no proof that al Qaeda has yet developed a radioactive dirty bomb.” In addition, they do not know of any other conspirators in the bombing plot in the Unites States. The United States first held Padilla as a material witness for one month. He was transferred to military custody on President Bush's orders and is being held indefinitely as a “military combatant.” No plans exist to charge Padilla with a crime in criminal or military court. It is believed that al Qaeda leaders tapped Padilla for the dirty bomb plot because he had a U.S. passport and would be able to travel freely throughout the United States.
3. John Walker Lindh
John Walker Lindh has been called “the American Taliban.” He is a white American citizen who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan and was captured by American soldiers. He faced charges that he conspired to kill his fellow Americans, supported terrorists, and knew three months prior to September 11th that Osama bin Laden would send suicide squads to the United States. He personally met with Osama bin Laden and trained at al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. When Lindh was first captured in Afghanistan, the authorities were uncertain of his racial and national identity. By speaking English, it probably became more obvious that Lindh was a white American. When John Walker Lindh was indicted in January, Attorney General John Ashcroft said that Lindh's case was a “critical case in the nation's fight against terrorism.” In addition, Attorney General Ashcroft described Lindh as a “fanatical follower of the Taliban [who] never wavered in his allegiance to terrorism.”
4. Charles Bishop
Bishop was the fifteen-year-old boy who flew a small plane into an office building in Tampa, Florida. Before he took off, he left a handwritten note expressing sympathy for Osama bin Laden. Bishop arrived at the airfield and was handed his scheduled flight lessons and a key to the airplane loaded with forty gallons of fuel. He was supposed to wait for the flight instructor to finish another lesson. Before anyone noticed, Bishop flew the plane without waiting for the flight instructor to join him. The plane flew over restricted airspace of U.S. Central command, which directs military actions in Afghanistan, and flew 1,000 feet above Southwest flight 2229 with 114 passengers and five crewmembers on board. North American Aerospace Defense Command sent two F-15s from Homestead Air Reserve Base to intercept. The pilot of a Coast Guard helicopter used hand signals to try to get Bishop to land, but Bishop failed to respond. Twelve minutes after takeoff, Bishop's plane struck the twenty-eighth floor of a forty-two-story office building scattering office furniture in a law office. Just an hour earlier an attorney had been at his desk in that corner office.
B. Evaluation of Terrorist Attacks and Related Persons
As an observer, it is interesting to consider the race and ethnicity of those currently incarcerated for crimes committed pursuant to the war on terrorism. Richard Reid almost got away with his plan because his biracial background and British citizenship probably whitened him enough to get him on the plane. The first person captured in advance of an alleged plot is Jose Padilla who is of Latino ancestry. Both Bishop and Lindh were able to actively participate in terrorist activities because they were either white or appeared white, and were therefore not considered suspects. The use of racial profiling as a police technique always raises the question of whether the authorities have apprehended the right individuals. As Professors Gross and Livingston have said, “[t]here is no serious crime that is committed by all, or most, or even a large fraction of the members of any racial group.” Howard University Law Professor Frank Wu has written that “[r]acial profiling operates inexorably towards its extreme.” Professor Wu postulates as more efforts are directed exclusively at one racial community, wrongdoers from other communities will escape detection. Given the fact that, national security concerns currently trump color blindness, ineffective racial profiling is likely to continue.
IX. Media Coverage of Post-September 11th Perpetrators
The media coverage after September 11th was generally consistent with prior coverage. When faced with a white perpetrator, the media asked for explanations for why the perpetrator went wrong, searching for justifications for the perpetrator's behavior. If the perpetrator was of African or Latino descent, the individuals often were described as “inherently evil.” The media generally has failed to consider any extenuating circumstances to explain the wrongdoing of an African American or Latino suspect. Since September 11th, the only apparent change has been that the coverage of Arab Americans has shifted to focus almost exclusively on the moral depravity of the “jihad,” or “Holy War.” As with the coverage of African Americans, there is currently no mitigating factor that is considered or evaluated in the coverage of an Arab American perpetrator.
This Section analyzes the media coverage of the four men involved in post-September 11th terrorist activities, as well as the media coverage of Zacarius Moussaoui, because most of the media attention surrounding his case occurred after September 11th. The media coverage of all of these men has been complicated by racial ambiguity, as each of these individuals was racially misidentified. It was first thought that Charles Bishop was white, and media coverage was sympathetic. When it was discovered that he was one-half Syrian, his coverage became less favorable. John Walker Lindh was probably initially thought to be Afghan. This belief was reinforced by initial images of him with a darkened face, beard, and long dark hair. When he cut his hair and washed his face, it became clear that he was a white American, at which point his coverage and treatment became much more favorable. Although Reid and Moussaoui are of African descent, they are citizens of Great Britain and France respectively. To make matters even more complicated, Richard Reid is biracial. In terms of the color hierarchy, both Reid and Moussaoui have been somewhat whitened due to their citizenship in countries that are strong U.S. allies. However, their Islamic faith has been portrayed as somewhat fanatical. Lastly, Jose Padilla, who is an American citizen of Puerto Rican ancestry, has been racialized in the most usual way, as a “street thug.”
A. Charles Bishop
The initial coverage of Bishop's attack in Tampa, like most coverage of those who are racialized as “white,” focused on his personal story. The newspaper accounts asked how did this happen? Where did his parents go wrong in raising him? The news media described Bishop as a “troubled young man,” “a loner” from a broken family. He was estranged from his father. His parents tried to commit suicide during their teenage romance because they were unable to marry. He was an honor student who enjoyed classical music. His mother described him in a New York Post article as, “[caring] about the world his generation was inheriting and [taking] special interest in environmental-impact issues, animal rights and endangered-species laws,” and politics.”
Bishop also was described as patriotic. The media described him as “a former flag bearer at school assemblies who wanted to join the Air Force.” They discussed the boy's patriotic traits and quoted one teacher as saying, “I can picture him singing 'My Country 'Tis of Thee,' bellowing it out.” Other teachers were quoted as stating, “[h]e told me he wanted to join the United States Air Force because he wanted to do something good for his country. He was a good boy.” The media accounts discussed how other teachers said he managed a literary magazine, entered essay contests run by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and helped plan bake sales and food drives as a student council member. One account speculated that his conduct could be the result of a powerful acne medicine called Accutane that he was taking, which has been linked to depression and suicide. His mother's lawyer was quoted as stating, “As a result of taking the drug, Mr. Bishop became severely psychotic and lost touch with reality, consequently flying into the side of a building.”
For most of those who are racialized as white, the news media presume that white alleged perpetrators are good and that any wrongdoing must be the result of tragic external circumstances. Charles Bishop was a young man who caused significant property damage and could have caused significant loss of human life by his actions, yet the media initially sought to forgive his behavior only because he was racialized as “one of their own.”
Bishop's suicide note, praising bin Laden, however, raised questions about the media's assumptions about his background. It was soon discovered that Bishop's father's family was of Syrian decent. After her divorce, Bishop's mother changed his birth-given surname from “Bishara” to “Bishop.” It was also reported that she changed their surnames during the Gulf War because she feared an anti-Arab backlash. It was at that point that the news media speculated that Bishop's ethnicity might have had something to do with his behavior. One of his teachers discussed that she was strict about preventing discriminatory conduct towards any of her students based on their ethnic background. Bishop's grandfather acknowledged that he was of Arabic ancestry, but that his father had come to the United States in the first part of the Twentieth century and they, therefore, considered themselves to be Americans.
B. John Walker Lindh
Once the media ascertained that Lindh was white, it proceeded to seek explanations for what went wrong with him. A New York Times Editorial stated:
John Walker Lindh is my son's age. He made a mistake. But he is not a Kim Philby or an Aldrich Ames, men who consciously betrayed their countries. He is a young man who was searching for truth and walked into a virulent form of fundamentalist Islam. Staunch patriots want him executed. Lesser zealots want him imprisoned for life. And those of us not strangers to the confusion of youth view him as if he were our own son and wonder if justice has enough room for common sense.
As portrayed by the media, Lindh was from a broken home, his parents had been overly permissive in his upbringing, and he had attended an alternative high school in California where he had been able to shape his own studies. Commentators noted that the family sent him to a therapist when a family pet died. He dropped out of high school at age sixteen. He had a history of identifying with other racial and ethnic groups. In high school, he read the autobiography of Malcolm X, and he reportedly identified with the story. Lindh listened to rap music and once pretended to be African American in an e-mail. He converted to Islam, and adopted the Arabic name Suleyman. At seventeen, he decided to leave home and go to Yemen. Lindh briefly came back home to the United States, then traveled back to Pakistan where he attended an Islamic school. The school specialized in teaching the Koran and was known for providing soldiers to the Taliban in Afghanistan. President Bush even described Lindh as “some misguided Marin County hot-tubber” and as “a ‘poor fellow’ who was ‘misled.”’
When he was first captured, the media continuously showed Lindh's photograph with dirty long hair, a beard, and a dirty-almost-black face. Once he returned to the United States, Lindh sported a close-cropped haircut and was otherwise well scrubbed. At this point, he started to look like a suburban teenager, and his coverage became more sympathetic. Newsweek reported that to get a conviction of Lindh, the “prosecutors would at least have to show that [Walker] agreed with someone, somewhere and somehow, to kill Americans or aid al Qaeda. It now appears that the evidence on these counts . . . is somewhere between slim and none.” The story suggested that Lindh's confession was not clear-cut because the government's notes indicated that he was fighting for the Taliban and not al Qaeda. In addition, reports surfaced that the FBI apparently violated its own internal guidelines for interrogations by failing to have Lindh sign the statement or to have the confession recorded by video or audio tape.
The coup de grace and turning point for Lindh was the broadcast of his photograph while in military custody in Afghanistan. The photograph showed a naked, blindfolded, and bound Lindh. It was reported that he was kept in this condition for three days in a closed, metal shipping container. According to the media, Lindh was released from these conditions once he waived his rights to a lawyer and made a more damning confession; surgeons removed a bullet lodged in his leg only after he renounced his legal rights and signed the new confession. In court papers, Lindh's lawyers claimed that he pleaded with U.S. troops, “[p]lease don't kill me,” when they took him to a U.S. military base.
On July 15, 2002, in a surprise deal, Lindh pleaded guilty to two felony charges and agreed to serve twenty years in prison. Providing services to the Taliban was a felony because President Bush and former President Clinton, by executive order, had declared it a terrorist organization. Lindh admitted his guilt, saying “I provided services as a soldier to the Taliban last year and in the course of doing so, I carried a rifle and two grenades.” The New York Times described Walker Lindh's appearance: “Mr. Lindh appeared wan and gangly. His dark hair was cropped short, and he looked more like a teenager one might see at a suburban mall than the unkempt, wild-eyed and bearded Taliban soldier seen in news photographs taken shortly after his capture.” The prosecutors described the deal “an important victory for the people of the United States in the battle against terrorism,” and “a tough sentence and an appropriate punishment.”
Lindh's father, Frank Lindh, was quoted as saying “President Bush would be proud to have him as a son. He's a really good kid.” He also compared his son to Nelson Mandela. He said, “I told John when he came back from Afghanistan . . . that Nelson Mandela served 26 years in prison. He's a good man like John. I told John that he needed to be prepared for something along those lines.”
C. Comparison of the Media Coverage of Bishop and Lindh
In comparing the media coverage of Charles Bishop and John Walker Lindh, the ways in which media coverage was altered to mirror perceived changes in the individuals' racial identities is striking. Charles Bishop, who was first thought to be white, had the typical “what went wrong with his upbringing?” coverage until it was discovered that he was half-Syrian. At that time, his coverage became less favorable, and his ethnicity became sufficient explanation for his crime. In contrast, John Walker Lindh was initially described as the American Taliban who fought against the United States in Afghanistan. The media repeatedly showed a photograph of Lindh with long dark hair, a beard, and a face darkened by dirt. He was dubbed “The American Taliban,” and his darkened features made him appear to be something other than a white American. Once the media started showing pictures of Lindh with shortened hair and a clean face, it became clear that he was white. At that point, his coverage became more favorable. Some members of the media empathized with him and began to compare him to their children. The media coverage of Lindh's plea agreement was also very tame. There was hardly any controversy surrounding his plea agreement even though he was the first and most visible person to date to be sentenced. Given the nature of his offense, one would think more controversy and outrage might have resulted from his twenty-year sentence. Some would have argued that the sentence is too short or too long, or that Lindh should have been condemned to die. Because of the intense media interest in the events of September 11th, one might have expected that the coverage of Lindh's plea bargain would be more extensive. Apparently, the American public was not troubled by or interested in a plea bargain involving a young, white, middle-class American, who fought as a Taliban warrior.
D. Zacarius Moussaoui
The media continue to describe Zacarius Moussaoui as the alleged 20th hijacker, despite the fact that a different man, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, has publicly claimed that he was meant to be the 20th hijacker. Moussaoui now faces six counts of conspiracy (four of them carry the death penalty). When announcing Moussaoui's indictment, Attorney General John Ashcroft said: “[a]l Qaeda will now meet the justice it abhors and the judgment it fears.” He also called the indictment “a chronicle of evil.” Even though Moussaoui's life may be at stake, the media have portrayed the upcoming trial as one of public entertainment. The New York Daily News quoted Court TV as stating, “[a]ny camera coverage is better than no camera coverage . . . and full camera coverage is better for the American public.”
Rather than ask what went wrong during Zacarius Moussaoui's upbringing, the media portrayed him as angry, crazy, evil, foreign, stupid, and difficult. It was reported that the FBI found evidence that Moussaoui received $14,000 in cash from an al Qaeda operative who organized the September 11th attack, in Hamburg, Germany. After Moussaoui's detention for an immigration violation, France reportedly told United States authorities that he was a “known Islamic militant.” It was also reported that when he flew over the ruins of the World Trade Center, Moussaoui allegedly yelled “F--k you! F--k you, America!”
After meeting with Moussaoui for two hours, a court-appointed psychiatrist found that he did not appear to have a “major mental disease or defect” and “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty knowingly and voluntarily waive[d] his right to counsel.” Moussaoui fired his court-appointed lawyers and said to the court: “America, I'm ready to fight you . . . even with both hands tied behind my back.” In court, he reportedly “rolled his eyes” while his lawyers were speaking and distanced himself from them at the defense table. He said that he “would never contact his [court-appointed] lawyers” because he believed that they were “part of a plot against him.” He called his lawyers the “Death Team.” He reportedly requested a Muslim lawyer because he said that the court-appointed lawyers were not following his instructions. Moussaoui has been prevented from handpicking Charles Freeman, a Muslim, as his legal adviser. Instead, Judge Brinkema ordered the court-appointed lawyers to remain on stand-by in case they were needed, and encouraged Moussaoui to work with Muslim lawyer, Sadiq Reza, who teaches at New York Law School. Moussaoui has used Professor Reza as a go-between with his court-appointed lawyers. Moussaoui has called his court-appointed lawyers “blood suckers,” and has said that “[a]s protection [from] any pig disease there will be no more unsanitized contact with the affected horde of standby lawyers . . . .”
On July 18, 2002, after a new indictment was issued designed to allow Moussaoui to receive the death penalty, Judge Brinkema asked him how he would like to plead. At that time, Moussaoui tried to enter a “pure plea,” in which he acknowledged participation in a terrorist group since 1995. The judge described the defendant as “confused,” and told him only a plea of guilty or innocent was acceptable. Judge Brinkema announced that she would enter a plea of “not guilty” for him, despite Moussaoui's insistence that he fully understood the implications of his plea. Indeed, he acknowledged that he was a member of al Qaeda, had joined in terrorist attacks, and pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden. The media reported that Moussaoui said, “I, Moussaoui Zacarius, in the interests to preserve life, enter with full conscience a plea of guilty, because I have knowledge and participated in al Qaeda.” At the same time, he contended that he was not directly involved in the September 11th terrorist plot. It has been reported that he described himself as a “slave to Allah,” and he has denounced the American justice system.
Both the New York Times and the New York Daily News quoted Moussaoui's court-appointed lawyers as saying: “have we figured out yet that he's insane?” The lawyers were described as laughing with disbelief as Moussaoui left the hearing. When questioned about a report that Chechen fighters had rejected Moussaoui's services, a member of the defense team mused, “[w]ho wants him around? He brought nothing to the table. He's trouble.” Moussaoui claimed that his court-appointed counsel were “trying to kill him to keep him from revealing” undisclosed secrets. He also accused Judge Brinkema of conspiracy with Federal government to execute him. He said that the letter “B” in the acronym “FBI” stood for “Brinkema.” He called her the “Death Judge.” Moussaoui accused Judge Brinkema of preparing him “for the gas chamber,” exclaiming to her: “[t]his is an outrageous prosecution . . . . This is a parody . . . .” He also reportedly prayed for the destruction of America and Israel.
Judge Brinkema gave Moussaoui one week to reconsider his guilty plea. On July 25, 2002 Moussaoui withdrew his guilty plea, stating: “[d]ictated by my obligation to my creator Allah, and to save my life, I withdraw my guilty plea.” He told the judge “you want to tie me, to link me to certain facts that will guarantee my death.” He maintained that, although he may have had some association with the September 11th hijackers, he had “nothing to do with the events of September 11th.”
From the outset, the media's depiction of Moussaoui has been very negative. He is described as bearded, wearing a green jumpsuit with the word “prisoner” written on the back. The New York Daily News described Moussaoui as a “diminutive French-born Moroccan frequently pip[ing] up with strange interjections in a strangled Inspector Clouseau accent that prompt[s] titters in the audience.” The New York Post noted Moussaoui's “ungrammatical English.” The New York Daily News has also portrayed Moussaoui as “a small, husky man with an unruly black beard.”
The descriptions of his behavior since he has been incarcerated have been even worse. The New York Daily News described Moussaoui as “wacky.” It reported that he “has filed numerous legal briefs that can only be described as nutty.” Also, it noted that most of Moussaoui's sixty motions to Judge Brinkema since June 14th “read like Saturday Night Live skits.” In contrast, the Washington Post has described his motions as “autobiographical tract[s] written in legalese . . . [that] . . . are sometimes rambling and discursive, yet with threads of logic and flashes of brilliance.” The New York Post detailed Moussaoui as a “bizarre-behaving French Moroccan.” He has been called “abrasive.” He also has been described as “fidget[ing] in his chair, strok[ing] his beard, and mumbl[ing] to himself.”
Moussaoui's mother blames radical fundamentalists for her son's situation. His brother, Abd Samar, claimed that, while living in London, Moussaoui became “racist and anti-white.” Moussaoui's mother reportedly last saw her son in 1996. She was denied a chance to visit her son in prison, and the New York Daily News reported, “[t]he FBI insisted an agent monitor the conversation.” His mother has been reported as saying that her son “is not prepared to defend himself.” She has said: “[m]y son is incapable of making decisions after months of imprisonment.” She has “asked the French government to send a lawyer to handle her son's case.” She reportedly wept when he entered the court for a hearing. It was reported that the United States tried to get Moussaoui's mother to cooperate with the prosecution.
Since his incarceration, it has been reported that “Moussaoui can't have batteries, or pencils, or any hot tea or coffee.” He has been held in solitary confinement, under severe security conditions. He cannot talk to other prisoners, all his phone conversations are taped and he must speak English with his lawyers--unless he uses an FBI translator. All visitors, including his court-appointed attorneys, must undergo FBI clearance. When prison officials found hardened food in his Alexandria, Virginia jail cell, they labeled it contraband because they believed it could be used as a weapon.”
Media coverage of Moussaoui highlights an aspect of his identity that intersects race, national origin, and religion. The media point out that he is a French citizen of Moroccan ancestry. Reporters probably raise his ancestry in a manner of explanation because most people think that French citizens are white, and Moussaoui's picture looks black. In addition, the media attention also highlights Moussaoui's North African ancestry to make the connection, albeit loosely, to the Middle East.
Despite the fact that Ramzi bin al-Shibh claims to be the “20th Hijacker,” reporters insist on calling Moussaoui the “20th Hijacker,” apparently having made their own judgment as to his guilt. Like the coverage of people of African descent, the media fail to present any evidence that would rationalize or explain his alleged criminal activity. The media have failed to give the whole picture of the Moussaoui situation. Although he has a master's degree from Southbank University in international business, there has been scant coverage of what Moussaoui did for employment or education before coming to the United States. When his education is mentioned, Southbank University is almost dismissed as a trade school. Judge Brinkema reportedly said that Moussaoui was “smart” because he has a master's degree. However, the media's focus on his “ungrammatical English” suggests his “foreignness” and his lack of intelligence or education.
The discussion of Moussaoui's upbringing has also been limited. When it is discussed, it is used to demonstrate that he is responsible for “derailing” his family's immigrant success story. Moreover, the explanation for this “derailment” is Moussaoui's association with radical fundamentalist Islam. There has been no discussion of whether he has any prior criminal history. The fact that his prior history has not been raised suggests that he has no prior criminal record. Instead, the media tie him to his involvement with al Qaeda. While this tie is probably justifiable, the media fails to provide specific details. In addition, reporters have failed to provide balanced coverage by asking whether his membership in al Qaeda and his Islamic faith are enough to establish his guilt in conspiring to the acts of September 11th. This question should be the basis for any discussion of Moussaoui because it is the same question the jury will have to decide.
Since the media cannot latch onto a dysfunctional family or criminal past, they instead portray Moussaoui as crazy and anti-American. They suggest that he is paranoid because he thinks the judge is in cahoots with the government. He calls his court-appointed lawyers the “Death Team” and fires them because he believes that they will not properly represent him. His lawyers laugh at him in open court. Media coverage seems to suggest that Moussaoui is intentionally making a mockery of the judicial proceedings by attempting to plead guilty and then reneging on that plea. After all, he is “wacky” and “erratic” and his pleadings read like “Saturday Night Live” skits.
Importantly, the media fail to emphasize incidents that might support some of Moussaoui's contentions. He was, for example, denied the assistance of the lawyer of his choosing, the Muslim Charles Freeman. And he is the only September 11th defendant whose indictment allows the death penalty. There has been only slight reference and brief mention of a family history of mental illness. Similarly, few attempts have been made to explain that Moussaoui is not a lawyer, that legal proceedings can be very complicated, and that a person who is not a lawyer might have difficulty with understanding the proceedings. Even if Moussaoui understood the nature of legal proceedings, he is a French citizen, and France has a different legal system than the United States.
The media portray Moussaoui's mother as powerless. She cannot visit him in prison unless her conversations are monitored. She is described to have been weeping when he appeared in court. She has to petition the French government in an attempt to help her son. In contrast, Lindh's father procured cracker-jack lawyers to represent his son and appeared on many television news programs making the case for his son. Moussaoui's mother is depicted as emotionally distant from her son since she has not seen him since 1996. However, no effort has been made to explore how commonplace that may be in many immigrant communities wherein relatives are overseas, and money is tight.
E. Richard Reid
The media have labeled Richard Reid, a mixed-race British citizen, the “shoe-bomber.” He has been charged with attempted murder and faces a maximum sentence of five life terms in prison. Reid allegedly wore silver and black boots packed with high-tech explosives that would have destroyed a jetliner with 197 people aboard. The bomb was specially constructed without wires or metal, allowing it to pass without detection through airport security. The metal detectors and scanning machines for checked luggage are not sophisticated enough to identify plastic explosives.
The media asked the question: how did “a onetime petty thief with no job and no fixed address somehow manage to find the resources for international travel and the know-how to make a sophisticated explosive that fooled even the stringent Paris airport security check?” Authorities speculated that Reid trained with al Qaeda and was following orders. Investigators are trying to link him to al Qaeda terror suspects based in Europe. European authorities speculated that Reid stayed at a house in Belgium and met with someone named “The Engineer.” It is believed that “The Engineer” is an expert in making explosives and designed and built the shoe bombs. Inside the boots, investigators found a strand of hair and palm prints that were not Reid's.
On December 20, 2001, Richard Reid wrote an e-mail to his mother stating “[w]hat I am doing is part of the ongoing war between Islam and disbelief, (and as such it is a duty upon me as a Muslim).” He also wrote:
The reason for me sending you [this will] is so you can see that I didn't do this act out of ignorance, nor did I just do it because I want to die, but rather because I see it as a duty upon me to help remove the oppressive American forces from the Muslim land and that this is the only way for us to do so as we do not have other means to fight them.” Reid's white mother, Lesley Hughes, issued a statement through her lawyer: “[a]s any mother would be, she is deeply shocked and concerned about the allegations made against her son, but has no further comment to make.” Richard Reid's African Caribbean father, Robin Reid, reportedly sold his story to a British tabloid. Robin Reid was in prison when his son was born and reportedly was a distant figure in his son's life. Robin Reid acknowledged his lack of involvement in his son's life, and specifically said, “[l]ook at the terrible childhood he had . . . . Look at the father he had. I have spent 18 years in total behind bars. That can't have helped, can it? Every time he needed me, I was nowhere to be found.” Although attending a reasonably well-regarded secondary school in London, Reid dropped out of school soon after his sixteenth birthday. From 1992 to 1996, Reid was in and out of jail. He was involved in petty crime such as muggings, robberies, and shoplifting.
The Washington Post described Richard Reid as “a London pickpocket and mugger” who was a “major-league hell-raiser.” The article noted:
[h]is record depicts an angry, combative inmate who got into so many fights he had to be transferred twice. When the same man walked out of prison in 1996, he seemed completely changed. He had a new name--he called himself Abdel Rahim--and a strong but quiet devotion to a new faith, Islam.
It was reported that Reid became attracted to a radical sect of Islam and traveled to Pakistan for training, before traveling to Israel, Egypt, and Turkey. In late December, Reid was in Paris at a cyber café sending e-mails. The owner remembers Reid as being “big” (Reid is six feet, four inches tall) and “a little bit dirty.” The Washington Post has described Reid as a “hulking, and unkempt man who weighs about 220 pounds.” The newspaper has also described him during one of his courtroom appearances as being “disheveled and clad in tan prison attire.”
Recently, the court decided Reid had been read his rights before he spoke to investigators after he was detained. At the time, Reid reportedly said “he decided to choose an American target after the United States began bombing the Taliban in Afghanistan.” He reportedly “[c]laimed to have chosen 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.” At the time of his arrest, Reid also reportedly told federal agents that he would plead guilty “if you get the charges right.” Reid's lawyers contend that his alleged confession should not be admitted into evidence because he was under the influence of Valium administered by the passengers on the airplane to subdue him.
Reid has pleaded guilty to charges against him. His attorneys have explained Reid's guilty plea as an effort “to avoid publicity associated with a trial and the negative impact . . . upon his family.” Reid called the thwarted attack, “an act of war.” He said: “[b]asically, I got on the plane with the bomb . . . . Basically I got on, I tried to ignite it.” Reid attempted to get the allegations that he trained with al Qaeda removed from his indictment, but Chief Judge William G. Young rejected his request, and ordered that these charges be considered in Reid's sentencing. In response to the judge's decision, Reid stated: “yeah, I understand that and I don't care; I am a member of al Qaeda. I have pledged to Osama bin Laden, and I am an enemy of your country and I don't care. Simple and plain.”
Reid's media coverage highlights a perception of his identity that intersects race, national origin, biracial background, and religion. The media point out that he is a British citizen of biracial background. Like African American suspects, the media focus on Reid's prior record to suggest that he is bad. The stories focus on other criminal behavior by members of his family. For instance, his African-Caribbean father was imprisoned for eighteen years, and was, in fact, in prison when Reid was born. Unlike the typical coverage of African Americans, the media coverage of Reid suggests some explanation for his behavior--dysfunction in his family life because his father was emotionally unavailable to Reid. However, the stories only suggest dysfunction by his African-Caribbean father; no mention is made of his white mother's possible dysfunction. She was, after all, involved with a man who was imprisoned. In addition, his white mother was the one who raised Reid. The stories seem deferential to Reid's mother.
As noted, articles describe Reid as “a petty thief,” “a London Pickpocket and mugger,” or a “major league hell-raiser.” These depictions of Reid's criminal background seem much tamer than the usual descriptions of African American defendants who are often described as generally bad. These descriptions also seem tame given the significant direct evidence that Reid attempted to detonate a bomb on an airplane. Unlike other September 11th defendants, the media portrayed Reid's prison-conversion to Islam in a positive manner. The media described Reid as having “a strong but quiet devotion to a new faith, Islam.” It was only after this initial conversion that he fell into some radical sect. Reid, like Moussaoui, tried to plead guilty, but the media have not called Reid's actions “wacky” or “erratic.”
Reid's media coverage is somewhat atypical in comparison to other African American alleged perpetrators. It seems that the media are cognizant of his biracial heritage and, as a consequence, Reid's portrayal has been “whitened.” In addition, Reid is a citizen of Great Britain, which is perceived to be largely a white country, which has an intimate historical link to the United States. Great Britain is also one of the most reliable allies of the United States. Consequently, Reid is more advantaged on the racial hierarchy than Moussaoui. First, Reid is biracial and has a white mother. Second, Reid's direct African ancestors are from a more distant generation than Moussaoui's. Reid's father was from Jamaica, but Moussaoui's parents were from Morocco. Finally, Reid is a British citizen, and Great Britain is culturally more similar to the United States than France. As such, Reid's media portrayal is more “white” than Moussaoui.
Although Reid's media coverage may have been whitened, it has not prevented the media from relying on some old stereotypes. For instance, the media portrayed Reid as dumb. They called him an al Qaeda “B-team” member, suggesting that he is not as smart as the September 11th hijackers. He may not be smart, but he did get on the plane and almost accomplished his plan to blow it up. In addition, the media emphasize his physicality. Stories discuss that he is large, in that he is six feet, four inches tall. This description is only relevant so as to emphasize the “heroic” effort of the passengers who subdued him on the plane.
F. Jose Padilla
The media have portrayed Jose Padilla as a street thug, and a terrorist who deserves to be held and deprived of civil rights and civil liberties. The media have reported on his past criminal record and have made judgments about it. In 1983 he pleaded guilty to robbery and was given probation. Two years later, he was convicted of two counts of murder, aggravated battery, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery--he was sentenced to a juvenile detention facility for two and one-half years. In October 1991, Padilla was arrested for pulling a gun and firing it at a driver during a traffic dispute. He returned to jail and was released in 1992. He also completed a substance abuse program.
President Bush has said, “[t]his guy Padilla's a bad guy, and he is where he needs to be--detained.” President Bush also said, “[w]e have a man detained who is a threat to the country and that thanks to the vigilance of our intelligence gathering and law enforcement he is now off the streets, where he should be . . . .” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated, “[o]ur interest is not in trying and punishing him. Our interest is in finding out what he knows.” Attorney General Ashcroft said “[t]he national security interests of the United States required that [Padilla] be detained by the Defense Department as an enemy combatant.” He described Padilla as an “al Qaeda operative [who] was planning future terrorist attacks on innocent American civilians in the United States.” By contrast, Padilla's lawyer points out “the evidence linking Padilla to the alleged ‘dirty bomb’ plot is weak at best.”
The New York Post reported that “Al Mujahir isn't some messed-up Marin County kid like John Walker Lindh. He's a hardened criminal named Jose Padilla who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Chicago. He converted to Islam in prison during a stay in a Florida prison.” The New York Post called him “a former Chicago street gangster and ex-con.” The New York Daily News reported that Padilla was supposedly fooled by an on-line parody about how to build an H-bomb. The reporter speculated that since “al Qaeda has been scattered by the United States bombing of Afghanistan, it is now relying on its 'B-team' of would-be terrorists like the alleged 'shoe-bomber' Richard Reid.
The media also reported on Padilla's family. They noted Padilla moved from Brooklyn to Chicago when he was four years old. His mother is reported to have had five children by two different men. His biological father died when he was young. Padilla's mother, Estella, has had no contact with Padilla since 1998. Reportedly, she worried that he joined a cult. After his detainment, his mother posted a note on the door to her home stating, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” A sister, Delma Padilla, has said that Padilla “was coming to the Unites States to visit his kids--not to plan a massive terrorist attack . . . .” Former neighbors indicated that they found it “hard to believe” that he was a terrorist. “He was obedient, respectful, he did his chores, watched television, he was just your average kid . . . .”
As discussed, Padilla is Puerto Rican; he comes from a racial and ethnic group that the media have historically stereotyped. Consequently, unlike Moussaoui and Reid, the media invoke the stereotype of a “brown brute.” The media portray Padilla as a hardcore street thug not entitled to constitutional protections. They compare him unfavorably to Lindh, who is just “messed up,” whereas Padilla is a “hardened criminal.” President Bush called Padilla a “bad guy.” Like other African Americans or Latinos, the media reported extensively on his past criminal background and made judgments about it. However, the media fail to explain how being a former street thug is related to being an international terrorist.
Padilla's family history is also discussed but not as a means to rationalize or explain his behavior as was done in the case of Walker Lindh or initially for Bishop--it is discussed as a means of showing his dysfunction. His biological father died when he was very young, and his mother had five children by two different men. His mother is portrayed as being distant and having very little contact with him. Padilla is also portrayed as being on al Qaeda's “B-team” thereby suggesting that he, like Reid, is stupid. He was supposedly fooled by an on-line parody on how to make a bomb. Unlike Lindh's father, Padilla's mother is portrayed as helpless. His mother left a note on the door of her home pleading that “her family be left alone.”
The media depictions of Charles Bishop, John Walker Lindh, Zacarius Moussaoui, Richard Reid, and Jose Padilla have varied in accordance with their perceived whiteness and darkness. To the extent an individual's identity was racially ambiguous, the coverage was tempered by his nation of origin and his biracial status. The coverage also varied based upon where these men fell on the spectrum of appearance, race, place of origin, and religion. Once it became clear that Lindh was white and, when the media thought that Bishop was white, they received the most favorable coverage. Reid's coverage seems tempered by the circumstances of his arrest and his alleged crime. His better-than-expected coverage is probably the result of his biracial background and British citizenship. Moussaoui's coverage is bad but not as bad as it could be. Again, his treatment by the media is probably the result of his status as a French citizen, but of Moroccan ancestry. Padilla, who is an American Puerto Rican, has suffered under the worst coverage because he conforms to a known American stereotype. These stereotypes and the media coverage related to them have an effect on how all people of color are viewed.