Clive Stafford Smith

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Clive Stafford Smith
Clive Stafford Smith in 2010.jpg
Born Clive Stafford Smith
(1959-07-09) 9 July 1959 (age 57)
Cambridge, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Alma mater University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Columbia University
Occupation Lawyer

Clive Adrian Stafford Smith OBE (born 9 July 1959) is a British[1] attorney who specialises in the areas of civil rights and working against the death penalty in the United States of America. He worked to overturn death sentences for convicts, helping found the not-for-profit Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in New Orleans, which by 2002 was the "largest capital defence [sic] organisation in the South."[2] He was a founding board member of the Gulf Region Advocacy Center, based in Houston. He has represented more than 100 of the detainees held as enemy combatants since 2002 at the US Guantanamo Bay detention camp. As of April 2016, a total of 80 men are still held there.

In August 2004, Stafford Smith returned from the US to live and work in the United Kingdom. He is the Legal Director of the UK branch of Reprieve, a human rights not-for-profit organisation. In 2005 he received the Gandhi International Peace Award.


Born in Cambridge and educated at Old Buckenham Hall School and Radley College, Clive Stafford Smith declined a place at the University of Cambridge to study as a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He studied journalism. He followed this by getting a law degree at Columbia University in New York.[3] He is permitted to practice law in the state of Louisiana and in Washington, D.C.

Early law career[edit]

Stafford Smith worked for the Southern Prisoners' Defense Committee, based in Atlanta, now known as the Southern Center for Human Rights, and on other campaigns to help convicted defendants sentenced to capital punishment.[3] He first came to British public attention when he appeared in Fourteen Days in May (1987), a BBC documentary showing the last fortnight in the life of Edward Earl Johnson before his execution in Mississippi State Penitentiary.[4] Stafford Smith had acted as Johnson's attorney and was seen desperately trying to halt the execution of the death sentence. In a follow-up documentary, Stafford Smith conducted his own investigation of the murder for which Johnson was executed.[4]

In 1993, he helped set up a new justice center for prisoner advocacy in New Orleans; formerly the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, it is now known as the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center (LCAC).[3] In 2002, he became a founding Board Member of the Gulf Region Advocacy Center, a non-profit law office based in Houston, Texas. It was designed to bring the methods developed by Stafford Smith at LCAC to the "capital of capital punishment". He was awarded an OBE for his contributions to the law and human rights.

Guantánamo detainees[edit]

Since returning to the UK, Stafford Smith has worked as the legal director of Reprieve, a British non-profit that is opposed to the death penalty.[3] During his career in the US, by 2002 he had lost four death penalty cases, but won nearly 300, earning reprieves for those convicts.[2]

From 2002 Stafford Smith volunteered his services to detainees held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay; he has assisted in filing habeas corpus petitions and lawsuits on behalf of 128 detainees. His clients have included Shaker Aamer, Jamil al Banna, Sami Al Hajj, Sami Al Laithi, Abdul Salam Gaithan Mureef Al Shehry, Moazzam Begg, Omar Deghayes, Jamal Kiyemba, Binyam Mohammed and Hisham Sliti. In a BBC interview, when asked why he was representing detainees, he answered that "liberty is eroded at the margins".[citation needed]

He returned to the UK in 2004. It was during this period, in December 2004, that Stafford Smith prepared a 50-page brief for the defense of Saddam Hussein, arguing that Saddam should be tried in the U.S. under U.S. criminal law.[5]

On 29 August 2005, Stafford Smith addressed attendees at the Greenbelt festival, a major UK Christian festival, telling them about the second hunger strike at Guantanamo. Stafford Smith warned that prisoners were likely to die soon. Due to restrictions imposed by the United States Department of Defense (DOD), lawyers' notes must be filed with an intelligence clearing house in Virginia, before release. Conversations with clients are considered classified, and cannot be discussed until they have been cleared. Smith had to wait until 27 August 2005 to publicly reveal that the hunger strikes had been started again on 5 August 2005. Two of his clients, Binyam "Benjamin" Mohammed and Hisham Sliti, participated in the hunger strikes. In an interview broadcast on the BBC television evening news on 9 September 2005, Stafford Smith said that one of the reasons for the second hunger strike was to protest the continuing imprisonment of children (juveniles under the age of 18) in Guantanamo Bay.[6]

Stafford Smith contributed to The Guardian with an article on the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court's 29 June 2006 ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which found the Combatant Status Review Tribunals and military commissions unconstitutional, as the executive branch did not have the authority to set up a justice system outside the existing civil and military systems.[7] Stafford Smith thought that George W. Bush should have been secretly relieved that the more conservative members of the Supreme Court, who supported the administration's appeal against the lower court's ruling, were in the minority. He wrote:

"In the end, I suspect there was a collective sigh of relief from the White House that the lunatic fringe did not prevail. The Bush administration has finally recognized that it must close Guantánamo but — for all that Bush bangs on about the importance of personal responsibility — it wanted someone else to take the blame."[7]

Stafford Smith wrote a memoir about his experiences at Guantanamo, Bad Men: Guantánamo Bay and the Secret Prisons (2007), which was shortlisted for the 2008 Orwell Prize for political writing.[8]

Interviewed by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News on 26 March 2009, Stafford Smith said he would be astounded if 10 Downing Street did not know that his client Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantánamo Bay detainee, had been tortured during detention. He added: "I would go one step further: the torture decisions were being made in the White House, by the National Security Council, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice." He asserted that although the British had not carried out the torture, they were complicit in it. Stafford Smith concluded that, in trying to keep the torture allegations secret, the US authorities were "confusing national security with national embarrassment".[9]

In July 2010, Stafford Smith accused former Foreign Secretary David Miliband of "fighting tooth and nail" to prevent the release of vital documents during the Binyam Mohamed case.[10]

As of July 2011, Stafford Smith has secured the release of 65 prisoners from Guantánamo, including Moazzam Begg, a British citizen. Begg has founded Cageprisoners, an organization to aid the reintegration of detainees into society. Stafford Smith was representing 15 additional detainees.[3]



  • Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America (Harvill Secker, 2012) EAN: 9781846556258
  • Bad Men: Guantánamo Bay and the Secret Prisons (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2007) Details his work for detainees in Guantanamo Bay, and criticizes advocates of torture.
  • The Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Fighting the Lawless World of Guantanamo Bay (Nation Books, 2007) ISBN 1-56858-374-5
  • Welcome To Hell: Letters and Writings from Death Row, edited by Helen Prejean, Clive Stafford Smith, and Jan Arriens (Northeastern; 2nd edition, 2004) ISBN 1-55553-636-0


  1. ^ Knight of the living dead The Daily Telegraph - 30 Jan 2005
  2. ^ a b "The Great Defender", BBC News, 11 March 2002, accessed 22 April 2016
  3. ^ a b c d e f Profile at Reprieve
  4. ^ a b Fourteen Days in May
  5. ^ "Saddam bids to challenge case in U.S.", The Sunday Times, 19 December 2004
  6. ^ "A Child at Guantanamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad", Andy Worthington website, 1 June 2009
  7. ^ a b "A good day for democracy: The ruling against the Guantanamo tribunals is good news for everyone — even George Bush", The Guardian, 30 June 2006
  8. ^ "Shortlist 2008", The Orwell Prize
  9. ^ "Interview: Mohammed's lawyer Clive Stafford Smith". Channel 4 News. 2009-03-26. Retrieved 2009-03-28. 
  10. ^ Oborne, Peter (July 16, 2010). "Nailed, Miliband and six lies on torture". Daily Mail. London. 
  11. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". University of Bath. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 

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