Clive Stafford Smith

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Clive Stafford Smith

Clive Stafford Smith (cropped).jpg
Stafford Smith in 2010
Clive Stafford Smith

(1959-07-09) 9 July 1959 (age 63)
Cambridge, United Kingdom
Alma materUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Columbia University

Clive Adrian Stafford Smith OBE (born 9 July 1959) is a British attorney who specialises in the areas of civil rights and working against the death penalty in the United States of America.[1] He worked to overturn death sentences for convicts, and helped found the not-for-profit Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in New Orleans. By 2002 this was the "largest capital defence organisation in the South."[2] He was a founding board member of the Gulf Region Advocacy Center, based in Houston, Texas.

In addition, he has represented more than 80 of the detainees held as enemy combatants since 2002 at the US Guantanamo Bay detention camp. As of February 2021, a total of 40 men are still held there.[3]

In August 2004, Stafford Smith returned from the US to live and work in the United Kingdom. He is the co-founder of Reprieve, a human rights not-for-profit organisation. He left after 15 years, and has now established a new non-profit called 3DCentre. 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 studied journalism as a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He followed this degree with another in law at Columbia University in New York.[4] He is licensed to practise law in the state of Louisiana.

Law career in US[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.[4] He was featured in Fourteen Days in May (1987), a documentary showing the fortnight prior to the execution of Edward Earl Johnson in Mississippi State Penitentiary.[5] It was aired on the BBC. Stafford Smith had acted as Johnson's attorney and was seen trying to halt the execution. In a follow-up documentary, Stafford Smith conducted his own investigation into the murder case for which Johnson had been executed.[5]

In 1993, he helped set up a new justice center for prisoner advocacy in New Orleans. Formerly named the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, it is now known as the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center (LCAC).[4] He represented the paedophile Ricky Langley, who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The jurors accepted that the accused was suffering from mental illness, but condemned Langley to capital punishment. The conviction was reversed, and Stafford Smith facilitated a meeting where Ricky apologised to the mother of his victim, Jeremy Guillory. Lorilei Guillory asked the DA to drop the death penalty, which he denied. She testified that Ricky should be in a mental hospital rather than prison, saying "I think he is mentally ill."[6]

In 2002, Stafford Smith became a founding board member of the Gulf Region Advocacy Center, a non-profit law office based in Houston, Texas.[7] It was designed to bring his legal methods developed at LCAC into the "capital of capital punishment", as Texas had the highest number of executions in the United States.

Guantánamo detainees[edit]

After returning to Britain, Stafford Smith worked as the founder of Reprieve, a British non-profit NGO that is opposed to the death penalty.[4] During his career in the US, by 2002 Stafford Smith had lost appeals in six death penalty cases, but had won nearly 300, earning reprieves from execution for those convicts and exonerating a number of them.[2]

From 2002 Stafford Smith volunteered his services to detainees held as enemy combatants at the United States detainment camp at Guantanamo Bay, established under President George W. Bush as part of the Global War on Terror. Stafford Smith has assisted in filing habeas corpus petitions and lawsuits on behalf of scores of 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, Stafford Smith answered that "liberty is eroded at the margins".[8]

He returned to Britain in August 2004. That December he prepared a 50-page brief outlining a possible defences against execution for Saddam Hussein, arguing that the former dictator should be tried in the Hague under international law.[9] 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. He warned the audience that prisoners were likely to die very soon. Due to restrictions imposed by the Pentagon (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 full clearance. Smith had to wait until 27 August 2005 to publicly reveal that the hunger strikes had started again on 5 August 2005. A number of his clients, including Binyam "Benjamin" Mohammed and Hisham Sliti, participated in the hunger strikes.

In an interview broadcast by BBC television evening news on 9 September 2005, Stafford Smith said that the second hunger strike was to protest against the imprisonment of juveniles under the age of 18 in Guantanamo Bay.[10]

Stafford Smith contributed to The Guardian with an opinion piece 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 to be unconstitutional. The Court held that the executive branch did not have the authority to set up a justice system outside the existing civil and military legal systems.[11] 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.[11]

Stafford Smith published a memoir about his experiences at Guantanamo, Bad Men: Guantánamo Bay and the Secret Prisons (2007). It was shortlisted for the 2008 Orwell Prize for political writing.[12] Interviewed by Jon Snow of Channel 4 News on 26 March 2009, Stafford Smith said about the treatment of detainees, "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".[13]

In July 2010, Stafford Smith accused former Foreign Secretary David Miliband of fighting to prevent the release of vital documents during the Binyam Mohamed case.[citation needed] On 9 June 2015, he told an audience that he had visited the facility 34 times.[14] In 2013, he went on hunger strike as part of a campaign for the release of Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer, who was finally released in 2015.[15]

In 2022, Stafford Smith was featured in the documentary film We Are Not Ghouls, about his work with JAG attorney Yvonne Bradley to free Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed.


Stafford Smith in 2009


  • 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
  • The Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Fighting the Lawless World of Guantanamo Bay (Nation, 2007) ISBN 1-56858-374-5
  • Bad Men: Guantánamo Bay and the Secret Prisons (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007). Details his work for detainees in Guantanamo Bay, and criticises advocates of torture.
  • Injustice: Life and Death in the Courtrooms of America (Harvill Secker, 2012) ISBN 9781846556258


  1. ^ Knight of the living dead Archived 4 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine The Daily Telegraph – 30 January 2005
  2. ^ a b "The Great Defender" Archived 30 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 11 March 2002. Retrieved 22 April 2016
  3. ^ "Who's still held at Guantánamo". The Miami Herald. Archived from the original on 7 February 2019. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d "Profile at Reprieve". Archived from the original on 1 October 2015. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Fourteen Days in May". Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
  6. ^ "My father, mental illness and the death penalty | Clive Stafford Smith | TEDxExeter - YouTube". YouTube. Archived from the original on 15 January 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  7. ^ Funding reprieve from Death Row, archived from the original on 21 December 2016, retrieved 14 December 2016
  8. ^ "Insight with Clive Stafford-Smith – Defending Terror Suspects of Guantanamo", Frontline, 15 August 2007, archived from the original on 21 December 2021, retrieved 14 December 2016
  9. ^ "Saddam bids to challenge case in U.S.", The Sunday Times, 19 December 2004, archived from the original on 8 August 2008, retrieved 14 December 2016
  10. ^ "A Child at Guantanamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad", Andy Worthington website, 1 June 2009, archived from the original on 21 October 2011, retrieved 14 December 2016
  11. ^ a b "A good day for democracy: The ruling against the Guantanamo tribunals is good news for everyone — even George Bush" Archived 20 April 2013 at, The Guardian, 30 June 2006.
  12. ^ "Shortlist 2008" Archived 14 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine, The Orwell Prize
  13. ^ "Interview: Mohammed's lawyer Clive Stafford Smith". Channel 4 News. 26 March 2009. Archived from the original on 8 April 2009. Retrieved 28 March 2009.
  14. ^ "My father, mental illness and the death penalty | Clive Stafford Smith | TEDxExeter - YouTube". YouTube. Archived from the original on 15 January 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  15. ^ Smith, Clive Stafford (12 July 2013). "Why we are hunger-striking in solidarity with Guantánamo's detainees | Clive Stafford Smith". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 7 February 2019. Retrieved 6 February 2019.
  16. ^ "Supplement 55710". The London Gazette. 30 December 1999. p. 35. Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  17. ^ "Gandhi International Peace Award citation". Gandhi Foundation. Archived from the original on 2 August 2008. Retrieved 21 October 2008.
  18. ^ "Honorary Graduates 1989 to present". University of Bath. Archived from the original on 17 July 2010. Retrieved 18 February 2012.

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