Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Clive Stafford Smith - Edinburgh Book Festival 23 August 2007

An inspiring session with Clive Stafford Smith. Until comparatively recently, Clive was best known for his work as a lawyer with Reprieve, the charity representing prisoners on Death Row in the USA (he's half-American, half-British and is a US citizen). Over the past few years, though, he has represented around forty prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, most famously Moazzam Begg who was at last year's Book Festival. Well, today he inspired several hundred people in Edinburgh (many of whom I was pleased to note provided email addresses for Reprieve's campagn materials). His Powerpoint presentation wasn't working, but it didn't seem to cramp his style at all. He was in Edinburgh today to give a presentation to the Scottish Parliament (or one of its committees) of evidence that - despite Westminster denials - Prestwick Airport has indeed been repeatedly used by the CIA for its "rendition" flights (i.e. kidnapping people and taking them across borders without extradition warrants so they can be tortured more readily). CSS, incidentally, was scathing about US government euphemisms, suc as "rendition" for "kidnapping" and "detainee" for "prisoner".

A few highlights:

(1) The 400 or so prisoners at Guantanamo are only a tiny proportion of the 14,000 prisoners held by the US in secret prisons around the world. Some of them are held at the base on British soil at Diego Garcia (the US military have admited it even if the official line of both governments is denial).

(2) CSS once highlighted the level of US censorship over what goes on at Guantanamo by writing a letter to Tony Blair in which he reported various discussions he'd had with a client who'd been tortured. This letter, of course, went through the US military censor and every word between 'Dear Prime Minister' and 'Yours sincerely' was blanked out. You can imagine what fun the British press had with that one on their front pages.

(3) One of his clients had been flown to Morocco for torture, and although on a weekly basis (for several weeks) he had his penis slashed with a razor during interrogations, he reckoned the worst thing he had to deal with was the music. The Moroccans played an Eminem track (I forget which one) to him continually, 24x7, for twenty days. However, the upside is that this provided a novel route to a legal challenge, because if Eminem agrees (and they think he will) CSS intends to sue the Moroccan government for royalties for the use of one of his copyrighted recordings something like 1,000 times. I love the thought that right now, all over the American gulag, torturers are frantically downloading MCPS return forms.......

(4) When discussing how difficult British people find it to understand the supine attitude of the American news media to human rights violations (and indeed government lies) he gave the audience an example of how much more conservative America is than Britain. He analysed the voting records (in Parliament and the US Senate) of Margaret Thatcher and Edward Kennedy, and on every issue Maggie's voting record was more left-wing than Teddy's. The whole political map is shifted so far to the right in the US that Europeans find it hard to relate to it.

(5) When appealing Federal death penalty cases in the Supreme Court, under Federal law the question of guilt or innocence of the accused is not a relevant ground for an appeal. So you can have watertight proof of someone's innocence, but under US law that can't be used to prevent their execution. (Wow...the rabbit hole goes that far....)

(6) The iguanas in Guantanamo Bay have more rights than the prisoners. US environmental laws apply on the base, and any harm to an iguana can attract a $10,000 fine. Hitting a prisoner, on the other hand, is classed as "mild non-injurious contact" and attracts no penalty at all.

(7) The motto of the Guantanamo Bay base is "Honour Bound To Defend Freedom". Leaving aside the resonances with "Arbeit Macht Frei", the funny thing is that when soldiers salute officers on the base they are obliged to say "Honour Bound, Sir", and the reply is "To Defend Freedom, Soldier". CSS at first assumed this was a piss-take for his benefit, until his laughter attracted dirty looks.

(8) Force-feeding procedures at Guantanamo, it was recently proudly announced, have been altered specifically to increase the distress to the prisoners. These are peaceful hunger-strikers, by the way.

(9) Despite Donald Rumsfeld's original claim that everyone in Guantanamo had been picked up on a battlefield in Afghanistan, that is true of hardly any. One of CSS's clients was kidnapped in Gambia, slightly further from Kabul than Edinburgh is. Mostly they were turned in by Pakistanis attracted by the $5000 bounty money on offer. Adjusted for GDP, that would be $250,000 in Scotland. Clive asked us if we'd be prepared to turn in an innocent stranger if we'd get quarter of a million dollars and no inconvenient questions?

And much, much more. His latest book is Bad Men: Guantanamo Bay and the Secret Prisons. Well worth a read, I'd think.

Oh, and there were at least two released (courtesy of Reprieve) US Death Row inmates in the audience.

Reprieve's website is here.


At 24 August, 2007 16:08, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

Wonder how many years I'll be appologizing for Bush? I'm still sorry.

At 25 August, 2007 01:05, Blogger Rob said...

Why apologise? Unless...OMG, you didn't VOTE for him, did you?

Well then.

At 22 October, 2008 03:18, Blogger spadamchrist said...

The Longtime anti-death-penalty lawyer Clive Stafford Smith has spent nearly six years working with other attorneys to challenge the government's handling of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Their litigation helped force the Bush administration to allow lawyers for detainees, but that hasn't ended the battle. On December 5, the Supreme Court will hear its fourth Guantánamo case, this one challenging the recent suspension of habeas corpus for prisoners.

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