Clive Stafford-Smith is a human rights lawyer, who in 1999 co-founded Reprieve, the London-based charity which helps prisoners around the world facing death penalties and torture. Since 2002, he and his colleagues have represented 87 Guantanamo detainees.
He’s supported campaigns against the extradition of Julian Assange, and appeared as a witness in court during the Old Bailey extradition trial taking place in London at the moment.
His experience at Guantanamo is astonishing. It took the first couple of years and a legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court to get access to his clients. Then after meeting his first client Moazzam Begg (cleared of all charges after 3 years of brutal detention), he had his notes sent to Washington where they were heavily censored before he was allowed to leave. The censorship included redacting the 30 pages which described torture methods used, as well as two murders committed at Basram.
Stafford-Smith fought hard through the legal system, and much of this material was eventually declassified, but despite the endless obstacles put in his path, he began to uncover just how flimsy MOST of the evidence was, against the supposed terrorists held at the base. In this exclusive recording of a private event held at the Frontline Club in February, he describes by way of example some of the bizarre “evidence” used by the US military to justify detention.
Much of the material he spoke about at the Frontline meeting was included in his statement to the Old Bailey court, describing how the huge Guantanamo Bay document leak published by Wikileaks reveals the very worst case the government could come up with against his clients, and how his work enabled him to force the government to declassify swathes of material which later disproved almost all of their outlandish claims.
It’s worth noting that 90% of Guantanamo prisoners have never been convicted of anything.
The leak of the Guantanamo documents is one of the pillars of the US case against Julian Assange, and one of their complaints is the leak of informants’ identities. But the government later declassified those names, and a pattern emerged, showing that a handful of informants gave huge amounts of “evidence” in return for payment or favours.
One of those was a disturbed man known as Yasin Basardah. In one of his interviews, he gave evidence against 93 detainees (more than one a minute), but later, he and other ‘Super Snitches’ were revealed in declassified documents to have been regarded even by military Combatant Status Review Tribunals as non-credible witnesses. Another notable informant gave “information” because he wanted help from government agents to get him to the US for penis enlargement surgery!
So the overwhelming truth is that the WikiLeaks documents presented the very strongest but mostly unsubstantiated information which the government was using against Guantanamo prisoners, when in fact most of it was rubbish. The US government continued to classify material which showed they knew most of this evidence was shaky. Given this information, some even wonder whether the leak was deliberate.
Meanwhile Assange is facing prosecution for publishing the leak, even though it is still all freely available on the website of the New York Times.
The US Government hides its most damaging lies behind the veil of “national security”.
As Stafford-Smith says: “When we conflate national security with political embarrassment, that’s when we get in the deepest trouble”.