Nation Books author and founder of the British legal charity Reprieve, Clive Stafford Smith was interviewed at length in Charity Insight. Stafford Smith is the author of the 2007 title Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side, a raw, first-hand account of the notorious Guantánamo Bay dentention facility and the experiences of the men being held there under the banner of the War on Terror from a human rights lawyer who has represented more than fifty of these prisoners and spent many weeks in their company.
As a matter of principle, he takes on the most difficult cases — prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, on death row in the US and those that have been "disappeared" during the long "war on terror". He has never taken payment from a client. Reprieve, the British charity of which he is founder and director, investigates legal injustice and secret prisons around the world, acts on behalf of prisoners and engages in public education on human rights abuses surrounding the death penalty.
This is not donkeys and kittens, the stuff that usually opens the British public's purses. Fundraising for such issues is a challenge: Smith calls it "difficult philanthropy". "Homeless dogs get a lot more support than homeless human beings," he says. If he were a philanthropist, "and I'm not — in the sense that I don't have a lot of money to give away — I would give it to the people who really need it; who are least likely to get the support. It's a difficult argument to win but on the other hand so are all the arguments we make — you just have to try."
Though Stafford Smith is relieved that George Bush's administration is a thing of the past, he is concerned that President Obama's policies are a continuation of his predecessor's. The early optimism that surrounded the first weeks of his presidency is gone. There are more drone strikes now under Obama than there ever were under Bush. "'It is a great tragedy,' says Stafford Smith. 'I think one of the problems of many people in power — whether they are politicians or judges or whatever — is being able to receive the long brown envelope of the truth, as my Australian friends say, in the sense that no one tells them what is going on in the real world.'"
Stafford Smith and his crew of 23 at Reprieve are there to fill that information gap, and one way in which he is going to do it is with his next book, which will focus on the American judicial system. We look forward to it.