Thursday, June 10, 2004

Clive Stafford-Smith: The Death Penalty

British lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, who for the last 20 years has worked with death row prisoners in the U.S. is returning to his home in Britain, to fight for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Cuba.

Stafford-Smith, currently runs the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Centre (a non-profit law office specialising in indigent capital defence) and his wife Emily Bolton, of the Innocence Project of New Orleans, are moving back to England, forever, this coming mid August.

A fervent opponent of capital punishment, Stafford-Smith's criticism of prosecutors and the U.S. justice system is often biting. "I don't believe a man should be judged by his worst act," Stafford-Smith said after watching a client executed by lethal injection.

Stafford-Smith plans a charity called Justice in Exile, working for people held by the U.S. military in Cuba as possible terrorists, [scapegoats for the Coalition of the Killing's resource wars in the Middle East.]

"I'll be representing people in Guantanamo - which I can do as easily in England as I can in the U.S., given that the U.S. won't let us talk to our clients anyhow," Stafford-Smith said.

In England, his wife Emily Bolton, will be representing, [alleged], child offenders. Clive Stafford-Smith is an English-born defence attorney and works with death row prisoners in the state of Louisiana.

Currently, the "belly of the very beast" he wants to destroy. He wakes up every morning, hops in his car and goes to court to tell the United States justice system that it is rotten to the core. "I thought I'd come here and straighten out the Colonies," he says dryly.

"I thought it would take just a few years - that was back in 1978 – but nothing has changed."Stafford-Smith's British background is clear as soon as he stands up and opens his mouth in court. The assistant attorney general of Mississippi, Marvin White, has been litigating against Stafford-Smith since the mid 1980s.

"I'm not a fan of his. As far as I'm concerned, he can go back and enjoy the green and verdant valleys of England," says White.

Clive confess that the Americans have instilled in him an increasing appreciation for Britain, the country of this birth. He has spent 22 years in the "belly of the beast", watching the excesses of the U.S as his clients on death row have died in the electric chair.

"In 1993, a federal judge ruled that, as the U.S. constitution has no ruling against killing the innocent, then it doesn't matter whether you are innocent or not, when you are executed. It's profoundly stupid - the constitution doesn't say the sun must set in the west, but it does.

Put in that context, the belief that the U.S. has the finest legal system in the world is total bullshit, says Stafford-Smith who has represented some 300 death row cases.

Mr Stafford-Smith is the antithesis of [war criminal], Bush's America - a man who makes most liberals I know look like ardent Nazis. He says he'd never send anyone to prison - ever. It sounds ridiculous at first, but then you and I haven't spent most of our working life on death row or in Kafkaesque courtrooms where the rich kill and walk free while the poor "fry."

Mr Stafford-Smith's alternative to custody is medical and psychological treatment. He says he has never met someone who was born evil - it's society that made them what they became. Prison is a sick concept.

Some people are dangerous but we have an alternative called secure mental hospitals. The people we define as anti- social don't choose to be anti-social.

"I find that the worse the crime is, the easier it is to understand why it happened," he said. "I just know I'd never send anyone to prison. I couldn't be a judge. It's disgusting. It's like slavery. Define a crime. It's defined by rich, white men.

He asks why Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee cannibal killer, (bashed to death in prison in 1994 by another inmate, [prisoner], while no one said they seen anything) was not sentenced to detention in a mental hospital. He thinks that the defence of insanity should find anyone mad if their refrigerator is filled with body parts.

Ted Bundy, one of America's most prolific serial killers, was so crazy he couldn't put a sentence together. "These are men that should be given treatment, not killed. I don't believe in those absurd tabloid myths about the notion of evil," he says. "It's as stupid as calling someone a nigger."

Mr Stafford-Smith equates the way the Americans treat criminals with the way British society reacts to paedophiles. "We just love to hate," he says. "The KKK teaches poor whites to hate poor blacks so they will feel better. My relatives, when I was growing up in the 1970s, hated the Irish.

We do the same with paedophiles. It's the politics of hatred. Paedophiles suffer from a serious mental illness. Most hate themselves. Normal people don't go around raping babies. We always condemn. We are always judgmental. We always wish to blame," he said.

Mr Stafford-Smith's professional life and private views have triggered waves of hate mail from Americans. Some of his anti-death penalty colleagues say racism is the main reason behind Americans' support for capital punishment, but Stafford-Smith instead blames the politics of hatred.

"There are politicians who like to turn us on someone to despise," he says. His role acting for detainees, [prisoners], at the notorious Guantanam prison camp for alleged al-Qaeda terrorists, [? scapegoats and patsies], sent right-wing America into paroxysms of anger.

"A foreigner? Representing terrorists?

[? Scapegoats and patsies for the Coalition of the Killings resource war's in the Middle East!]

The anger was amazing," he says. "It was treason, I was told. I should be taken out and shot."

"Going to death row for me is still an incredible experience. That is where the people I really care about are. I'd prefer to live in a society of people who'd been on death row than in America - they are much nicer people.

It's terrible to leave death row - to leave people you know locked in a cell the size of a toilet to be slowly tortured to death. "United States society just doesn't care for others. It is selfish and money-driven," says Mr Stafford-Smith.

"On death row, people are more thoughtful. They may have done one heinous act - but then who isn't better than their own worst moment? The people on death row are better than the people you meet on U.S. streets," he said.

Clive Stafford-Smith was awarded the OBE in 2000 for his humanitarian services and during his trip to Scotland this weekend he will also pick up the prestigious Robert Burns Humanitarian Award.


Clive Stafford-Smith was in Melbourne, Australia in May 2001.

In his lecture on, 'Fighting the Death Penalty', Clive humoured and educated an audience of over 150 into the dramatic realisation of the injustice in the American law system.

Several ACADP team members attended the lecture at the Clayton Campus of Monash University. "It was obvious from the onset that Clive's intention was not to supplement the already abundant array of facts and figures regarding the death penalty, but to provide a portrayal of "American Justice" that made the audience walk away laughing at it.

Statements such as 'those morons in Washington' and 'I am not an American and I never want to be' were all too clear, as Clive gallantly addressed issues of justice, race, child offenders and of the history," said ACADP youth spokesperson, Tracey Benson.

Beginning with an interesting spoof on the cretinism of law, Clive showed how the implementation of the death penalty is riddled with errors and problems.

Speaking with a philosophical tone, Clive stood with the theory that truth of today is an uncertainty and to act upon that truth in such a final manner as the death penalty does, merely shows how the United States is moving backwards in the struggle for the world's greater sense of humanity.

Clive gave examples whilst describing various processes of justice that he has encoutered in his 20 years of practice in law.

One chilling account was of a man named, Stevens, who was executed by electric chair, and which a tape recording was conducted at the time. Clive described how it took three bolts of electricity to kill Stevens, which occurred over a duration of 37 minutes.

He told how executioners are often volunteers, and hence, how over the period of the three bolts of electricity the people at the controls could be heard laughing and making remarks that Stevens was 'not a good conductor'.

Clive also commented on the obscene justifications of lethal injection being a more 'humane' method of execution. Of course, the American validation of the death penalty is that it deters crime; but then one may say that if it is shown to be the humane method of death, then the deterrence factor would decline.

Consequently, why America will never publicly show the execution of Timothy McVeigh is because the whole process is now made so clinical, that the public would see it as a less event of what we are being told.

Clive stated how today, witnesses of an execution see very little. The condemned is paralysed and needles are inserted into his veins, before the curtains are drawn. Ultimately, Clive summed up his hour lecture with the notions that the death penalty achieves nothing with respect to the positive progression of the world.

Clive remarked that human beings have to find answers to their problems and offenders are obvious targets to vent anger. Our meagre existence does not allow us the power to choose what is right or wrong, as these concepts change too rapidly over our times.

ACADP team members walked out of the lecture theatre realising that if humans are not even capable of deciding right from wrong in some absolute way, then we certainly have no right to decide something as finite as taking of a human life.

Clive Stafford Smith OBE, is also the author of numerous published articles and has also taught at the Emory and Loyola Law Schools. He is a frequent guest on television and radio in the United Kingdon, since appearing in the award winning BBC documentary, "14 days in May".


Q: Why did you leave the UK to do this work in the US?

A: I found the U.S. was in the business of killing its citizens. I was 19 at the time and decided it was my mission in life to go and straighten them out. I started by writing about these people who I found out didn't have any lawyers. I became a lawyer so I sank even lower than journalism.

Q: Do Americans take kindly to a Limey criticising their death penalty?

A: It's better than being a Yank, I tell you.

A Georgian study found that people think someone with a British accent is twice as smart as a Georgian, although I don't know if that is a good thing.

Q: How widespread is the death penalty in the U.S.?

A: Thirty-eight states have it but not all are desperately committed to killing people. It's mainly the old Confederacy.

Q: What about the Bible's whole, "eye for an eye" thing?

A: The Bible says some remarkably stupid things. Chapter 15 verse 34 says you get the death penalty for picking up sticks on Saturday. Does that make sense?

Q: Do you make any money doing this?

A: It's basically a continual "capital defence" rather than a "capital acquisition" position, but I'm not starving.

Q: Are you making any progress?

A: Gosh yes. I have represented more than 300 people and all but four, are not dead. I can't imagine having a more fulfilling job. But if you ask me if America is becoming a more civilised country - there are more people serving life without parole in Louisiana alone than the total in prison in the state of Victoria, Australia.

Q: Do you ever get hate mail?

A: Oh yes. I get some bizarre stuff and people always tell me to take my whining back to England. It's remarkable to me that people go to such lengths to send such things.

Q: Have you ever met families of victims of the Oklahoma bombing?

A: I have talked to some of the families who have been remarkable. Bud Welch lost his daughter and went through a time when he wanted to kill McVeigh. But then he remembered his daughter thought killing people was perpetrating hatred. He's now an advocate of not killing people.

Q: Is it true you defend people charged with consensual oral sex?

A: Yes, it's a sideline of mine. Almost anything is illegal in the U.S. The missionary position between consenting adults is about the only thing that's not illegal in the U.S.

Q: You're kidding?

A: Yes, in many states, we call it tongualingus prohibitum. When you come to the southern states, you arebetter to wait until your partner dies necrophilia only attracts half the charge.

By ACADP June 10, 2004

ACADP Incorporated

The Premier Australian Internet Resource on Capital Punishment


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