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9/11 memories: Clive Stafford Smith

We asked a human rights lawyer and the director of Reprieve: where were you on 9/11?

Our team was in Lake Charles, Louisiana, preparing for a capital trial. That morning, I had an appointment, early, with the local pathologist.
As I walked out of our rented cottage, there was something on the news about a single-seater plane that had apparently strayed off course and struck the World Trade Center.

I drove over to the doctor's office. He was not there - yet, I thought. But there was something odd about the neighbourhood. The sun was up, the tarmac beginning to steam away last night's dew. Nothing was moving. No sound. Not even a dog barking.

Eventually I gave up and went back to the house. By then, the news channels had translated the Cessna into a jumbo. Then the cameras captured the second aircraft hurling itself into the building. The court hearings were all postponed. Nobody said so; they didn't need to. Everyone was frozen. America was under attack - the first time since Pearl Harbor, the second time since 1812. Nobody understood what was happening, or what to do. So we drove the 210 miles back to New Orleans. In the city, people were looking up at the sky nervously. On the nightly news, Tom Brokaw asked why people would do this. Why did people hate America so much? It would be the last introspective question for several years.

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Clive Stafford Smith is legal director of the charity Reprieve and has spent more than 20 years representing prisoners on Death Row in the United States. More recently he has represented many of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

This article first appeared in the 05 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, 9/11