February 4, 2016
Cori Crider ’06, Strategic Director for the Abuses in Counter-Terrorism Team at Reprieve in the UK talks about her path to becoming a human rights lawyer.
Cori Crider ’06 grew up in a small town south of Dallas and went from the University of Texas to HLS with a vague notion that she wanted to do good. It was not until the summer after her 1L year, however, that she found her mission: fighting human rights abuses in counterterrorism and advocating for those who have been unjustly detained.
During an internship at a small human rights NGO, Crider sat in on a meeting and heard a Bush administration human rights official defend the government’s counterterrorism program, including detentions at Guantanamo Bay and holding children without charge or trial. Hearing the government support these practices angered Crider and motivated her to dedicate her career to fighting them.
Crider worked in the human rights clinic at HLS, traveling to Cambodia to research hydro development. During her 2L summer she interned for a human rights litigator who focused mostly on corporate accountability. Crider refocused on counterterrorism during her post-graduation job search and found Reprieve, a small nonprofit in London. Sponsored by Reprieve, she won two fellowships from Harvard and joined Reprieve as its third Guantanamo attorney.
Since Crider’s arrival in 2006, Reprieve’s staff has grown from seven to thirty-five, and its work has expanded significantly. Crider currently represents seventeen clients detained in Guantanamo and exposes the injustice of drone strikes, traveling to Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia to document civilian casualties, collect testimony from locals, and conduct on-the-ground research.
Reprieve works through law, politics, and the media to effect change – but not necessarily in that order. The organization has helped over fifty inmates win release from Guantanamo, but only one, a fourteen-year-old boy, has been released by the order of a judge. In most cases, Crider says, Reprieve succeeds in the court of public opinion, using the media to highlight human rights abuses and put political pressure on those in power. Crider first learned that social justice advocates must look outside the courtroom to effect change from Michael Klarman, her constitutional history professor at HLS, and this lesson has stayed with her throughout her career. Advocates, she says, must be prepared to take their story to the public and to engage on the turf on which they can have the greatest impact. In April 2013, for example, Reprieve facilitated the publication of an op-ed narrative by a Guantanamo detainee in the New York Times, and the article helped fuel the national conversation about counterterrorism practices (see the op-ed at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/15/opinion/hunger-striking-at-guantanamo-bay.html?_r=0).
Crider advises students who have not yet solidified their interests to read the news and see which issues inspire them. She suggests that students take note of who is quoted on issues of interest and to research smaller, lesser-known organizations that may provide unique opportunities. Crider, for example, found Reprieve through her own research and has been able to play an integral role in the organization’s work and growth.
Although her pay is lower than it would be at a major law firm, Crider believes that it is crucial to find meaning and fulfillment in one’s work. Small organizations, she says, often provide more substantive litigation experience than major firms and give young attorneys the opportunity to take on interesting work and real responsibilities.
Crider says the most difficult aspect of her work is trying to balance strategically important projects with the dedication required of individual representation. Because Reprieve and its clients are constantly fighting against the odds, she has learned to cherish her rare victories. The most precious moments, she says, are when a client steps down from a plane after being released and hugs his family for the first time in years. That scene, Crider says, is one she will never forget.