Sara Birch

Guantánamo: 20 years on and still no end to the erosion of the rule of law in the United States


One of the many roles of the state is to safeguard the security of its citizens. In instances where the nation’s security is threatened by terrorist activities, those convicted of such activities by a court of law may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment. This is not in dispute. However, the power to imprison individuals indefinitely without charge or trial is a clear violation of the rule of law. The unprincipled detention at Guantánamo Bay of those suspected – but not convicted – of acts of terrorism demonstrates a profound disrespect for a fundamental constitutional principle.

This paper asks, as the twentieth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo approaches and as 39 men remain in Guantánamo, what can be done to prevent the continued erosion of the rule of law in the United States? Or with Bush’s departure into uncharted waters following 9/11 and the ‘war on terror’ have the rules of the rule of law lost their relevance in the United States?


Sara Birch is a lecturer in law at the University of Brighton where she is the module lead for Undergraduate Public Law. She has long background in human rights research and activism and has previously worked as a campaigner at Amnesty International and as the Francophone Africa researcher for the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. In addition to working as a lecturer at the University of Brighton, Sara also currently works as a Caseworker for Prisoners Abroad.

She has been involved in the campaign for the closure of Guantánamo and for justice for those detained there since the detention centre first opened and first campaigned for the release and return to the UK of Brighton resident Omar Deghayes as a member of the Brighton Amnesty International Group. She has since continued to campaign actively for justice for those still detained as a member of Lewes Amnesty International Group and as a member of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign. Over the past year she has coordinated the work of the UK Guantánamo Network which has been formed so that campaigning groups working in the UK to call for the closure of Guantánamo and justice for those detained (or previously detained) can work as effectively as possible together as the 20th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo approached on 11th January 2021.

Sara is passionate that law students at Brighton University are given the opportunity to actively engage with real-life legal issues and she is delighted that students at the university have played such a large part in organising this conference.