William Sampson, RIP

I was sad to read today of the death of William Sampson, a dual Canadian-British citizen who, from December 2000 to August 2003, was held in a Saudi prison for a crime he did not commit (and a crime for which there was no evidence he did commit), during which he was repeatedly tortured.

His story was tragic, but, in places, inspiring. As he told CBC’s Peter Mansbridge:

I wasn’t married, I’d had good innings, and if I could set myself up to be the fall guy, if I could set myself up to be the one that they take out, then I was fairly certain that my friends would be pardoned as a show of their generosity, as a show of the Saudi generosity. I thought to myself it might as well be me. I’ll make myself as unpalatable to them as possible, I’ll commit whatever I can which lines me up for whatever they want to throw at me. And I’ll give them as much stress back as they’ve caused me in the process.

That really began to happen in August of 2001 and, as I said, it wasn’t an overnight process, so that by the end of 2002, for instance, I was sleeping on a blanket on a concrete floor.

As much as he was broken, in his resistence, Mr. Sampson found strength in fighting back. Again, from that CBC interview:

The benefit was the fact that as I fought back against them, I showed up both my interrogators and many of my prison guards and many of the officials I had to deal with as cowards.

Every time I caused them to respond to me, every time I got in their face and it bothered them, every time I got a reaction out of them, every time I saw something like that, it gave me some strength back, it gave me some emotional strength. It gave me a sense of purpose, it gave me back my sense of integrity, something they’d stolen from me in the first weeks. And in responding to me in the way they were doing, they were actually making me stronger.

Mr. Sampson was also able to show some empathy for some of his captors. His resistence was aimed at all his captors, even those who treated Mr. Sampson with respect and consideration. In fact, it was those guards who were most abused by Mr. Sampson, and, despite all he went through, Mr. Sampson was sorry for the abuse those guards suffered at his hands.

As valiant as Mr. Sampson may appear, the Canadian government wears nothing but shame. Mr. Sampson was visited repeatedly by Canadian officials. None of these visits were unsupervised, yet the Canadian government accepted the official Saudi line, and never thought that Mr. Sampson may not have been free to speak about torture during these visits.

Mr. Sampson noted that he gained a bit of a reprieve from the torture due to his weakened cardiovascular system (the Saudis did not want him to die in custody). It seems a sad irony that yesterady, at the age of 52, his heart finally gave out.

May he rest in peace.

Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.


  1. It is with great sadness that I heard that Bill succumbed to the ailing heart condition. I knew him and we had spent many hours talking about life in general after his release from prison. I was also privilaged to watch how he crafted his book Confessions of an Innocent Man.

    His spirit lives on and his story will not be forgotten.

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