This week's edition of WBEZ radio's This American Life, "Habeas Schmabeas," examines the importance of the right of habeas corpus in America's legal tradition:
It means the government has to explain why it's holding a person in custody. But now, the war on terror has nixed many of the rules we used to think of as fundamental. At Guantanamo Bay, our government initially claimed that the prisoners should not be covered by habeas – or even by the Geneva Conventions – because they're the most fearsome terrorist enemies we have. But is that true? Is it a camp full of terrorists, or a camp full of our mistakes? Reporter Jack Hitt unveils everything we know about who these prisoners are. In interviews with two former detainees, he finds out the consequences of taking away habeas, for them and for us.
The whole episode is outstanding, but the personal testimonies of Badr and Abdullah (sp?), two Pakistani men wrongfully detained as terrorists, are some of the most powerful radio moments I've ever heard. All I could think, listening to this, was -- 'We are being lied to.' Here's my hasty transcription of one portion of Abdullah's story, about 40 minutes into the hour-long show:
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[The other detainees who'd been through interrogation] told me they had put electric shocks on them, and one was certain he was going to be raped, they took off his pants. I was thinking what am I gonna do?
They took me at night there was two or three interrogators. They wanted me to say I was a terrorist. I told them, "No, I am not." And then, they started pushing me and everything.
They brought a cigarette the interrogator was smoking. He blew the smoke on my face and then he came very close, very very close to my face, and he brought the cigarette between my eyes, and he said, "I swear to got I'm gonna put this out on your forehead if you don't tell me what I wanna hear."
I thought about it. I felt like... this is a jungle. And only the strong live in it. But still there are small creatures who can live, not by facing lions and big animals, but by maybe hiding, or changing their colors as the trees.
So I just told them, "Whatever you want to hear from me, I'm gonna tell you." I said, "What do you want me to say?" And he said, "Tell me you're a terrorist."
"Are you gonna let me go sleep?" Because a way of torture was not letting you sleep, keeping me awake all the time.
So I said "Okay, whatever you want. I'm a terrorist, and go tell your bosses." And they left me.
Boing Boing editor/partner and tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin hosts and produces Boing Boing's in-flight TV channel on Virgin America airlines (#10 on the dial), and writes about living with breast cancer. Diagnosed in 2011. @xeni on Twitter. email: firstname.lastname@example.org.