The Rule of Law Oral History Project was initiated in 2008 to explore and document the state of human and civil rights in the post-9/11 world. In its first year, the project conducted a series of interviews with attorneys in order to document legal challenges against capital punishment in the United States. Recognizing important intersections between litigation challenging the administration of capital punishment and the legal architecture of post-9/11 detention policies and practices, the Rule of Law Oral History Project expanded in 2010 to study the statutory and constitutional challenges of the use of the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.
In the past five years, the Columbia Center for Oral History has conducted over 250 hours of oral history interviews with a range of narrators, including civilian defense and habeas attorneys, military defense attorneys and prosecutors, retired military commanders, U.S. government officials from the Departments of State, Defense and Justice, human rights advocates and investigators, grassroots activists, psychologists, journalists, and former Guantánamo Bay detainees. These interviews address the need to gather historical information from the people who formulated or directed policy changes at the highest levels of government and the armed forces, as well as from those who witnessed, experienced, and challenged violations of constitutional and human rights. Historical themes documented in our collection of interviews include perspectives on the legal, political and social histories of civil and human rights; the rights of individuals to protection from abuse; the personal experiences of individuals, families, and advocates in conflict with criminal or military justice systems; and the legal, political and moral responses of individuals and movements that work to preserve the rule of law in the United States.
This year, the Rule of Law Oral History Project continues its focus on the struggle over the rights of habeas corpus and due process through a series of interviews with legal scholars, attorneys, public intellectuals, investigative journalists, judges, trauma psychologists, and artists.
Funding for the Rule of Law Oral History Project was generously provided by the Atlantic Philanthropies.
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