Your play Who is the Enemy? imagines a lawsuit against a fictional president of the United States launched by a terror suspect who was wrongly imprisoned. It has clear parallels with the story of Rubin (Hurricane) Carter - how would you link the two?
Of course the play deals with somebody who's not been wrongly convicted, but wrongly incarcerated. But this is different in the sense that I've emphasized the fact that this was done without charges, without a hearing, without a right to counsel, all of which I think is contrary to our system of justice. On the other hand, Carter went through the entire system and it did not serve him terribly well, until some 19 or 20 years later.
Do you think it is sinking into the consciousness of the United States that something went wrong with the war on terror?
What I hope the play does is raise what I consider one of the fundamental conflicts, and that's between liberty and security. How much are people willing to give up of their personal liberty in order to obtain their security? I mean, terrorism is a real threat. What I am interested in the play doing is having people discuss what's more important, and what they are willing to give up.
You've had an incredible career. And here you are writing your first play at 82. What keeps you going?
I'm very active and have been since I retired. I've always been interested in writing. I blog for the Huffington Post. I've just loved writing - even as a judge, I enjoyed the decision writing. Everybody in my family writes. My father was a newspaperman his whole life. My son is a writer for ESPN.
How did the event in Toronto, where your play will be read March 3, come about?
Rubin Carter asked me. I told him I had written a play, and he said he would love to read it. And I sent it to him. And apparently he knew [TV and film producer and executive]Joan Schafer from Toronto and sent it to her, and she became interested in it. I have no Broadway expectations for it. My hope is that it would be travelled to colleges and law schools and promote discussion of what I consider to be this underlying issue of security versus liberty.
Are you in regular touch with Rubin Carter?
Oh yes. Rubin Carter has telephoned me every year on the anniversary of his release [Nov. 6] When I moved to California, I didn't tell him where I was going, or where I was going to be, and darned if the phone doesn't ring on the day of the anniversary. We always have the identical conversation. He thanks me for freeing him, and I say to him I was just doing my job. I have a picture from Rubin, where he has caught a fish which is as big as he is. And he's written on the photograph, "Dear Judge, without you, this fish would still be alive." Which I think is quintessential Rubin Carter. He really is a remarkable person. He has devoted his life to those he believes have been wrongly convicted. He's an inspiration.
Had you heard the Bob Dylan song?
As a matter of fact, I knew nothing about it. Of course my kids knew about it. I insisted that nobody talk to me about it or play the song until I had decided the case. I wanted to isolate myself from anything anybody knew about it.
When you retired in the mid-1990s, the Republicans were singling out judges they thought were "soft on crime" - including you.
I've always been resentful of the fact that judges who protect the constitutional rights of persons accused or even convicted of crimes are labelled as being "soft on crime." It's just to me utter nonsense. Judges are against crime as much as anybody. But their job is to protect the rights of those who are accused of crime and those who are convicted.
Will someone like the main character in your play emerge in the United States and become a symbol of the mistakes made in the name of the war on terror?
Well, you've got one in Canada, already [Maher]Arar. We'll have one of those, one of these days. Eventually one of these cases will be permitted to go trial. I think the world pretty much knows what happened. I don't know if it needs any more airing. All I want my play to do is provoke debate.
What did you think of the Norman Jewison film [ The Hurricane (1999), starring Denzel Washington]
I thought it was a marvellous film. I thought it should have won the Academy Award. I was disappointed, I guess we all were, that it didn't. I wasn't thrilled with … I forget his name, the actor who portrayed me [the late Rod Steiger] He was a little arrogant and pompous for my taste. I said to somebody, "the language was mine, the overacting was his."
What was that day in court like? Was it like what we saw in the film?
No, as a matter of fact, the day that I issued the opinion freeing Rubin Carter, it was in writing and just delivered, hand-delivered. The next day they applied to have him released, and that was the day everybody was in court, including Carter, which was the first time I had ever seen him.
This interview has been edited and condensed.