“It was outrageous! I had my balls wired up to the mains, ice cold enemas up my backside, and on Sundays the guards would bugger me to within an inch of my life! I ended up confessing to carrying out two terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka, even though I’ve never been east of Cromer in my entire life!” Incredibly, Josh Halaber, a twenty seven year old data input clerk from Market Drayton, is not describing an ordeal at the hands of CIA interrogators at some secret US-run torture camp, but rather his experiences as an unwitting participant in a new ‘reality’ TV show – Camp X-Ray Factor. During several weeks of having the soles of his feet beaten and his nipples scorched with burning cigarettes, Halaber could little suspect that his ‘interrogation’ would be watched by several million television viewers. Finally, after his ‘confession’, the hapless clerk was taken before a ‘military tribunal’, found guilty of terrorism and summarily sentenced to death. “I couldn’t believe it, there were these three guys in military uniforms dripping with gold epaulettes reading out charges against me – I wasn’t allowed to speak, let alone defend myself! The most senior officer then just pronounced me guilty! The whole thing lasted less than ten minutes,” an obviously still traumatised Halaber told The Sleaze. “The guards told me I was going to be taken into the courtyard outside the court room and shot! I tried to resist as they dragged me toward the door, but I was shackled hand and foot! I really thought I was going to die!” However, as a sobbing and screaming Halaber was bundled through the court room doors to what he thought was certain death, rather than finding himself facing a firing squad, he instead found himself in front of a TV studio audience containing many of his closest friends and family. “It was just so humiliating – I was still gibbering and pleading for my life! I’d even pissed myself with fear! Can you imagine what it is like to find yourself sitting in a pool of your own urine, begging for mercy in front of your parents? I’ll never live it down,” says Halaber. “Worse still, I then have to sit there for the next fifteen minutes, reeking of piss, whilst grinning idiot TV presenter Vernon Kay tells me that this is all some hilarious joke at my expense and that I’d been nominated for this ordeal by some of my so-called ‘friends’! But not to worry, as they were going to give me five grand for my trouble! Apparently, it would have been ten grand if I hadn’t confessed to anything! I was still so confused and terrified, I thought it was just some horrible new torture they’d devised for me!” Halaber, who is still suffering from traumatic nightmares and flashbacks to his incarceration, is currently taking legal advice as to whether he can sue either the makers of the programme, or the people who nominated him. “The TV company are claiming that I signed a disclaimer,” he says, indignantly. “I’m sure that signed lots of bloody things after I’d been left hanging upside down from a roof beam and beaten with leather belts for six hours!”

The show, which was recorded last Autumn, is the brainchild of Felix Munter, Head of Programming at satellite broadcaster Celestial TV. “Obviously, we’ve taken our inspiration from Space Cadets, that Channel Four show where they fooled a group of idiots into believing that they’d gone into space,” explains Munter. “But our show is altogether more challenging. For one thing, our contestants will get no warning – they’ll just be snatched from their beds in dead of night by men in black! For another, they’ve all been carefully selected for mental and physical toughness! I mean, where’s the fun in tormenting a bunch of morons like Channel Four did? I can also promise that Johnny Vaughn will be in no way involved with the programme – that alone should guarantee us a couple of million viewers!” Munter dismisses complaints that the show represents a nadir in ‘reality’ TV, presenting physical and mental torture as entertainment. “I think we’ve been very restrained by pre-recording it – the original format called for it to presented live, with the viewers voting on what interrogation methods should be used next on contestants,” he reveals. “At least with the pre-recording, we avoid the risk of any on-air maimings, or even deaths! Also, we can edit out the really messy bits and the particularly harrowing screams and begging from the contestants, so as to ensure that it is suitable for prime time family audiences!” However, many critics and human rights groups have questioned whether the participants can truly be classed as ‘contestants’, as they are effectively ‘press ganged’ into taking part against their wills. According to Halaber, for instance, he was innocently walking to the bus stop one morning, when, without warning, a black van drew up beside him and a group of armed and masked men leapt out. “They shouted at me to get on the ground! When I tried to argue with them, they felled me with an electric cattle prod! It was agony,” he claims. Helpless and still twitching from the effects of the cattle prod, the clerk found himself being bundled into the back of the van, where he was drugged by his assailants. “Next thing I knew, I was on a plane – they told me I was being flown to a secret prison in Uzbekistan!”

Munter maintains that all of the contestants were carefully selected. “There is no way we’d do this to someone we felt wasn’t both physically and psychologically resilient. Before they’re snatched, we do exhaustive background checks with the assistance of their friends and family to check that they don’t have weak hearts or histories of mental illness,” he claims. “They’re all nominated by friends or family, usually on the basis that they fancy themselves as hard men who can withstand mental and physical punishment. I like to see it as a kind of psychological experiment to see just how easily we can get ordinary, perfectly innocent, people to falsely admit to committing the most heinous crimes! You know, we even got one guy to confess to assassinating President Kennedy, even though he wasn’t born until 1968!” Nevertheless, critics remain unmoved. “A ‘psychological experiment’? Isn’t that the justification they all use for these horrendous programmes? Surely only people who teach A-Level Media Studies actually believe that ‘reality’ TV constitutes a serious sociological phenomena,” comments top TV critic Gordon Labiff. “My worry is that this loathsome programme is sending the message to children that torture is an OK leisure activity!” Indeed, some suspect that Camp X-Ray Factor is being financed by the CIA as a means of legitimising the kidnap and torture of terror suspects. “How else can you explain a piece of crap like this being commissioned?” Asks leading conspiracy theorist Sam Nodger. “Everybody knows about the close links between certain satellite broadcasters and the extreme right! This is clearly a right-wing plot to brainwash us all into accepting a further erosion of our civil liberties!” However, not everyone has reacted so negatively to the show. “Early audience figures look very good, and there’s been lots of interest in the format from places like Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran,” says Munter. “One of the guys playing a torturer for us has even been offered a job in Turkey on the basis of his work in the show!” Indeed, even some contestants have been singing the programme’s praises. “It was a bit frightening at first, but now I can look back and laugh,” says Preston lorry driver Barry Bangler, who lost three toes to frost bite after being forced to stand on a block of ice for six hours during his incarceration. “Those six days I spent floating in that sensory deprivation tank helped me really relax and get a new perspective on it all. People should lighten up – it’s all just a bit of fun, after all!”