For years Afghanistan has been a sore point on the roof of many a western thinker's mouth. It was this annoying spot that we couldn't help tonguing and kept telling ourselves that if we left it alone it would just get better, or else one found one's self facing the same kind of disparate frustration that one finds when thinking about the 'liberation' of Tibet. As a regular joe there's just not much to do about it.

Afghanistan, until Sept. 11 was a place of untold atrocities that western society had apparently written off. Here was a society hell bent on a fundamentalist perspective at the cost of almost everything the west holds sacred. No freedom of expression. No freedom of religion. If you were a woman, no freedom to do just about anything but get depressed and die. And here we sit now raining bombs down on this battered country and perhaps feeling good because we've liberated these people, or at least helped.

Last week the first movie theatre reopened in Afghanistan and it played to a standing-room only crowd. People were jubilant and thrilled that they could actually do something fun. They could smile in public. I don't know if there were women there, showing their faces, but if not there are women elsewhere in the country who are.

And so we feel good for helping this happen. We feel a little bit of vindication, too, perhaps. We've given them a taste of the founding principals on which this country is based. It's so unfortunate that those very freedoms we're trying to spread are being discarded so easily by our government here.

And before you decide that I'm just some left coast paranoia freak, think about this:

Since Sept 11, the Justice Department and other government institutions have 'detained' at least 2000 people, without telling anyone any details. It is illegal to detain someone without cause in this country. It is illegal to detain someone without pressing charges. It is illegal to not disclose who is detained. All of these things have happened en-mass. Our Attorney Journal, Mr. Ashcroft, has repeatedly ignored calls for responsible accounting of these detainments from both journalists, lawyers, and congress (who have been relatively lenient on the Justice Department and are precisely the check that should be balancing their lack of restraint). People who entered the country legally have been told to leave immediately, and have agreed to do so, yet still sit in jail awaiting their release. Parents and providers for their families have been arrested and held for weeks and months without charges. A man who happened to be in the same line at the DMV as one of the hijackers is in jail. Another man who has lived legally in the U.S. for over 5 years and is employed as an airline mechanic is suddenly incarcerated because he made the mistake of taking some flying lessons in Florida, which is apparently now a crime.

Imagine yourself (or your parents, or your spouse, or your child) going to the door on Halloween to give candy to some children who are trick or treating and, instead of little ghouls you get the F.B.I. They arrest you though they don't tell you what for. They take you to jail along with several other folks who are equally as distressed and puzzled as you. Now they leave you there for a while. You get to make one phone call a week and that's it. New powers -- also illegal -- allow the government to eavesdrop on any conversations you have with your lawyer, not that it matters because they mostly consist of the word "why?" After a few weeks in jail and learning that not only does most of the country support the idea of torturing 'suspected terrorists' but now the President has decided to hold military trials of terrorists. Now, not only have you been detained for reasons unknown, but you get the rosy option of getting tried and convicted for a crime that the court is not obligated to tell you about -- not even the charge -- and put in jail or to death. The only thing your family gets? Your name and your sentence.

Now, here's the kicker, you're only in trouble if you're from the middle east. White people: you're safe. Black people: safe. Asian: safe. Are from a place that has lots of oil and deserts? Watch out. If you are male, in your 30's, and are from any country where people wear turbans, you are now America's public enemy number 1.

The Justice Department, in their effort to smoke out more evil, has moved past the midnight abduction that would make any X-file watcher feel justified, and now is asking police chiefs to round up another 5,000 folks and question them. The catch? They're all middle-eastern. What's next? Are we going to ask them if they are communists? Give us some names, please. Hell, why don't we just make a few internment camps for them. When you see the horrors of the holocaust and think of the concentration camps as perhaps one of the most atrocious creations made by the hand of mankind and associate that with Hitler so you can hate him a bit more, think about the Japanese who went through something similar here in the US, though less malicious and less fatal than in Germany. When you watch some Steven Speilburg film about people rounded up and labeled and shipped off some place with only the few possessions that they could carry, realize that our country is capable of the same and worse. Just because you don't fit the demographic of those being lifted, doesn't mean we should or can ignore it.

The next annoying spot on the roof of a mouth might be on your behalf. Remember the next time you go vote who put Ashcroft in his position. Remember the Congressmen and women who are reluctant to defy the administration in this time of 'unity.'

Here are two excellent articles about what's going on from the New York Times:
Wait Until Dark
November 24, 2001
By FRANK RICH

Swept Up in a Dragnet, Hundreds Sit in Custody and Ask, 'Why?'
November 25, 2001
By JODI WILGOREN

Since I wrote this (on 11.27.2001) Ashcroft has given a little bit of information (on 93 people) as a result of all the criticism he's gotten:
Ashcroft Offers Accounting of 641 Charged or Held
Attorney General John Ashcroft provided for the first time the names of 93 people charged with crimes arising from the government's investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Here's a lovely quote:
While providing the new numbers and details, Mr. Ashcroft continued to withhold the identities of 548 people arrested for immigration violations. He said he was required to release only the names of those charged with criminal violations, except for 11 people whose arrests have been sealed by a federal judge.

Mr. Ashcroft said that some of the 600 in jail were members of Al Qaeda and that their arrest had probably foiled additional attacks. He would not say how many or give their names, but law enforcement officials suggested they were mostly the 11 held under seal, mostly in New York.