Mountain of Fear
June 15, 2002
By Mark W. Brown
As I was eating my breakfast and flipping through the day's
copy of The Baltimore Sun earlier this morning, a funny
thing happened to me. I don't mean a ha-ha sort of funny,
I mean an abnormal sort of funny. It was abnormal because
it was the first time in a number of years that I had experienced
Believe me, I know as well as you do how farfetched of a
claim that is, but let me tick through some events and explain
why those didn't make me truly afraid:
The chronicle of possible fear began when our man Dubya announced
his plans to run for the Presidency. I might have been afraid
then, except my knowledge of Dubya at the time was limited
to the fact that he was reactionary, and a moron on top of
that. How could he possibly beat someone more moderate, less
stupid, and honorable, like, say, John McCain, I thought.
I guess I should have been afraid when Senator McCain bowed
out of the primaries and it was apparent that Bush was going
to be the Republican nominee. But still, I didn't know much
more about him than I did before, beyond his lack of intelligence,
and I saw no possible way for someone like him to beat Al
Gore. How innocent I was, mostly unaware of the blatant conservative
bias that is television media, never suspecting someone could
have the audacity to steal an election.
Speaking of stolen elections... election day itself, I might
have been afraid, when the channels called Florida (and thus
the election) for Bush. But no, even though Florida was overrun
by Republicans in its government, I still knew that when the
votes were all counted, they'd show that Gore won. Now, you
know as well as I do, that when the votes were all
counted, they did show that Gore won, but that's getting
ahead of myself a bit. Still, there was nothing to be afraid
I think it's safe to say that I was pissed off at the disgraceful
decision that was Bush v. Gore, but afraid? No, certainly
not afraid. Even in my hatred for Bush and his proposed policies
(which pales in comparison to that same hatred now) I never
suspected that he could be this bad.
Between the time he took office and September 11th, no single
event was really ever enough to make me be afraid. In retrospect,
they just came in small enough and frequently enough that
none of them registered on the fear radar, and I never really
had time to look back on the combined series of events - things
like Ashcroft and Thompson getting confirmed, Bush announcing
he was going to back out of the nuclear treaty with Russia,
reversals of a lot of Clinton regulations, lines like "It
would be a lot easier if I were a dictator" that are so sickeningly
stupid that you can't take them seriously.
Let's be honest with ourselves, didn't we all have enough
hope to hold on to, that things wouldn't be that bad, especially
once Senator Jeffords performed his heroic party switch?
On September 11th, most everyone in America was afraid, and
I probably would have been, except I woke up at 11 am Eastern
Time. The first I heard about the attacks was when I fired
up my computer and signed onto AOL Instant Messenger, where
my girlfriend (who normally would have been in school) frantically
informed me that two planes had crashed into the World Trade
Center buildings, that they had collapsed, and that one had
crashed into the Pentagon and one crashed into Pennsylvania.
Then she said, "They think it was terrorists."
After I flicked on the television and confirmed this - I
distinctly remember my roommate groaning and telling me to
turn it down - my first reaction was "holy shit," just like
most people in America. Then I wanted to laugh at my girlfriend.
They think? No - really?
"Of course it was terrorists," I remember replying. "Howdid
this happen, anyway?" Fortunately, my rational side had taken
over. I spent the day sifting through details as they trickled
in, never afraid. After all, I told myself, what foreign terrorist
has ever even heard of Catonsville, Maryland?
So on and so forth, each new event, no matter how big or
how small, being written off by some sort of rationalization.
Ashcroft's infamous "those who aid terrorists" line, the announcement
about military tribunals, Bush's astronomical ratings, the
PATRIOT Act, the escalating conflict in India and Pakistan,
this new "Department of Homeland Security" crap - none of
that made me feel fear.
Then my world was changed this morning as I read these two
paragraphs (transcription from Sunspot.net):
Muhajir would not be the first U.S. citizen designated an
enemy combatant. For the past two months, 21-year-old Yasser
Esam Hamdi, who was born in Louisiana and captured in Afghanistan
last fall, has been in Navy custody in Norfolk, Va. No charges
have been filed against him, and he has been unable to meet
with his lawyer.
Gregory G. Garre, assistant to the U.S. solicitor general,
argued that the Pentagon was not obligated to bring charges
against enemy combatants and that access to a lawyer could
hinder Hamdi's interrogation.
I was (and still am) mortified. There it was, casually slipped
in at the bottom of an article that had been continued onto
page 16, proof that the concept of due process no longer has
any meaning. There's nothing to hide behind anymore. This
is a U.S. citizen being held but not charged, and being interrogated
yet unable to meet with a lawyer. Not a foreign national,
not an immigrant, a U.S. citizen. In that, as far as the Constitution
goes, he's no different from you, or me, or anyone else who
is a citizen. And the only thing that is stopping the same
thing from happening to you, or me, or any other American
citizen, is the discretion and morality (?) of an administration
that has admitted it will lie to us if it deems national security
best served, an administration that has admitted it will use
torture to extract confessions. For some reason, I doubt I'm
alone in not being very reassured.
Public outcry? You'd hope, but no. What ended up scaring
me even more than this revelation was the fact that most people
I bring it up to don't seem fazed by it. "If they're a terrorist,
we should do whatever we can to get information out of them,"
is the general response, and when I reply, "What if they imprison
someone who isn't guilty?" they ignore me. This willingness
of people to take what comes out of the mouths of admitted
liars at face value should probably be funny. Except this
issue is so serious that it's scary. What if they start jailing
scapegoats? What if they've already started?
Now, as I look back on it, it's like I've been climbing up
a mountain. When George W. Bush first appeared on the national
spotlight I was at the base, and ever since I've been climbing
it little by little, and not thinking much of it. Some days
I climbed a lot, some days I climbed none.
Today I reached the summit of this mountain of fear, and
the scariest part of all is how few people are up here with
Mark W. Brown is a college dude who could really use a hug
right now. He can be reached at email@example.com