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The 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 true fear.

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 of.

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

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 me.

Mark W. Brown is a college dude who could really use a hug right now. He can be reached at

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