On Sept. 13, 2001, a Pakistani Californian named Salem Jaffer was stopped by police in a Burger King parking lot in Buffalo and accused of driving a stolen car. So Jaffer, a small man with nerdy glasses and a graying mustache, showed them his rental-car contract. ”Do you know how to fly an airplane?” persisted authorities after arresting him. ”Are you suicidal?” He spent a month in solitary, in a cell lit 24 hours a day. After deliberating for just seven minutes, a jury finally set Jaffer free – it only cost him $25,000 in legal fees.
Persons of Interest, a resonant documentary codirected by Alison Maclean (”Jesus’ Son”), digs up 11 more conscience-rattling stories like Jaffer’s: Meet a Palestinian who was arrested just because he’s Arabic, and a Pakistani man busted because his kid had flight-simulation games in the house. Some testimonies fall flat, but ”Persons” portrays our Justice Department – in Javert-esque sound bites from Attorney General John Ashcroft – as having grossly equated ”non?U.S. citizens” with ”terrorists.” An estimated 5,000 ”terrorists” were detained after 9/11. The film insists that none of them – including the heartbroken souls shown here – were ever convicted of anything having to do with 9/11.