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.