“The End of America,” an unsettling documentary polemic about the erosion of civil liberties in the wake of 9/11, brings up matters many of us would rather not contemplate in the middle of a financial crisis and on the eve of a new administration. Federal laws enacted during the last seven years that threaten our constitutional rights, it reminds us, remain in effect.
The pointedly inflammatory film, adapted from Naomi Wolf’s book “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot,” compares the Bush administration’s attempts to discourage dissent and to wield increasingly unchecked power to the events preceding the establishment of 20th-century dictatorships in Germany, Italy, Chile and elsewhere. Without explicitly invoking the word, it implies that since 2001 the United States has drifted toward fascism in the name of fighting terror.
Tightly constructed and fiercely one-sided, “The End of America,” directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern (“The Devil Came on Horseback”), interweaves excerpts from a lecture in New York given by Ms. Wolf with film clips and interviews illustrating her contention that the rise of those dictatorships created a “blueprint” that the Bush administration, consciously or not, has followed.
According to Ms. Wolf, the first and fundamental tool for acquiring power is the manipulation of fear. In the shell-shocked post-
9/11 climate, the overwhelming public reaction to the Patriot Act of 2001, which gave law enforcement agencies expanded powers of surveillance, was mute acceptance of whatever was deemed necessary to keep us safe. Since then, she says, a color-coded system of terror alerts has been effectively wielded to keep us on edge.
The film’s most disturbing moments are its accounts of James Yee, a United States Army chaplain at Guantánamo, who was accused of espionage and held in solitary confinement for 76 days before being released, and Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian telecommunications engineer, who was detained at Kennedy International Airport, then later deported to Syria, where he was imprisoned for a year and tortured. He was eventually cleared of charges of terrorism.
Courtesy of STEPHEN HOLDEN