Guantanamo on the Hudson

OK — I’ve been an academic most of my life and now I’m going to be shrill and alarmist. We had better wake up and start paying attention to our civil rights. Here in New York, we don’t seem to have any civil rights any longer. This is like Argentina or Peru back in the days when people just vanished and frankly I don’t want to live in a third world country.

I have a beautiful, very sweet new cat. He was found by a friend in a bus depot. When she found him he was very sick. The vet she took him to thought his liver had been damaged by the oil slick on the floor of the depot. He almost died, but she nursed him back to health. He seems fine now, but has to have a special diet and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can keep the little guy healthy. Why am I telling you this? Because if that kind of contamination can make a cat sick, it can make a human sick.

Pier 57, which was used as a bus depot until recently, is where the demonstrators who were arrested were taken. My neighbor’s daughter was arrested on Monday evening. Her mother was lucky. She’d gotten a call from her daughter saying she thought she was going to be arrested before she vanished. The other hysterical parents around here whose kids vanished got no calls. My neighbor’s daughter didn’t surface again until she managed to call her mother from Central Booking around 9:30 last night. She wasn’t released until 11. When she got home she was covered with black oil from sleeping on the floor. It seems they did get some food now and then. I’d heard they hadn’t.

It’s illegal to hold people for more than 24 hours without arraigning them. People have a right to make a phone call, to see a lawyer, to have medical treatment. That’s now a big joke. The almost 2000 who were arrested were denied access to phones, lawyers, medical treatment for up to 66 hours. I’ve heard on good authority that extra judges and lawyers had been appointed to process up to a thousand protesters a day, and sat in their court rooms with nothing to do. People arrested for committing real crimes were being processed through the system as usual, but not the demonstrators. State Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo issued an order yesterday, over the protests of the city attorneys, that those who had been held beyond 24 hours be released by 5 PM. The city ignored this and has been held in contempt of court, ordered to pay $1000 per protester still being held. We’ll see where this goes from here.

The protesters were held in wire pens set up inside Pier 57. Many were told they wouldn’t be released if they didn’t plead guilty. Many of the people arrested were innocent bystanders, some as young as 13, who were simply swept up in the crowd. Central Booking seems to have had the phones “off the hook.” Desperate parents couldn’t get through. Those who went to Central Booking were told there was no list of names of those held at the Pier. One mother was told by a clerk that they were planning to hold everyone until Bush left town.

Those held at the Pier were put into wire cages like those at Guantanamo — thus the name given to the Pier — but the conditions were worse. There were no cots or beds and few benches. People had to sit on the floor and sleep on the floor, in the oily filth. Bloomberg compared the demonstrators to terrorists, so it’s clear what the city administration was thinking. That bastion of Bush style thinking, the Cato Institute, of all unexpected places, was quite right when they expressed their alarm about the Patriot Act. The term “terrorist” is so vague it can apply to anybody, even to 13 year olds riding their bikes, trying to get home. There’s a hideous logic to Bloomberg and Kelly, the police commissioner, applying the Patriot Act to the demonstrators. In their minds, the law’s there, and they used it. We can just kiss free speech and the rest of our civil rights good-bye. Say one word against the Bush administration and our rights are gone. I hope nobody gets sick from having spent days in those filthy pens in Pier 57. I hope they sue the city if they do, but I’d rather they not be damaged for life. It’s bad enough that our government lied to us about the air quality at Ground Zero because a proper clean-up would have cost money and now hundreds of people’s lungs are damaged for life.

I watched the last night of the Convention and then I watched Kerry’s speech afterwards. I hope to God he will keep it up and that his finally getting tough and honest isn’t too little, too late. I don’t want to live in a country where people are treated like this.