[Ppnews] Secretive Prison Units House Muslim, Animal Rights and Environmental Activists

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 15 11:25:06 EDT 2009

U.S. Prison Units Used to House Muslim, Animal 
Rights and Environmental Activists

Posted: 14 Apr 2009 09:46 AM PDT

The government is using secretive prison 
facilities on U.S. soil, called Communication 
Management Units, to house inmates accused of 
being tied to “terrorism” groups. They 
overwhelmingly include Muslim inmates, along with 
at least two animal rights and environmental activists.

Little information is available about the 
secretive facilities and the prisoners housed 
there. However, through interviews with 
attorneys, family members, and a current 
prisoner, it is clear that these units have been 
created not for violent and dangerous 
“terrorists,” but for political cases that the 
government would like to keep out of the public spotlight and out of the press.


In April of 2006, the Department of Justice 
proposed a 
set of rules to restrict the communication of 
“terrorist” inmates. The proposal did not make it 
far, though: during the required public comment 
period, the ACLU and other civil rights groups 
raised Constitutional concerns. The program was 
too sweeping, they said, and it could wrap up 
non-terrorists and those not even convicted of a crime.

The Bureau of Prisons dropped the proposal. Or so 
it seemed. Just a few months later, a similar 
program (now called the Communication Management 
Unit, or CMU), was quietly opened by the Justice 
Department at Terre Haute, Ind.

Then, in May of 2008, a handful of inmates were 
moved, without warning, to what is believed to be 
the second CMU in the country, at Marion, Il.

Both CMUs are “self-contained” housing units, 
according to prison documents, for prisoners who 
“require increased monitoring of communication” 
in order to “protect the public.”


The CMUs are less restrictive than, say, ADX 
Florence, the notorious supermax prison for the 
most dangerous inmates [sic] the notorious 
supermax holds al-Qaeda operative Zacarias 
Moussaoui and Unabomber Theodore J. Kaczynski. 
[and political prisoners Jamil Al-Amin, Sekou Odinga and Mutulu Shakur]

CMU inmates stand in sharp contrast to the 
Moussaouis and Kaczynskis of the world, though.
    * They include Rafil A. Dhafir, an Iraqi-born 
physician who created a charity called Help the 
Needy to provide food and medicine to the people 
of Iraq suffering under the U.S.-imposed economic 
sanctions. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison for violating the sanctions.
    * They include Daniel McGowan, an 
environmental activist sentenced to seven years 
in prison for a string of property crimes in the 
name of defending the environment. He was 
previously at FCI-Sandstone, a low-security 
facility, and was transferred without notice to 
the CMU, and told it was not for any disciplinary reason.
    * And, until recently, they included Andrew 
Stepanian. Stepanian was convicted of conspiring 
to commit 
enterprise terrorism” and shut down the notorious 
animal testing laboratory Huntingdon Life 
Sciences, in a landmark First Amendment case 
pending appeal. The government’s case focused on 
a controversial website run by an activist group 
that published news of both legal and illegal 
actions against the laboratory. He was sentenced 
to three years in prison, and is currently on 
house arrest in New York City. Stepanian is 
believed to be the first prisoner ever released from a CMU.


Attorneys and prisoners have said that inmates 
are transferred to the CMUs without notice and 
without opportunity to challenge their new 
designation, in what seems to be a clear 
violation of their due process rights.

“No one got a hearing to determine whether we 
should or should not be transferred here,” said 
Daniel McGowan in a letter from the CMU in Marion, Ill.

A. Dhafir said in a letter to his family from the 
CMU in Terre Haute, Ind., that he was put in 
isolation for two days before the move. “No one 
seems to know about this top-secret operation 
until now,” he wrote. “It is still not fully 
 The staff here is struggling to make 
sense of the whole situation.”

“We are told this is an experiment,” Dhafir says. 
“So the whole concept is evolving on a daily basis.”


The CMU “experiment” limits prisoner contact with 
the outside world through a list of restrictive 
policies. According to 
documents giving a skeleton of CMU policies, 
called institution supplements, they include:

    * Phone calls: Only one phone call per week, 
limited to 15 minutes, live-monitored by staff 
and law enforcement (according to attorneys, this 
includes the NSA) and scheduled one and half 
weeks in advance. It must be conducted in 
English. Other prisoners get about 300 minutes a month.
    * Mail: All mail must be reviewed by staff 
prior to delivery to the inmate or processing at 
the post office. This means significant delays in 
communications (and, in my personal experience, 
letters frequently not being received by inmates).
    * Visits: Four hours of personal visits per 
month, non-contact, behind glass, and 
live-monitored by staff and law enforcement. It 
must be conducted in English. By comparison, at 
FCI Sandstone (where McGowan was previously 
housed) prisoners can receive 56 potential 
visiting hours per month. I have learned from 
attorneys and prisoners that when a CMU inmate is 
transferred to the visiting room, the entire facility goes on lock-down.

For many inmates in federal prisons, phone calls, 
mail and visits are flecks of light in the 
darkness. Virtually eliminating all contact with 
family, friends and the outside world can have a 
devastating psychological impact on prisoners, 
and raises serious concerns about basic human rights.


It is difficult to discern the rationale behind 
why some inmates are transferred to the CMU and 
others are not. For instance, John Walker Lindh, 
the “American Taliban,” is housed at the CMU in 
Terre Haute. He pleaded guilty to supporting the 
Taliban and carrying a rifle and grenades on the 
battlefield in Afghanistan. However, the 
government announced last month it is actually 
restrictions on his communication.

In the case of Andy Stepanian, he was one of six 
codefendants, and by the admission of prosecutors 
he was one of the minor players in the case. He 
is not accused of any violent crime or any 
property destruction, and had no disciplinary 
problems while incarcerated. Stepanian received 
the second-lowest sentence of the group, and his codefendants are not in CMUs.

Daniel McGowan’s notice of transfer to the CMU 
gives some indication of the government’s 
reasoning. It says that he has been identified 
“as a member and leader in the Earth Liberation 
Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF), 
groups considered domestic terrorist organizations.”

But in a letter from the CMU, McGowan wrote: 
“It’s funny–I have like 13 codefs [codefendants] 
+ there are 11 other eco prisoners and I end up here.”

Part of the explanation for his transfer to the 
CMU, it seems, is that he is a vocal, prominent 
activist with a large group of active supporters. 
For McGowan, his near celebrity status within the 
environmental movement, along with his continued 
activism, has become a liability. When I attended 
his sentencing hearing in Eugene, Ore., in 2006, 
the judge made a point of criticizing his media 
appearances and his website, <http://www.supportdaniel.org>SupportDaniel.org.

Attorneys, prisoners and their supporters 
speculate there may be legal calculations 
involved as well. The CMUs have been 
overwhelmingly comprised of people of color since 
their inception, and lawsuits have been filed 
alleging discrimination and racial profiling.

“Throwing a few white kids into the mix makes it 
appear less like an American Guantanamo,” said 
one attorney who did not want to be identified. 
“And it also sends the message to the prisoners 
and to the movements that supporter them. It’s 
meant to have a chilling effect.”


The creation of secret facilities to primarily 
house Muslim inmates accused of non-violent 
charges, along with a couple animal rights and 
environmental activists, marks both a 
continuation and a radical expansion of the “War on Terrorism.”

First, it is a continuation of the “terrorism” 
crackdown that Arab and Muslim communities have 
intensely experienced since September 11th. 
Guantanamo Bay may be closing. But as 
Theoharis beautifully wrote recently: “Guantánamo 
is not simply an aberration; its closure will not 
return America to the rule of law or to its 
former standing among nations. Guantánamo is a 
particular way of seeing the Constitution, of 
constructing the landscape as a murky terrain of 
lurking enemies where the courts become part of 
the bulwark against such dangers, where rights 
have limits and where international standards 
must be weighed against national security.”

Second, it is an expansion of the lesser-known 
“terrorism” crackdown against animal rights and 
environmental activists by corporations and the 
politicians who represent them. This coordination 
campaign to label activists as “terrorists” and 
push a political agenda 
Scare” has involved terrorism enhancemennt 
penalties, FBI agents infiltrating vegan 
potlucks, and new terrorism legislation like the 
Enterprise Terrorism Act, and it all has 
proceeded unobstructed and unseen. There has been 
a near-complete media blackout on the Green 
Scare, and transferring vocal, public Green Scare 
prisoners to CMUs sends a clear message that the 
government hopes to keep it that way.


When the CMU at Terre Haute was created, Dan 
Eggen at The Washington Post described it as a 
facility for 
terrorism inmates.”

What Eggen was clearly getting at is that the CMU 
overwhelmingly held Arab Muslim inmates rounded 
up and smeared by the government as “terrorists,” 
even though they had not done anything violent or “terrorist.”

But the CMUs are not “second-tier terrorism” 
prisons. They are political prisons. All of the 
defendants "Muslim, environmenttalist, animal 
rights activist" are housed there because of 
their ethhnicity, their religion, their ideology, or all of the above.

The mere existence of the CMUs should be yet 
another warning call to all Americans concerned 
about the future of this country. If we allow the 
government to continue widening the net of who is 
a “terrorist,” and expanding the scope of what 
punishments are applicable (and what rights are 
inapplicable) when that word comes into play, it 
places us all at risk. The reckless expansion of 
the War on Terrorism didn’t stop with Arabs and 
Muslims, and it won’t stop with environmentalists 
or animal rights activists. [too bad the 
connection to other political prisoners is absent]

The power to create and maintain secretive prison 
facilities for political prisoners is 
antithetical to a healthy democracy. If there is 
one thing that we should learn from history, from 
governments that have gone down this path, it is 
this: If there is a secretive prison for 
“second-tier” terrorists, it will only be 
followed by a secretive prison “third-tier 
terrorists,” and “fourth-tier terrorists,” until 
one by one, brick by brick, the legal wall 
separating “terrorist” from “dissident” or “undesirable” has crumbled.

Haute Institutional Supplement
McGowan’s notice of transfer, and Marion Institutional Supplement

Related posts:
Time Bill” Could Reduce Prison Times for 
Environmentalists and Animal Rights Activists
of NY Activist Facing Life in Prison
Magazine Article on the SHAC 7: “The World Takes? 
How corporations and politicians turned animal 
rights activists into terrorists”

Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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