Government Acknowledges Secretive Prisons for “Domestic Terrorists,” Proposes
Making Them Permanent
https://twitter. com/untilallaref ree/status/ 12162555080
Apr 14th, 2010 by Will Potter
Secretive political prisons for “domestic terrorists” called Communications
Management Units have been operating for more than three years on U.S. soil.
Last week the federal Bureau of Prisons quietly submitted a proposal to make the
experimental units permanent: a process that, by law, should have occurred
before they were ever opened.
As a quick introduction, there are two Communications Management Units, or CMUs,
in the country. They radically restrict prisoner communications with the outside
world to levels that rival, or exceed, the most restrictive facilities in the
country, including the “Supermax,” ADX-Florence. [For more information on CMUs
and who is housed there: "Secretive U.S. Prison Units Used to House Muslim,
Animal Rights and Environmental Activists."]
On April 6, the Bureau of Prisons submitted a proposed rule (Docket No. 1148-P),
listed in the federal register. Under the Administrative Procedures Act, there
is now a required public comment period for responses to this proposal.
The public notice comes after the Center for Constitutional Rights and the
American Civil Liberties Union each filed lawsuits challenging the
constitutionality of the secretive facilities, where political prisoners have
been transferred without notification, without explanation, and without
opportunity for appeal. [See "5 Things You Should Know About America’s 'Little
FOLLOWING THE LAW IN HINDSIGHT
The submitted proposal is clearly a response to these lawsuits, and an
acknowledgment that the Communications Management Units were opened secretly and
illegally. Now government officials are trying to cover their tracks and follow
the legal process in hindsight.
It is a positive development that the government is recognizing, and being
forced to defend, prison facilities kept hidden from the public. There is the
possibility of placing true checks and balances on the government’s power to
create experimental units that are unparalleled in the federal prison system.
However, this step in the right direction is negated by the Bureau of Prisons’
proposal to actually make these secretive prisons even more inhumane.
The lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights argues that the facilities
are unconstitutional for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they are
cruel and inhumane. The extreme restrictions on inmate communications, including
not allowing them to hug family members at the few visits they are allowed, go
against a body of research and official government policy on prisoner treatment.
Generally, the government encourages contact visits by family because they
improve prisoner behavior, increase morale, and further rehabilitation.
“I haven’t been able to hug my husband, or even hold his hand, for two years,”
said Jenny Synan, the spouse of a CMU prisoner and a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
“This proposed rule does not explain how prohibiting a husband from holding his
wife’s hand or keeping a father from hugging his daughter, is necessary for
The new proposal includes even more restrictions, including:
* “Written correspondence may be limited to three pieces of paper, double-sided,
once per week to and from a single recipient;
* Telephone communication may be limited to a single completed call per calendar
month for up to 15 minutes;
* and Visiting may be limited to one hour each calendar month.
MORE POWER, LESS OVERSIGHT
It should be noted that all federal prisoners have their communications
monitored. And there are already policies in place for dangerous inmates who
need additional monitoring.
The most prevalent of those policies are called Special Administrative Measures,
or SAMs. SAMs are authorized by the attorney general based on information from
the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office.
This new proposal lowers the threshold for such special restrictions. According
to the proposal, it allows for prison officials to act on “evidence which does
not rise to the same degree of potential risk [emphasis added] to national
security or risk of acts of violence or terrorism which would warrant the
Attorney General’s intervention by issuance of a SAM.”
The government is arguing two competing claims simultaneously: (1) That
Communications Management Units are needed because the inmates are heightened
security risks, and (2) That traditional oversight is too cumbersome because
these inmates are not dangerous enough.
The aim is, admittedly, to place more unchecked power in the hands of
lower-ranking government officials.
If, according the Bureau of Prisons, these inmates “do not rise to the same
degree of potential risk to national security,” who is housed here?
As I have discussed here before, inmates and guards at the CMUs call them
“Little Guantanamo.” They have also been described as prisons for “second-tier”
The proposal confirms this, saying: “One important category of inmates which
might be designated to a CMU is inmates whose current offense(s) of conviction,
or offense conduct, included association, communication, or involvement, related
to international or domestic terrorism.”
It references past behavior as grounds for inmates being transferred there, but
as I have reported, and as the recent lawsuits make clear, many of these inmates
have no disciplinary history and no communications violations. Furthermore,
these individuals were not the 9/11 hijackers or what most people think of as
terrorists. They are prisoners like Daniel McGowan, who destroyed property as
part of the Earth Liberation Front in the name of defending the environment.
The Bureau’s proposal makes clear that the CMUs are intended to keep these cases
isolated, and to keep political prisoners with “inspirational significance” from
communicating with the communities and social movements of which they are part.
These secretive prisons are for political cases the government would rather have
out of the public spotlight.