How the War on Terror is Being Utilized to Curtail the Civil Rights of non-Muslims, too...
Here at Cageprisoners, we focus on Muslim detainees of the global War on Terror. That makes sense of course, given that Muslims have been the primary victims of human rights abuses since the War on Terror began. But in the past few years, the same tactics used to restrict the civil rights of Muslim detainees in the United States (and elsewhere) have been applied to other purported “threats” to the state: namely, leftwing environmental and animal rights activists.
Here’s a tangible and overt example of these links: the creation of Communication Management Units (CMUs) inside U.S. prisons, and the kinds of people imprisoned inside them.
“In 2006 and 2008, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP or “Bureau”) secretly created the Communications Management Units (CMUs), prison units designed to isolate and segregate certain prisoners in the federal prison system from the rest of the BOP population. Currently, there are two CMUs, one located in Terre Haute, Indiana and the other in Marion, Illinois.”
Note that the CMUs were created without the opportunity for public notice and comment, in direct violation of the Administrative Procedures Act
Shockingly, “over two-thirds of the CMU population is Muslim, even though Muslims represent only 6 percent of the general federal prison population.” Sabri Benkahla
, John Walker Lindh
, Rafil Dhafir
and others have all spent time inside the CMUs. This is despite the fact that many of these Muslim prisoners – Sabri Benkahla for example – were never convicted of terrorism offenses and are not considered even minimal threats to U.S. national security, according to the judges that presided over their cases.
But it isn’t just Muslims who are imprisoned inside. It’s also other people deemed “threats” to the U.S. government: namely, animal rights and environmental activists.
For example, Daniel McGowan
was designated to the CMU in August of 2008, and only transferred out in October 2010. He was arrested and charged with multiple counts of arson and conspiracy, purportedly for engaging in actions against the Superior Lumber company. These actions were later claimed by the Earth Liberation Front
, a member of the Shac 7,was also held within the CMU. He was convicted of conspiring to commit “animal enterprise terrorism”, namely for helping run a website that posted news about the legal and illegal actions of the Stop Hungtingdon Animal Cruelty
(SHAC) campaign. Huntingdon has labs in New Jersey and England, and animal rights activists have campaigned against it for years for perpetrating cruelty against animals in the name of scientific research.
Everyone placed in the CMU – regardless of their political or religious background, or even the crime they have committed – have had their civil and human rights fundamentally violated. First, people are given little warning or explanation prior to being placed in the CMU; have almost no means to challenge their imprisonment within the CMU; and are not placed there because of violating prison communication rules:
“Individuals detained in the CMUs receive no meaningful explanation for their transfer to the unit or for the extraordinary communications restrictions to which they are subjected. Upon designation to the unit, there is no meaningful review or appeal process that allows CMU prisoners to be transferred back to general population. Many CMU prisoners have neither significant disciplinary records nor any communications-related infractions.”
Second, people imprisoned within CMUs face extreme restrictions on their communication with the outside world, which is why the CCR has even termed them “an experiment in social isolation”. Unlike prisoners kept in mainstream prison populations, people detained within the CMUs can have absolutely no physical contact with visitors, and are even strip-searched before and after visits. As one author noted, “they are not even allowed a brief embrace [with family members and friends] upon greeting or saying goodbye.”
According to the CCR, “the ban on physical contact during visits contradicts the Bureau’s own policy recognizing the critical importance of visitation in rehabilitation and prison re-entry. The CMUs’ visitation policy is even more restrictive than that of the BOP’s notorious ‘supermax’ prisons, where prisoners have over four times more time allotted for visits than prisoners in the CMU.”
These isolating conditions don’t stop as visits. Prisoners put inside the CMUs get only two 15 minute phone calls each week (compared to 75 minutes a week for other prisoners), and can only conduct visits and phone calls in English. They are even banned from contact with prisoners inside the general population.
...So what does all of this mean for people who support Cageprisoners?
As noted on the website, Green is the New Red: “CMUs mark a continuation of the Guantanamo mindset by the Obama administration.
Guantanamo reflected a fundamental contempt for the rule of law and basic human rights. The Obama administration has advocated closing Guantanamo, and it must also close secretive facilities on U.S. soil that single out prisoners because of their religious beliefs and political ideology and deprive them of their due process rights to challenge their incarceration.”
CMUs may in some way be an extension of Guantanamo, but it isn’t just Muslims who are being targeted anymore. The fear-mongering deployed to justify civil rights violations against Muslims post -9/11, is also being used to stifle political dissent amongst leftwing activists.
And CMUs are just one example of this. The similarities extend even further. Convicted of terrorism-related offenses for putting information on the web? I think I’ve heard that story before (read about Tarek Mehanna’s
case, for example). Animal rights and environmental activists, and Muslims accused of ties to terrorism, also both face the potential of heightened sentencing under statute 3A1.4: the terrorism enhancement act (see one explanation here
, and look out for an upcoming report about 3A1.4 from Cageprisoners). And let’s not forget recent revelations in the UK that PC Mark Kennedy spent years infiltrating environmental groups as an undercover cop, even possibly sleeping with
other activists to gain information. It’s not just the Muslim community that’s had to battle with paid informants and undercover police. I find it hard to imagine that American police and the FBI haven’t used similar tactics amongst both Muslims and “radical” activists.
It’s time that leftwing activists and Muslims who care about detainees of the War on Terror, see themselves as allies. I’m not just talking about allies in the theoretical sense, either (many leftwing activists might call this, “solidarity”). Muslims and leftwing activists are being imprisoned alongside each other in CMUs to isolate them from the support their communities provide, and to silence high-profile voices of dissent against the current political regime. Muslims and leftwing activists are being given heightened sentences under the same statute; they are being convicted of offenses that are arguably protected under their first amendment rights; their communities are being infiltrated by undercover police and paid informants; and their lives are being destroyed by being associated with “terrorism”, even if they are never convicted of terrorism-related offenses.
In sum, the fate of American Muslims who are detainees of the War on Terror, and American leftwing activists, are tied up together. Our struggles are not the same, nor are the challenges we face, but we need each other’s support to survive.
A blog by Lisa Goldstein, a Cageprisoners research intern.