It is nearly impossible to calculate the level of damage that the criminal Bush Administration did to our concepts of civil liberties and protections. The main reason for this is the furtive nature in which they made decisions and implemented them. An excellent example of this is a prison program you have never heard of.

In two Federal prisons, one in Terra Haute, Indiana and other in Marion Illinois an experimental program was started in 2006. This program is called the Communications Management Units (CMU) . These special units are pretty damned Orwellian. Unlike other prisoners, people in the CMU’s have all their calls and mail monitored (with the exception of contact with their attorneys) . That might be acceptable if it were all that went on, the CMU’s also require that all face to face conversations be conducted in English, so they can also be monitored. To add insult to injury there is no touching of visitors, even spouses and minor children.

As you might expect this program was created in the Bush Administrations so-called “War on Terror”. More than 2/3 of all the prisoners in both Units are Muslims. Some are convicted of terrorism related crimes, but not all. The program was started based on two fairly spurious fears, first that convicted Islamic terrorists might infect the general population with their religious fervor and secondly that they might still direct attacks from inside prison.

"Originally posted at Squarestate.net"

The fact there is exactly no evidence of this ever happening in any Federal Prison did not matter to the Bush Administration. They put this program together without the usual notice for public comment. The prisoners that have been transferred there are not told why they have be put into a tougher prison regime, nor is there any review process that would allow them to challenge their segregation and restriction. Unlike solitary confinement, there is not even a set of behavior guidelines that a prisoner can use to alter their behavior and gain release into the general population.

All of this has led the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) to file a law suit on behalf of five prisoners and their families. In Aref, et al v. Holder, et al the CCR is suing for the release of their plaintiffs on First, Fifth and Eight Amendment grounds.

There is a real split in this nation as to the purpose of prisons; the rift is between the punishment and rehabilitation ideas. None of the plaintiffs are serving a life sentence. They will, eventually, be released back into society. There is a very important need for them to be able to maintain some kind of relationship with their families. Not only will this relationship help them reintegrate into society, ongoing contact with others outside of prison is important for emotional health as well.

The restrictions which they are currently enduring make a hard situation even worse. By being kept away from the general population and strongly limited in their interaction with their families it seems likely they will become more not less likely to be radicalized and perhaps commit similar crimes in the future.

Lest you think that I am being soft on hardened criminals, you should know that the Bureau of Prisons has classified all of the plaintiffs as low or medium security prisoners. These are not terrorist or criminal masterminds. From the CCR release about this case:

All five men confined in the CMU have been classified as low or medium security, but were designated to the CMU despite their relatively, and in two cases perfectly, clean disciplinary history. Not a single one has received discipline for any communications-related infraction within the last decade, nor any significant disciplinary offense.

There may be some need for units like this. Some of the prisoners in the units currently are sex offenders that continue to try to contact their victims. That kind of behavior surely calls for some limitation of liberties. The problem is that while there are tens of thousands of high-risk prisoners in Federal custody, only a very small number of prisoners are being held in CMU’s and an unreasonably high number of them are Muslim. This gives a lot of weight to the idea that religious profiling is being used to determine who is placed in this highly restrictive form of detention.

Prison is not supposed to be pleasant, but there are limits. Being unable to hug your four year old daughter until she is twelve in some attempt to prevent masterminds from continuing their nefarious actions is far over the top. Any time we hold prisoners without the ability to challenge the conditions of their detention we are chipping away at all of our habeas corpus rights. That bad people might possibly do bad things can not be enough of a reason to enshrine in law the social isolation of prisoners. This is particularly true when there are so few checks and balances on who is put in these types of units.

It is the little cuts to our liberties and protections that add up over time. That this was done outside the normal rule making process and only publicly disclosed once in short article buried in the Washington Post is a prime example of how our liberties can be ended without notice. I will be following this case closely.

The floor is yours.

Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for Govtrak.org

4 Comments