These two secret and unconstitutional “little Guantanamos” were designed to keep Americans locked up and their mouths shut

The United States Constitution, once held as a document that set us apart from other nations, is being gutted by our elected officials. Americans, preoccupied by Donald Trump’s outrageous personality, seem to care little about the Constitution’s agonizing death and even less about what it means to the American way of life.

Beginning with 9/11 and the passing of the Patriot Act, the right to privacy, as well as the right to due process and free speech, have been whittled away until each look nothing like what our forefathers had in mind when crafting this historic document.

In the decade since 9/11, the government has created secret terrorist prisons called Communications Management Units (CMUs). There are two known CMUs at this time, one in Terre Haute, Indiana and another in Marion, Illinois. The prison guards and inmates refer to CMUs as “little Guantanamo.” There is little information on either prison online.

According to the Nation’s Alia Malek, “the Bush administration had quietly opened the CMUs in Terre Haute and Marion in December 2006 and March 2008, respectively, circumventing the usual process federal agencies normally follow that subjects them to public scrutiny and transparency.” CMUs are designed to house “second-tier” terrorists.

The government will not say who is housed here but investigative reporters like Will Potter have combed through public records, talked to former and current CMU prisoners, and court documents to fashion a chilling summary of what our government does when it thinks that no one is paying attention. There are at least 60-70 prisoners housed in the CMUs, all have been convicted of crimes, and are “overwhelmingly Muslim.”

According to Potter, the CMUs are not solitary confinement but the units have rules that severely restrict contact with the outside world. Prisoners in CMUs are “limited to 45 minutes of phone contact per month while other prisoners receive 300 minutes.” Visits are restricted to 4 hours a month and the visits are non-contact meaning they are not allowed to hug family members. Potter compares this to the “Supermax where Olympic park bomber Eric Rudolph can receive 35 hours.”

However, CMUs also house non-Muslim prisoners called “balancers” that guards say are there to “balance out the racial numbers, in hopes of deflecting lawsuits.” One such prisoner profiled and interviewed by Potter is Daniel McGowan.

McGowan was convicted for “participating in two arsons in the name of defending the environment as part of the Earth Liberation Front.” During his trial McGowan expressed fear that he would be sent to “rumored secret prisons for terrorists. The judge dismissed him saying those fears were ‘not supported by any facts.'”

On September 3, 2008, McGowan received a “Notice of Inmate Transfer” stating that “You have been identified as a member and leader in the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF), groups considered domestic terrorist organizations.”

According to Potter there are “about 400 prisoners labeled as terrorists, but only a handful are in CMUs.” McGowan was housed in a “low-security prison and had no communications violations.” Which begs the question: Why was he moved?

Potter uses a document from another CMU prisoner to show how the determinations are made to move prisoners into and out of CMUs. What the document shows is a lack of due process, in clear violation of the prisoner’s rights, and it shows that there is little oversight or regulation of the units.

When a prisoner asks for a transfer out of a CMU there is a form filled out to document the request as well as the response from a prison department head. In this case the response was not even a complete sentence only a “told him no” was handwritten on the form.

McGowan and Potter found out only after McGowan’s transfer that he was placed in a CMU not because “of what he did, but what he said.” Even though McGowan was in prison he continued to write about environmental issues which angered the Counter-Terrorism Unit. The FBI has labeled environmental and animal rights activists the number one domestic terrorist threat, which Potter details in a video that can be accessed here

McGowan was released after he had served his sentence, but his freedom was short lived. After his release he wrote about his experience for the Huffington Post titled “Court Documents Prove I was Sent to a CMU For My Political Speech. “According to Potter the very “next day he was thrown back in jail for his political speech.” Though he was quickly released, the government sent a message to him that he couldn’t ignore; “Shut up!”

What is also clear is that, as Americans, we are not as free as we would like to believe. We are faced with a government that we supposedly freely elect, although that is subject to doubt, which searches for new ways to take away our guaranteed freedoms ironically in the name of freedom.

In addition, the press has largely ignored the government’s actions and allowed the government to silence those that do speak out. We should be paying attention to this troubling trend of criminalizing political speech in the name of fighting terrorism. McGowan’s story may one day become your story if you criticize your government or protest against its actions.


  1. In the United States. we have learned that the first victim of fear is civil liberty. The real or imagined presence of threat, for many Americans, is reason enough to curtail guarantees and protections and infringe on freedoms we have previously taken for granted. People who are afraid are more than ready to simply forego the Constitution and grant authority to whatever or whoever promises to keep them “safe.” Which, in reality, means that there is no bigger threat to our true “safety” as a free people than fear—again, be it real, imagined or just ginned up by visceral conservatives.

Leave a Comment