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 easing restrictions on his communication.Secretive U.S. Prison Units Used to House Muslim, Animal Rights and Environmental Activists (Thanks, Will!)
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, SupportDaniel.org.