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Eco-Saboteur Jailed for Speaking Out on Secret Prisons

In 2007, when 10 Earth Liberation Front eco-saboteurs were sentenced in federal court in Eugene for their ecologically motivated arsons, their attorneys fought a “terrorism enhancement” label. They argued it should be saved for “the most dangerous types of offenses that threaten the fabric of our society,” not people who went out of their way to make sure animals and humans were not harmed through their actions. The attorneys for Daniel McGowan, who was sentenced to seven years for his actions, argued that being labeled a terrorist might result in the activist, whose background included political pie-throwing, being put in a terrorist prison. 

McGowan in fact did spend much of his time in prison in a secretive “Communications Management Unit,” where as he recently blogged, “the communications restrictions at the CMUs are, in some respects, harsher than those at ADX, the notorious federal ‘Supermax’ prison in Colorado.”

McGowan was the subject of the 2012 Oscar-nominated film If A Tree Falls, featuring a number of Eugene activists, attorneys and filmmakers, documenting some of the arsons and other actions around the Northwest for which he was jailed. He continued to write political pieces from prison. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is representing McGowan and other prisoners in a case challenging the CMU’s constitutionality, says, “new documents uncovered in the case indicate he was placed in these highly restrictive experimental units as retaliation for his political writings on current events and issues while he was in prison.”

A couple days after McGowan’s April 1 blog about CMUs was posted on the The Huffington Post’s website, McGowan, who had been released to a halfway house for the last six months of his sentence, found himself back in a federal detention center. According to a press release from the CCR, McGowan was issued an “incident report” indicating that his blog post violated a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) regulation prohibiting inmates from “publishing under a byline.” But the CCR says that “the BOP regulation in question was declared unconstitutional by a federal court in 2007, and eliminated by the BOP in 2010.” The CCR says that after the group brought this to the BOP’s attention, McGowan was released and the incident report expunged.

After he was released, the CCR says McGowan was provided with a list of prohibited activities by halfway house staff, “which he was required to sign.” The list forbids him any media contact without approval from the BOP, though the prison system’s “regulations only require pre-approval of in-facility interviews.” The list also says he can’t publish any writing of his own without prior BOP permission. “As far as we know, this is a made-up rule applied only to Daniel, in a further attempt to chill his freedom of speech,” the CCR says. 

In an earlier statement, the CCR attorneys said, “If this is indeed a case of retaliation for writing an article about the BOP retaliating against his free speech while he was in prison, it is more than ironic, it is an outrage.”

According to the BOP website, McGowan’s projected release date is June 5.