In 2006, the Bush administration opened Communications Management Unit prisons in Marion, Illinois, and Terre Haute, Indiana. These unusual units, with their extreme practices and secrecy, make up a kind of "Gitmo in the heartland," as The Nation‘s Alia Malek reports in a recent issue of the magazine. Originally created to isolate inmates suspected of having ties to terrorism, the units have come under scrutiny for the make-up of the detainee population: the majority of the inmates are Arab, and prison officials have started importing prisoners from the general prison population in an effort to cover up the skewed demographics.
On WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show, Malek recounts how “an Iraqi-American physician, who had been sent to jail for violating Iraqi sanctions because he was sending medicine to Iraq,” was able to get a letter out confirming that most inmates are “Arab.” Another prisoner, Daniel, was a “low security” risk who was detained for his involvement in environmental terrorism. He had “exemplary” status in a prison in Minnesota but was suddenly sent to a restrictive unit in Marion with little explanation for the move. Malek says that non-Arab, non-Muslim inmates like Daniel are being sent to the CMUs as “balancers” who add a veneer of legitimacy to these legally-dubious prisons.
The Obama administration has continued to operate the Bush-era CMUs, Malek says, but the opaque practices at these secret prisons deserve to be rigorously reconsidered.