Daniel McGowan
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Daniel McGowan, Jailed For HuffPost Blog, Loses Lawsuit Against Bureau Of Prisons

Monday, July 15th, 2013

By Matt Sledge, msledge@huffingtonpost.com


A federal court has dismissed an environmental activist’s claims against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons over a restrictive prison wing he was housed in, but a lawsuit filed by other prisoners against the government over its restrictive communication management units continues.

Daniel McGowan, 38, served seven years in federal prison for arson connected with the Earth Liberation Front, four of them in the secretive communication management units, or CMUs, dubbed “Little Guantanamo” by critics.

Along with dozens of other mostly Muslim inmates, McGowan’s phone calls with the outside world and physical contact with his family were severely limited. Even after he was released to a halfway house, McGowan was briefly tossed back into prison this year for writing a Huffington Post blog entry detailing his case.

McGowan’s lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights had argued that his re-jailing proved he was still at risk for re-incarceration in the CMUs. But the judge overseeing the lawsuit disagreed, citing a 1990s-era law that severely restricts the rights of federal prisoners to challenge cruel and unusual punishment.

McGowan’s lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement that they were “deeply disappointed” by Senior Judge Barbara J. Rothstein’s decision, but that they would push on with the larger lawsuit.

CCR Press Release about Daniel’s claims being dismissed on Aref v. Holder

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Former Prisoner’s First Amendment Claims Dismissed Under “Second Class System of Justice”

BOP Not Liable for Retaliation Against Activist Daniel McGowan


July 15, 2013, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released the following statement in response to the dismissal of the claims in a federal lawsuit that plaintiff Daniel McGowan was placed in highly-restrictive Communications Management Units while in federal prison in retaliation for protected First Amendment activity. The other claims in the case,Aref v. Holder, continue.

We are deeply disappointed by the court’s dismissal of Daniel McGowan’s claims against the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Mr. McGowan was designated, and then re-designated, to the Communications Management Units (CMU) in blatant retaliation for his political speech and activities. At the CMUs, he had severely restricted access to telephone calls and social visits – including a total ban on contact visits with his loved ones.  Once he had been released to a halfway house, the BOP once again retaliated against Mr. McGowan, unconstitutionally placing him in federal custody days after he published blog piece about the CMUs on the Huffington Post.  While our claims challenging broad due process violations at the CMUs will proceed, Aref v. Holder also sought accountability for these acts of retaliation against protected First Amendment activity. Now, the court has held that, while non-prisoners may sue under these circumstances, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) bars Mr. McGowan’s damages claims because he was not subjected to physical harm.  CCR condemns the second class system of justice created by the PLRA, which places unjust hurdles between prisoners and redress for constitutional violations.  We will continue to vigorously pursue our case against the BOP.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. 

New motion filed in Aref v. Holder–Regarding Daniel’s April 2013 “trip” to MDC

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

The defendants in Aref v Holder have filed what is called a “Defendants’ Objections and Responses to Plaintiff’s Fourth Set of Interrogatories” and we have posted it
here. This is in response to Daniel’s lawyers investigating why Daniel was taken back into custody in April 2013 after writing a short article on his civil lawsuit. The
response are telling but one thing is certain-it sure appears that the Bureau of Prisons is not aware of its own policies and has disrespect for the First Amendment rights of prisoners.

Read for yourself. More updates to be posted soon. Thanks for your support of Daniel!

New motions filed in Aref v. Holder (Daniel’s civil lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons)

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Daniel’s lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons (Aref v. Holder) has been progressing rapidly these past months. Our lawyers have filed a ‘surreply‘ to the defendants’ (BOP) motion to dismiss. The motion deals with some issues that have popped up in the wake of Daniel’s unconstitutional jailing last week. You can read the surreply written by our lawyers at CCR here. (This ‘surreply’ is also in response to the defendants ‘reply brief’ on their motion to dismiss, which is available here. Older legal documents in this case can be viewed here. Thanks to our excellent lawyers at CCR for putting together these well-crafted motions.

Rosenburg Fund for Children founder Robert Meeropol’s article on Daniel

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Imprisoned for Blogging

Submitted by Robert Meeropol on Thu, 04/11/2013

For the second week in a row I am compelled to write about someone represented by theCenter for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and more particularly by my daughter, Rachel Meeropol, who is a senior staff attorney there.

Daniel McGowan pleaded guilty to an environmentally motivated arson in 2006 and is now serving the last six months of his seven-year sentence at a halfway house in Brooklyn. My daughter got involved in his case when the CCR filed a suit attacking the constitutionality of his transfer to a “Communication Management Unit” (CMU) during his imprisonment. In these units, inmates’ communication with the outside world is limited to one 15-minute phone call a week and two two-hour visits a month. Rachel described the CMUs “[as] political prisons. These people are being targeted to limit their ability to communicate with the outside world, and to limit their ability to be political people.”

Daniel McGowan was swept up in a wave of “Green Scare” cases that generated a number of RFC beneficiary families. In 2010, Daniel believed he was transferred to the CMU because he remained politically active in prison and published a blog. Lauren Regan, his criminal defense attorney, with whom I toured the Pacific Northwest in the fall of 2007, noted that the only difference between Daniel and other Green Scare defendants who were not transferred was “the outreach that he was doing and the voice that he had behind bars.”

The CCR’s legal action recently forced the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to provide McGowan with documents outlining the reasons for his transfer. On Monday, April 1st, 2013, Daniel published an article in the Huffington Post entitled: “Court Documents Prove I Was Sent to the Communications Management Unit (CMU) for My Political Speech.”  On Thursday he was seized at the halfway house and confined in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklynbecause he’d published the blog. The BOP cited its regulation prohibiting prisoners from “publishing under a byline” to justify this action. They neglected to mention that the regulation in question was dropped in 2010, three years after a federal court had declared it unconstitutional.

This is a “let me get this straight” moment…The BOP retaliated against McGowan for writing constitutionally protected political blogs by placing him in a Communication Management Unit and then after he was released, re-imprisoned him when he exercised his free speech rights by writing an article complaining about it. Kafka is twirling in his grave.

The CCR’s lawyers scrambled, the BOP acknowledged its “mistake” and McGowan was back in the halfway house the next day.

But was this really a mistake? It could be a case of bureaucratic incompetence, but there is another more ominous possibility. Perhaps the BOP knew that the regulation was no longer in force, and that his attorneys would move quickly to obtain his release, but they decided to cite it as an excuse to put Daniel through 24 hours of hell to punish him and deter others. He won a victory, but he paid a price. Perhaps one day his attorneys will through further discovery get to the bottom of this, but who knows when, if ever, that will happen.

I suspect we’ll never know, but given the BOP’s history and its actions last Friday, I remain suspicious. The CCR’s press release states that when he was returned to the halfway house, “Daniel 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 BOP approval, though BOP regulations only require preapproval of in-facility interviews. It also prohibits him from publishing 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.”

I can’t help but think, as we approach the 60th anniversary of my parents’ execution, how important the publication of my parents’ prison correspondence was in galvanizing the movement that fought to save them. What if the federal government had muzzled them in a Communication Management Unit? Even in the depths of the McCarthy period the government didn’t consider such an action. But today, after 60 years of “progress” thousands of federal prisoners are gagged in this manner.

Bureau of Prisons Backtracks, Again, On Daniel McGowan (HuffPo)

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013


NEW YORK — The latest twist in the saga of Daniel McGowan, an environmental activist who was convicted of arson linked to the Earth Liberation Front, has his lawyer exasperated with the Bureau of Prisons, which is now conceding it cannot stop him from blogging for The Huffington Post.

McGowan was taken from his Brooklyn halfway house by marshals and put in jail last week in response to a blog post he wrote that was critical of the Bureau of Prisons. After his lawyers complained that his rights were being infringed upon, he was re-released to the halfway house where he had been serving out the final months of his term.

But there was a twist: Upon being released, McGowan was forced to sign a documentstating that “writing articles, appearing in any type of television or media outlets, news reports and/or documentaries without prior BOP approval is strictly prohibited.” Violating that agreement, which he signed under duress, might mean going back to jail.

It was, said Rachel Meeropol, his lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a form of “fast and loose retaliation.”

When HuffPost contacted the Bureau of Prisons’ regional office in Philadelphia, however, they quickly backtracked on the agreement.

“He’s not prohibited from doing that, and we’re going to address it with the (halfway house) contractor,” said Lamine N’Diaye, a BOP public information officer. If McGowan wrote another HuffPost blog today, said N’Diaye, “he’s not going to be punished.”

The BOP’s new position may be on firmer legal ground than the contract McGowan was forced to sign: as the CCR pointed out when they fought for his rerelease, a federal judge ruled in 2007 that attempts to prohibit inmates from writing articles under their own byline are unconstitutional.

“This chain of events is so ridiculous, it is almost laughable,” said Meeropol. “What is sobering, however, is the impact of these repeated ‘mistakes’ — a dedicated activist is being chilled from sharing important information with the public in violation of the First Amendment and the Bureau of Prison’s own regulations.”

Daniel McGowan Forbidden From Publishing Articles Without Permission (Village Voice)

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013


By Nick Pinto Tue., Apr. 9 2013 at 5:12 PM

Support Daniel McGowan Facebook Group
Daniel McGowan has been forbidden from publishing anything without the permission of the Bureau of Prisons.

After more than seven years, the stack of dehumanizing and seemingly unconstitutional interactions between Daniel McGowan and the American prison system is now piled so high it is teetering over into a recursive mess of bleak and Kafkaesque absurdity.

Last Monday, McGowan published a piece on the Huffington Post that laid out much of his situation to date. After years in prison for his role in environmentally motivated property destruction that was prosecuted as acts of terrorism, he wrote, he was finishing up the remaining months of his sentence in a halfway house in Brooklyn.

The various perversions of the case that sent McGowan away are well documented in the documentary (streaming on Netflix!) If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. But, as McGowan wrote, less publicized is what happened to him a year into his prison term: Despite a flawless disciplinary record, McGowan was transferred to an experimental new Communications Management Unit, a supermax-like extreme-isolation facility some have dubbed a “Little Guantanamo.”

Why was McGowan transferred to a CMU? He never got a good answer to that question, even after a Freedom of Information Act request, so, along with other CMU inmates, he filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the CMUs and alleging that they are effectively political prisons designed to silence the voices of people whose message the government doesn’t like. As it turned out, McGowan was right: Bureau of Prisons memos discovered through the lawsuit appear to link his transfer to the CMU to the fact that he continued to write things the government found politically objectionable.

“While incarcerated and through social correspondence and articles written for radical publications, inmate McGowan has attempted to unite the radical environmental and animal liberation movements,” one memo states, before dilating on other political statements McGowan made in interviews and his own writing.

McGowan wrote about all of this in his Huffington Post piece last Monday. Two days later, the staff at the halfway house to which he had been assigned told him that his work permit had been revoked on order of the Bureau of Prisons. The next morning, federal marshals arrived and brought him to the Metropolitan Detention Center. Once there, he was presented with a document explaining that he had violated the terms of his release to the halfway house. Specifically, the incident report stated that McGowan had violated a prison regulation that stated “an inmate currently confined in an institution may not … act as a reporter or publish under a byline.”

That’s right: McGowan was sent back to jail for writing about how he’d been imprisoned in a CMU for writing things.

There’s more: The regulation that the Bureau of Prisons cited to justify returning him to jail had actually been declared unconstitutional by a federal court in 2007, and the Bureau of Prisons had finally taken it off the books in 2010. McGowan’s lawyers mentioned this to the bureau and to the lawyers representing the government in his lawsuit, and he was re-released to the halfway house on Friday.

But that’s not the end of it. Back at the halfway house, staff presented McGowan with a document and directed him to sign it. The document stated that “he is not permitted to have any contact with the media without approval from the BOP’s Residential Reentry Manager. Accordingly, Resident McGowan was advised that writing articles, appearing in any type of television or media outlets, news reports and or documentaries without prior BOP approval is strictly prohibited.”

It’s worth noting that McGowan hadn’t been asked to sign this document when he first arrived at the halfway house, nor, as far as his lawyers can tell, has anyone there been asked to sign it. In fact, there’s nothing in the Bureau of Prison’s published media policythat requires pre-approval before publishing anything.

“There is no national prohibition on publishing,” Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, confirmed this afternoon.

“I thought I had lost my ability to be surprised by what the Bureau of Prisons does years ago,” said Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights who’s representing McGowan. “But restricting an individual’s freedom of speech in this manner is truly surprising. It’s beyond ironic that Daniel was retaliated against and returned to prison for publishing a blog about being retaliated against for speaking out in prison.”

Here’s the incident report explaining McGowan’s return to prison:

Daniel McGowan Incident Report

And here’s the statement McGowan was required to sign upon his return to the halfway house:

Daniel McGowan Halfway House statement


Copy of Incident Report Daniel received last week

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

McGowan 4.3.13 Incident Report

McGowan 4.3.13 Incident Report

Go ahead and try to count how many things are wrong with this picture! Note to BOP: The policy in question (whether prisoners are allowed to write under a byline) has not been in place since 2007! Way to be updated about your own policy, BOP!

Press release from CCR on Special Restrictions for Daniel

Monday, April 8th, 2013

BOP Invents Special Restriction for Environmental Activist Daniel McGowan: No Publishing Articles

McGowan Released from MDC Prison Friday, Returned to Halfway House


April 8, 2013, New York – Today, attorneys for activist Daniel McGowan at the Center for Constitutional Rights released the following update on his situation:

Daniel McGowan is back at the halfway house where he has been residing after a week that was by turns difficult, disturbing and ridiculous. To recap: on Monday, April 1, Daniel published an opinion piece on the Huffington Post titled “Court Documents Prove I Was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for My Political Speech.” On Thursday, April 4, Daniel was picked up by U.S. Marshals from the halfway house and taken into custody at Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. He was issued an “incident report” indicating that his Huffington Post blog post violated a BOP regulation prohibiting inmates from “publishing under a byline.”  The BOP regulation in question was declared unconstitutional by a federal court in 2007, and eliminated by the BOP in 2010. On Friday, April 5, after we brought Daniel’s unjust detention to the BOP’s attention, he was released from MDC, and the incident report was expunged.

That same day, Daniel 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 BOP approval, though BOP regulations only require preapproval of in-facility interviews.  It also prohibits him from publishing 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.

McGowan, who was released from prison in December and is serving out the last six months of his sentence at a halfway house, is a plaintiff in a Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit, Aref v. Holder, challenging the constitutionality of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) experimental Communications Management Units (CMUs) where he was kept for four years. 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.

Aref v. Holder challenges the violation of prisoners’ fundamental constitutional rights, including the right to due process. Attorneys say that because transfer to CMUs are not based on facts or discipline for infractions, a pattern of religious and political discrimination and retaliation for prisoners’ lawful advocacy has emerged. Daniel McGowan recently amended the complaint to include claims of retaliation for First Amendment protected speech.

For information about CCR’s federal lawsuit challenging CMUs, visit the

Aref, et al. v. Holder, et al  case page or


The law firm

Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP and attorney

Kenneth A. Kreuscher are co-counsel in the case.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

Well said!

Saturday, April 6th, 2013