Do you know what a CMU is?

07/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If you care about your First Amendment rights - you should.

The United States Penitentiary at Marion is now home to one of two known "Communication Management Units" in the federal prison system. The other is at the Federal Correctional Complex, Terre Haute, Indiana. The units severely restrict the visitation rights for inmates and monitors all telephone calls and mail.

In a Democracy Now! exclusive interview, Amy Goodman speaks with Andrew Stepanian, an animal rights activist who was jailed at a secretive prison known as a Communication Management Unit, or CMU. Stepanian is believed to be the first prisoner released from a CMU and will talk about his experience there for the first time. He was sentenced to three years along with six other activists for violating a controversial law known as the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of CMUs. We also speak with Stepanian's lawyer and a reporter covering the story.

Stepanian, along with several others, was accused of targeting the Huntingdon Life Sciences Corporation through SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty). In January 2000 SHAC began its campaign focusing on major Huntingdon shareholders.

Eventually - they were accused of violating the American Enterprise Terrorism Act.

The entities that lobbied for AETA, according to journalist Will Potter are "the most powerful players in the pharmaceutical, animal research, meat and dairy industry, the food industry, the fur industry, all of these industries that most of the animal rights activists like Andy are targeting in their campaigns." Potter runs the website, and has focused on the war on terrorism and how it affects our civil liberties.

Potter continues, "what they're doing is selecting people, not because of their crimes, but because of the politics of their crimes. I mean, as Andy Stepanian has said, he... and the others in this facility are not there because they harmed anyone. They're not there because they approach anything that most reasonable people would consider even close to being terrorism. They're there because, according to the government, in part, they have very strong networks of support."

So - animal rights activists imprisoned in CMU's - all this goes on in America, 2009.

"These Communication Management Units are an expansion of a continued war on dissent in this country... And now these CMUs are really the final step, in my opinion, of this--of using that word "terrorism" to push a political agenda and to really dominate and to control--attempt to control these social movements."

--Paul Hetznecker, attorney.

It's a new frontier - this Internet - and a new battleground for government control and censorship versus freedom of expression.

The severity of animal exploitation, the direct links to Big Business, and the First Amendment implications - give new meaning to the concept food chain.