James Yee's Supporters: We're Relieved, Outraged
Joyful relatives and friends of Capt. James Yousef Yee, the former Army chaplain at Guantanamo Bay who was accused of espionage, welcomed his release after nearly three months in military prison, but they lashed out at authorities for bringing new charges of adultery and downloading pornography on a government-issued computer.
Deeply suspicious, Yee's supporters describe the new charges as an attempt by the government to discredit the captain and cover up its failure to produce a credible case against him. Yee was accused last October of disobeying orders and stealing classified information on behalf of suspected members of al Qaeda and Taliban he counseled in the Guantanamo base prison.
Shaheed Nuriddin, Yee's friend and neighbor in Olympia, Wash., is incensed at the accusations of adultery. "He's a disciplined man devoted to his family. He's made great sacrifices to become a chaplain. Why would he put all that at risk?" says Nuriddin, an African American Muslim who attends Yee's mosque. He explains that in Islam adultery is a very serious offense. "You cannot do it outside the gaze of God."
Nuriddin broke the news of Yee's release to Yee's wife, Huda Suboh a Syrian immigrant. Suboh, he says, was elated that her husband was freed but was also filled with rage when she heard the additional charges against him. She reportedly burst into tears and stared at their 4-year-old daughter, wondering how the news would affect her life.
Suboh, who refused to talk to the press, gave a statement through her neighbor. "It is clear the government is only trying to destroy his character and his family. They will not succeed," she said. She wondered how a democratic government could ruin a person's life this way.
"The government had nothing on him, especially not espionage," says Cecilia Chang, president of the Justice for New Americans, who led a coalition of Arab and Asian American groups to free Yee. "The new charges are minor ones that are normally handled administratively and never warrant maximum confinement."
Chang says the charge of storing pornography on his computer is especially outrageous. "Porn can be downloaded on a computer without the user even knowing it. How did they come up with these charges? It's unbelievable."
Nonetheless, Chang says her group and others are claiming victory. They believe Yee would not have been freed without the persistent pressure and lobbying by civil rights groups. Chang spearheaded the effort to free Dr. Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory scientist who was falsely accused of espionage in December 1999.
Philip Ting, executive director of the Asian Law Caucus, remains troubled by how initial leaks by military sources -- that Yee would be tried for espionage, for example -- snowballed in the media, putting into question the loyalties of Chinese Americans and Muslims.
"Outlets like the New York Times ran front-page coverage of the story and several follow ups," he says. News of Yee's release, however, appeared on page 22. Ting says he partly blames the media for sensationalizing the case as it did in the case against Dr. Wen Ho Lee.
Many questions remain unanswered, says Ted Wang, policy director of Chinese for Affirmative Action. "Why did the Army single out the former West Point graduate? That the military went to such lengths to leak the information and pursue aggressive disciplinary actions causes some concern that it was motivated because of his religion, the kinds of services he provided to prisoners or possibly his race," Wang says.
Some believe Yee was imprisoned because he was going to speak out against the conditions at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. "He would not have been the first to do so," says Lawrence Swain of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation.
"Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Committee of the Red Cross have similarly denounced conditions," Swain says. He says part of Yee's duties was to advocate for prisoners at Guantanamo. "Staff began to say that Yee had 'divided loyalties' and shortly afterwards Yee was arrested," Swain contends.
Yee is resuming chaplain duties at Fort Benning, Ga. Yee's lawyer Eugene R. Fidell says his client has already served time in jail, at times in solitary confinement and often in chains and manacles. In light of this, he hopes that the government will not pursue the case further.
"It is clear that someone is rummaging around for some way to destroy an individual or save face," Fidell says. "But these charges reflect poorly on the government. It's a self-inflicted wound for the military justice system."
Pueng Vongs (email@example.com) is a PNS contributing editor and an editor for New California Media, ncmonline.com.