Nearly three years ago, Chaplain James Yee languished in a high-security Guantanamo Bay prison cell, facing death for allegedly passing secrets to al-Qaeda through suspected terrorists he was ministering to at the prison.
And although the government dropped the charges – after he had spent 76 days in solitary confinement – he never received an apology, Yee told about 70 CSU students and community members in the Lory Student Center’s North Ballroom on Thursday night.
“What happened to me was a miscarriage of justice,” he said. “When my face was plastered in every newspaper as the lead story, that’s how my family learned where I was.”
Shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, senior military leadership sought him out to teach soldiers about Islam, said Yee, who had converted to the religion in 1991 and had served in the first Gulf War to push Saddam Hussein’s troops out of Kuwait.
He became an adviser to the prison’s command, and even a media spokesman for reporters inquiring about the military’s understanding of Islam.
But the chaplain soon became upset at the insensitivity he heard about and witnessed at the now internationally notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Female interrogators would take off their clothes to frustrate Muslim prisoners, clearly exploiting the detainees’ religious beliefs, he said. Sometimes, he added, they would even go further and inappropriately touch them or make them touch the females.
“Guantanamo’s secret weapon was the use of religion against prisoners,” Yee said. “We thought this was not only degrading to the prisoner, but to the female interrogators, as well as all females. They were being used as sex objects.”
Joe Stern, a Fort Collins resident and World War II veteran, passed out anti-war literature at the event.
“To use religion to break their spirit, I think it was very tragic and a shame for America,” he said.
Yee said he was called the “Chinese Taliban” by some members of military, and that this was proof that race played a factor in his detention.
Andrew Stewart, a sophomore psychology major, agreed. (CQ)es
“Race is a factor everywhere,” he said. “It’s always affecting our behaviors.”
Yee, a third-generation Chinese-American, comes from a family rooted in the military. His father was drafted during World War II, and at the time of his arrest, both his brothers were in the military.
Yee’s case received widespread attention, garnering coverage in virtually every major media outlet in the country. He was arrested at an airport and charged with spying and then mishandling classified information.
“I never showed up at that airport, where my wife and children waited,” he said. “I disappeared.”
All criminal charges were dropped.
Military officials have said the charges against Yee were dropped in order to protect sensitive information from being made public, but some critics don’t buy that.
“This is a case that’s so obviously wrong that (even) people who don’t know military law are, if not outraged, then very concerned about what happened,” said Kevin Barry, a retired Coast Guard judge, according to a 2004 USA Today article.
“There apparently was no evidence. If they had the goods, they would have prosecuted.”
When the criminal charges against Yee dissolved, he was pinned with adultery and downloading pornography.
With Yee’s wife crying behind him, Navy Lt. Karyn Wallace testified under immunity about her affair with the Muslim chaplain.
Yee said the government charged him with downloading porn on a government computer and adultery for two reasons: to shift media coverage away from the fact that charges were dropped and to discredit him.
“The story was now, ‘Muslim chaplain charged with pornography,'” he said.
The event was part of Asian Fest, an annual series of events sponsored by Asian/Pacific American Student Services (APASS).
The turnout included only a handful of students and a sea of empty chairs.
“I thought it was a little disappointing,” said Sarah Jakel, APASS assistant director, about the turnout. “I think he has a really important message… but we’re glad the people who came learned a lot.”
This year’s Asian Fest will wrap up with two events.
A sculpture commemorating the Japanese Americans’ experience with internment at Heart Mountain, Wyo., is set to be unveiled today in the Lory Student Center’s Sunken Lounge.
And a Hawaiian luau is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday in the Lory Student Center’s Main Ballroom. Tickets for students are $16.