The Army owes Captain James Yee, a Muslim Army Chaplain who was arrested on Sept. 10, 2003, an apology and an explanation. Last year, officials at a Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida discovered allegedly classified documents in Yee’s bags. At the time of his arrest, Yee was serving in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he ministered to prisoners at the Navy’s detention facility. He ensured that the prisoners were able to hear the Muslim call to prayer, and occasionally clashed with military officials over the treatment of Islamic detainees.
Yee was accused of espionage, sedition, mutiny and aiding the enemy (crimes punishable by death). He sat in solitary confinement for 76 days after his arrest while Defense Department officials anonymously pressed their case in the national media, portraying Yee as part of a Guantanamo spy ring that sympathized with Al Qaeda, and raising suspicions that Yee had passed military secrets to the Syrians. “The fear was that he had started mixing his loyalties,” one official told the Washington Post.
Another official explained Yee’s decision to become a spy this way: “He was disappointed that he wasn’t being integrated into the interrogation process. He wasn’t happy with the mission, and thought the detainees were being mistreated.” (At the time, Yee’s concerns about conditions at Guantanamo Bay were echoed repeatedly by human rights activists.)
All allegations against Yee were eventually dismissed. But then, in a decision that can only be characterized as outrageous overreaching, the Army decided to prosecute Yee for committing adultery and downloading porn onto his computer. Neither act is a criminal offense, and the move was widely regarded as vindictive because, traditionally, the only times when the military prosecutes adultery cases is when other charges like rape or sexual harassment are also involved.
Yee received a reprimand, but a month later, an Army general threw out even this judgment. Exonerated on all charges, Yee received word last week that the Army had authorized his honorable discharge, which is now set for January.
Experts in military justice have expressed disbelief at Yee’s Kafkaesque journey from well-regarded Army Chaplain to Public Enemy No. 1. The malice exhibited towards Yee and the Army’s incompetent handling of his case are staggering. “This whole thing makes the military prosecutors look ridiculous,” John L. Fugh, a retired major general and onetime judge advocate general (the highest uniformed legal officer in the Army), told the New York Times.
The military owes Yee an apology because it dragged his name through the mud, damaged his family and destroyed his reputation. Yee said the Army’s pursuit of the case against him has “irreparably injured my personal and professional reputation and destroyed my prospects for a career in the US Army.”