Now that he’s published a book about his Guantanamo ordeal, it’s time to revisit the story of former Army chaplain James Yee. (I published a column about Yee in 2004 but much has happened since then and Yee’s compelling narrative fills in many of the blanks.)
His book For God And Country is one decent person’s account of his inhumane treatment by US military authorities. In short, the story happened like this: Yee was the only Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo’s prison base, and he incurred his commanders’ wrath when he told his superiors that Muslim prisoners were being abused and having their rights violated.
Prior to his arrest on bogus charges of sedition, mutiny and espionage, Yee, ironically, had received glowing commendations in reviews from his superiors. Nonetheless, armed with an arrest warrant from Guantanamo’s second-in-command–but as we later found out, hardly a shred of evidence–the military put Yee in solitary confinement for 76 days. It dragged his name through the mud as officials leaked information to the media charging that Yee was a member of a Guantanamo spy ring that sympathized with Al Qaeda.
The charges were totally without merit and the case against Yee quickly crumbled, but the military’s next step was vindictive in the extreme: It decided to continue the smear job by charging Yee with unrelated crimes like the commission of adultery. These charges were also eventually dropped, and Yee, in the end, received an honorable discharge.
His book tells the story of one man’s struggle against this outrageous smear campaign, but it also offers a useful window onto the pattern of prisoner abuses at Guantanamo and around the world under US military authorities. Yee’s account makes clear that prisoner abuses are woven into the culture of Camp Delta on Guantanamo. He’s persuasive on this count: The chain of command was indeed responsible. Guantanamo’s zealous commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller at one point told Yee that he hated “those Muslims” who had attacked America and killed his friends on September 11. Generally, according to Yee, Miller cultivated a blatently anti-Muslim atmosphere at the base.