Yee angered by belated report on his treatment

The OlympianSeptember 20, 2007 

After waiting three years for the report of a Defense Department inspector general, James J. Yee of Olympia was outraged Wednesday by a two-page executive summary sent out by the department.

It says the department did little wrong in its investigation and detainment of Yee, a former Muslim Army chaplain based at Fort Lewis who was arrested in 2003 for allegedly carrying classified information.

"In my view, what was reported was utterly ridiculous," said Yee, 39. "It's a huge cover-up. That's why independent investigations are necessary. "People conducting this investigation were not unbiased," he added.

The executive summary says the department acted properly in most of Yee's case: Counterintelligence suspected Yee of possessing classified information. The case was done in "good faith," Yee was "not targeted" because he was Muslim, and his treatment was "not abusive," according to the summary.

Yee said he doesn't know how anyone could conclude he was not abused. "I was strip-searched daily. I was subjected to sensory deprivation, blocking my eyesight and hearing. That borders on torture," he said.

At the time of his arrest Sept. 10, 2003, Yee was on a temporary assignment from Fort Lewis to provide religious support to suspected al-Qaida and Taliban fighters held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As one of the Army's few Muslim chaplains, Yee saw the assignment as a way to bridge the cultural divide between guard and prisoner.

He left his wife and daughter behind in Olympia to take the assignment.

After his arrest, he was publicly branded a traitor and a spy by the military, and Yee said he was threatened with the death penalty. Yee is Chinese-American and a West Point graduate; he converted to Islam in 1991.

There were two areas in which proper procedures were not followed, the executive summary says. A general exceeded his authority in removing unfavorable information from Yee's file, and a lieutenant colonel violated department policy by writing a letter to the editor to The New York Times.

The summary also says that a May 19, 2004, review determined Yee possessed 54 documents containing secret information at the time of his apprehension at Jacksonville Naval Air Station in Florida.

Yee said they were notes he had taken on the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, not secret documents.

"They weren't classified. It's to cover up the war crimes at Guantanamo," Yee said.

A year ago, two U.S. congressmen pressured the Pentagon's internal watchdog to complete its investigation into the military's treatment of Yee. In December 2004, the inspector general began an inquiry into the Army's handling of Yee, who was imprisoned for 76 days in solitary confinement and eventually cleared of all charges after his arrest on suspicion of espionage.

Adam Smith, a Democrat who represents South Sound's 9th Congressional District, and Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., demanded a quick resolution in September 2006.

"Captain Yee's arrest, incarceration and release raise serious questions as to whether the department follows its own rules when troops are accused of a crime," Smith said then in a news release. "The Department of Defense needs to conclude its inquiry into this matter as quickly as possible. This investigation has already taken too long."

Yee's attorney, Gene Fidell, called the two-page summary "preposterous" and noted that he never was contacted by the Defense Department's Office of the Inspector General.

"What kind of investigation is this?" Fidell asked. "Why is it it took them three years? Three years, and they come up with two pages? This is a deep insult to Congress, not to mention Chaplain Yee. Congress had a right to expect more, better, sooner."

Yee said it "is a direct reflection of the incompetent management that exists in the U.S. military."

The espionage case unraveled, but the Army prosecuted Yee on minor offenses, including mishandling classified materials.

He received a written reprimand for committing adultery and storing pornography on a government computer, but the general later cleared that from his record.

Yee resigned from the Army in January 2005 with an honorable discharge after saying his arrest and prosecution ruined his military career.

Since leaving the Army, Yee has written a book about his experience at Guantanamo and his prosecution titled "For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire."

His book details harsh conditions for detainees at Guantanamo. When detainees acted out, guards typically ignored rules that prohibit retaliation, such as yelling insults and throwing water or spitting at them, Yee wrote.

Guards attempted to disrupt detainees' religious practice, mocking the call to prayer by playing loud music, Yee wrote. Female guards inappropriately touched detainees, knowing that physical contact between unrelated men and women is prohibited under Islam, he said.

Yee said he will continue speaking publicly about abuses at Guantanamo. He added the executive summary is "retaliation for him being highly critical of the U.S. military."

He plans to talk to an attorney and to Smith about what to do next.

In an e-mail to The Olympian, Yee said he is afraid the full report will be labeled classified, so no one ever will know the truth.

"This is how the military will be able to hide from the public the blunders, mistakes and missteps that were clearly evident in the case against me," he wrote.

"I am also concerned that this approach will be another way for the military to keep some kind of cloud of suspicion hanging over me in justifying the way I was mistreated."

Olympian reporter Christian Hill and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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