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January 2004 • Vol 4, No. 1 •

Chinese American Muslim arrested and smeared

By Rod Holt

Captain James J. Yee

Abruptly, on September 10, 2003, Captain James J. Yee was arrested by military police, as he was on the way home to see his wife and child. He was stationed in Guantánamo as chaplain to attend to the spiritual needs of the Muslim prisoners held at “Camp X-ray.” He was summarily locked up incommunicado without even being allowed a phone call to his wife awaiting him in Seattle. She was to learn of his detention days later. It took the Associated Press 10 days from the time of the arrest to publish its report.

It was two weeks after the arrest, before the New York Times printed the first article of its own. Chaplain Yee was described as a graduate of West Point and a deeply dedicated convert to Islam. He had learned Arabic while studying in Syria. In Camp X-ray he not only led in prayers, he advised the base commander on religious needs and helped straighten out misunderstandings.

The Times went on to prejudice the public against Captain Yee by speculating that Yee was being investigated in a growing military inquiry into spying at Guantánamo although they admitted that the military authorities had made no charges against him and declined to discuss the case. But “One military official said today that Captain Yee was found to have hand-drawn maps of where the prisoners were kept in the camp, lists of which interrogators had interviewed which prisoners and notations on the subjects of the interviews.” (Note the early mention of these documents.)

Virulent Hatred Quickly Surfaces

The story of a spy ring at Guantánamo, the previous arrest of Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi, and now the arrest of a Chinese American Muslim cleric kicked off all sorts of speculation. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York hastily put out a press release headed: “NEW REVELATION: Captain Yee Was Trained And Selected To Be A Muslim Chaplain By Group Being Investigated For Terrorism.” “The fact that a chaplain who was detained for supposedly stealing classified documents was trained by a group under investigation for terrorism should set off alarms at the highest levels,” said Schumer. The press release went on to connect these “terrorist” groups with the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. And there is more of the same.

[As a note of interest to our readers, Schumer’s press release revealed that there are a total of 12 Muslim chaplains in the Armed Services. Imagine that! 12!]

Similarities to the Wen Ho Lee Case

L. Ling-chi Wang was a principal organizer of the Chinese American community in the defense of Wen Ho Lee, the nuclear scientist at Los Alamos who was accused of spying, terribly mistreated by the U.S. government and was later exonerated. Mr. Wang was alerted to the Captain Yee case because of its similarities to that of Wen Ho Lee. On September 30 he wrote of the parallels for the Pacific News Service. Among them are:

… The order to arrest Capt. Yee, according to the Washington Times, came from “the highest levels” of our government. That suggests a well-planned and calculated move on the part of the government to control and shape public perception of the case. In Lee’s case, the decision to indict him was made at a White House meeting that included National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, Attorney General Janet Reno, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, CIA Director George Tenant and FBI Director Louis Freeh, among others. Exactly who participated in the decision to arrest Capt. Yee remains unknown.

… As in the Wen Ho Lee case, the government has chosen to prosecute Yee first through the nation’s news media, primarily through leaks. As with Dr. Lee, government sources leaked the story to a newspaper—this time, the extremely conservative and administration-friendly Washington Times.

… The timing of the leak appears to be strategic. Anti-Muslim sentiment still runs high since Sept. 11, 2001, and the Bush administration recently launched a high-profile campaign against China, which it blames for the loss of nearly 3 million jobs since Bush assumed the presidency (China’s undervalued currency is held responsible). Yee is both Chinese American and a Muslim. The cases of Yee and two other arrested Americans who worked at Guantánamo provide a clever diversion calculated to heighten Americans’ sense of vulnerability and further incite anti-Muslim and anti-Chinese sentiment at a time when many Americans and lawmakers in Congress are beginning to question Bush’s costly military occupation of Iraq.


The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey carried a story December 3, 2003, that indicated how flimsy the government’s case really is. We reprint parts below:

Fort Benning, Georgia. — A disciplinary hearing for the Army chaplain charged with mishandling classified information about suspected terrorists was abruptly postponed yesterday after military officials inadvertently released a possibly secret document, an Army spokesman said.

“There’s been a delay in today’s proceedings due to the discovery of some information that was included in the investigation packet that was provided to the defense,” he said. “Some information on a handwritten note by Chaplain Yee may have contained classified information was inadvertently released to the defense.”

Costello, speaking to reporters who had arrived at Fort Benning for the start of the yesterday’s hearing, said military lawyers were still trying to determine whether the document is indeed classified.

Captain Yee’s lawyer, Eugene Fidell remarked, “How is the chaplain supposed to know what’s classified if the government’s own experts and lawyers don’t know?” Fidell said in a telephone interview. “It’s really a comedy of errors. What they really should do is just call it a day.”

Pornography Too?

The government has now backtracked in confusion. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on December 20 that:

Federal agents said they found classified sketches of the military prison in his bags, and he was placed in solitary confinement in South Carolina.

Yee was never officially accused, but upon his release Nov. 25, he was slapped with a string of charges, including failure to obey orders and storing pornography on his government computer, although none approached treason. A preliminary hearing was postponed after government officials said they needed more time to determine whether documents found in Yee’s luggage were, in fact, classified. In the meantime, Yee is on a 30-day leave.

Embarrassed by the misbehavior of the military prosecutors and aware of burgeoning defense movement, the New York Times wrote an editorial December 14 calling the military “mean-spirited and incompetent” and the charges “murky.” “They seem to be motivated, in this case, by a desire to embarrass Captain Yee, and by frustration that the larger case against him is so weak.”—So says the Times after they see there is no yeast in the dough.

Organizing a defense

At the end of the year, no one seems to be sure of what Captain Yee will be tried for. Some sort of hearing is expected in January. But those involved in preserving our civil liberties have not been waiting around. They have taken the initiative in countering the media’s disinformation campaign. It is the spirited offense launched against the government’s witch-hunt that has given pause to those who would profit from racist hysteria.

The American Muslim Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs Council (AMAF and VAC) have an excellent web page carrying news articles on the case, http://www.amafandvac.org. They also publicize the defense fund set up by Captain Yee’s family:

Chaplain James Yee Defense Fund
P.O. Box 1226
Springfield, NJ 07081-5226

Justice For New Americans, www.j4na.org, has organized public meetings in San Francisco for Captain Yee’s defense, obtaining broad public support in the process. Justice For New Americans has joined a group of civil liberties organizations which include Chinese for Affirmative Action, the American Muslim Voice, the Blue Triangle Network, Amnesty International, the Lawyers Guild, and many more.

For more information, contact

Cecilia Chang
Justice For New Americans
P. O. Box 120
Fremont, California 94537

Sources include Brian Donohue of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Claudia Rowe of the Seattle Post-Intelligence, L. Ling-chi Wang of the Pacific News Service, The New York Times and the Associated Press.





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