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New Muslim Chaplain to Have Limited Role at Guantanamo

Replacement for Army Capt. James Yee won't have access to suspected terrorist detainees.

November 28, 2003|Matthew Hay Brown | The Orlando Sentinel

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — A new Muslim chaplain is expected here early next month but, unlike his predecessor, he will not be allowed to meet with the 660 suspected terrorists now held at Camp Delta, officials said.

The new chaplain will replace Army Capt. James Joseph Yee, who was arrested in September after he allegedly was found carrying a map of the cellblocks and a list of detainees.

Yee was released from a military brig Tuesday, but he faces new charges of adultery at the naval base and viewing pornography on his government computer there.

Yee's release came one day after his lawyers sent a letter to President Bush complaining about his confinement and urging that he be freed until his criminal case could be resolved.

Officials have not named Yee's replacement, but they have been clear about the new chaplain's role.

"His mission will be to be the advisor to the commander of the Joint Task Force and to provide for the needs of the Joint Task Force members, not the detainees," said Gen. Mitchell R. LeClaire, deputy commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo.

Yee had advised the task force and the detainees. In addition to advising Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller on religious and cultural sensitivity and counseling service members as an Army chaplain during his 10 months here, Yee met with prisoners to offer what he called "a sympathetic ear."

LeClaire said it "was never his job officially" to meet with the detainees.

"I can't say it was at the approval of his commanders," LeClaire said. He added that the matter was under investigation.

Yee's lawyer, Washington attorney Eugene R. Fidell, rejected the suggestion that Yee's superiors did not know about his contact with prisoners.

For months before his arrest, Yee described the interactions to reporters in interviews that were arranged and monitored by military public affairs officials.

"Any claim that the command was unaware of Capt. Yee's activities will be investigated to the fullest extent of the law," Fidell said. "My sniffer tells me that people are running for cover."

After his release Tuesday, Yee was assigned to Ft. Benning in Georgia, where he is to report to the chief chaplain to "perform duties commensurate with his rank."

Yee is one of three Joint Task Force workers arrested in recent months on charges related to mishandling classified information about the operation.

Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi, who worked at Camp Delta as a translator, is accused of passing secrets to individuals from Qatar and his native Syria.

Ahmed Fathy Mehalba, a civilian translator, has been charged with lying about computer discs on which authorities say he was carrying classified information.

While the Joint Task Force awaits the new Muslim chaplain, a Christian chaplain has assumed responsibility for ensuring that the religious needs of the detainees are met. This includes taking orders for Korans and making sure that the Muslim call to prayer is played five times daily -- procedures developed by Yee.

"A lot of the things were already set in place," said Maj. Dan O'Dean, the current chaplain. "There's been a couple of cycles of the religious calendar, so a lot of the lessons learned from how the camp operates has kind of found a root. I don't really think it takes somebody guiding it now. It's pretty much found its place."

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