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Cleared of Spying, Chaplain to Resign

Muslim who ministered at Guantanamo Bay is leaving the Army, which he says ruined his career.

August 03, 2004|John Hendren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Muslim chaplain cleared of being part of an alleged spy ring at the Navy prison holding suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban members submitted his resignation Monday, saying an overly zealous prosecution had destroyed his career in the Army.

Capt. James Joseph Yee, who ministered to the Muslims held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was arrested in September 2003 and held for 76 days in a military jail. The Army initially attempted to connect him to a purported spy ring at the base, but could not substantiate espionage allegations.

Early in the investigation, a newspaper report -- citing sources close to the case -- said that Yee was likely to face charges that could make him eligible for the death penalty. Instead, he was charged with mishandling classified information and violating military law by committing adultery and downloading pornography onto his government computer.

The criminal charges were dropped, and Yee eventually was convicted of minor administrative charges involving the adultery and pornography accusations. Those convictions and a written reprimand handed down March 22 were overturned April 14.

But even in clearing Yee, Gen. James T. Hill, head of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, described him as culpable of wrongdoing.

"While I believe that Chaplain Yee's misconduct was wrong, I do not believe, given the extreme notoriety of his case in the news media, that further stigmatizing Chaplain Yee would serve a just and fair purpose," Hill wrote in his decision.

The Army's refusal to acknowledge Yee's innocence, even while clearing him, had ruined any chance of a career in the nation's oldest armed service, the chaplain said in a letter asking for his resignation to be effective Jan. 7, 2005.

Yee plans to pursue a master's degree in international relations at Troy State University in Alabama, said his attorney, Eugene R. Fidell.

"Those unfounded allegations -- which were leaked to the media -- irreparably injured my personal and professional reputation and destroyed my prospects for a career in the United States Army," Yee wrote.

"I have waited for months for an apology for the treatment to which I have been subjected, but none has been forthcoming.

"I have been unable even to obtain my personal effects from Guantanamo Bay, despite repeated requests.

"In the circumstances, I have no alternative but to tender my resignation."

A 1990 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Yee was raised as a Lutheran. He converted to Islam about the time he served in Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and is one of only 17 Muslim chaplains in the armed forces.

Army officials at the Pentagon referred inquiries to officials at Ft. Lewis, Wash., where Yee has been stationed since the legal proceedings against him collapsed earlier this year.

"We have received his resignation," Lt. Col. Bill Costello, a spokesman at the base, said Monday evening. "It is being processed in accordance with Army regulations."

Yee feels he was persecuted by a military justice system operating "on a hair trigger" at the Guantanamo Bay prison, where the government continues to hold about 585 prisoners captured in the Bush administration's war on terrorism, Fidell said.

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