YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Charges Against Chaplain in Spying Case Dropped

James J. Yee was accused of espionage-related offenses involving terrorism detainees. He is owed an apology, his lawyer says.

March 20, 2004|John Hendren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Army dropped its criminal case Friday against chaplain James Joseph Yee, a Muslim who ministered to prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and who was arrested last year on espionage-related charges.

Yee, 35, could still face nonjudicial punishment.

Yee's attorney described the dropping of the charges Friday as overdue vindication of his client. A military spokesman, however, said the charges were dropped because the government did not want to have to make public sensitive information related to the case as part of court proceedings.

Yee had faced charges ranging from mishandling government information to committing adultery and loading pornography on his government-owned computer.

The case became public in September with Yee's arrest in Florida at Jackson Naval Air Station's airport. At the time, there was the possibility he could face the death penalty for espionage.

The charges eventually were reduced from espionage to mishandling classified information. Among the documents Yee reportedly carried was a list of some of the detainees at the base.

More than 600 detainees from the war in Afghanistan are being held in the prison at Guantanamo.

Yee still faces the possibility of nonjudicial punishment at the discretion of Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller for the alleged pornography and for the alleged adultery with a Navy lieutenant at the base, which are violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice that governs military personnel.

The pornography and adultery charges were not part of the original case against Yee, but arose during the probe into his handling of classified information, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Bill Costello said.

Costello said the criminal charges were dropped so that the "sensitive nature" of the evidence against Yee would not have to be exposed during a court-martial, where Yee would have access to it.

"Certainly the nature of the information is a concern. What Chaplain Yee does with the knowledge that he has is very much a concern," Costello said. "We're all required to maintain the confidentiality of it and safeguard it."

Yee's attorney, Washington lawyer Eugene Fidell, expressed deep skepticism that the government dropped the charges to avoid divulging classified information.

"What he's now entitled to is an apology," Fidell said. "The government, like anyone else, finds it difficult to apologize -- I should say especially difficult."

Yee still faces potential punishment ranging from an oral reprimand to confinement in his quarters for 30 days or restricted movement for 60 days and a fine of one month's salary.

A 1990 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., Yee was raised as a Lutheran in New Jersey. The Chinese American converted to Islam around the time he served in Saudi Arabia following the 1991 Gulf War.

Yee was held in pretrial confinement for 76 days at a brig in Charleston, Va., before being transferred to Ft. Benning, Ga., and finally Ft. Meade, Md.

He is expected now to return to his home base at Ft. Lewis, Wash., Army officials said.

Los Angeles Times Articles