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Army Drops All Charges Against Muslim Chaplain at Guantanamo

March 21, 2004|Larry Hobbs | Associated Press Writer

MIAMI — Citing national security concerns, the Army on Friday dropped all charges against a Muslim chaplain accused of mishandling classified documents at Guantanamo Bay, which houses suspected terrorists.

Capt. James J. Yee will be allowed to return to his previous duty station at Ft. Lewis, near Tacoma, Wash., said the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the detention center in Cuba.

"Chaplain Yee has won," his attorney, Eugene R. Fidell of Washington, said in a statement late Friday. "The Army's dismissal of the classified information charges against him represents a long overdue vindication."

In dismissing the charges, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, commander of the detention center at Guantanamo, cited "national security concerns that would arise from the release of the evidence" if the case proceeded.

"In the grand scheme of things, and in the interest of national security, Gen. Miller felt like the charges needed to be dropped," said Lt. Col. Bill Costello, a Southcom spokesman. "It seemed to be the prudent way to proceed."

Yee spent 76 days in custody after the military initially linked him to a possible espionage ring at the naval base in Cuba. But the government failed to build a capital espionage case against him. Prosecutors have not disclosed much about their case.

Some Asian American activists and Yee supporters have accused the government of racial and religious profiling in Yee's case.

The Army charged Yee last September with mishandling classified material, failing to obey an order, making a false official statement, adultery and conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly downloading pornography on his government laptop.

Fidell rejected the notion that security concerns played a role in the dismissal of charges. He said Yee, who was in the Washington, D.C.-area Friday, was entitled to an apology.

Miller said Yee, a 35-year-old Chinese American, will be offered nonjudicial punishment for allegations of adultery and pornography.

That would come through an Article 15 proceeding, the military's method for dealing with minor infractions. The penalties would be minor, such as duty restriction or a temporary pay cut.

"We anticipate that Yee will be returned to his home duty station at Ft. Lewis, Washington, at the conclusion of any Article 15 proceedings," Southcom said in a news release.

Fidell said he objected to the Article 15 hearing, scheduled for Monday at Ft. Meade, Md., saying they did not have time to prepare.

If convicted of all the original charges, Yee could have faced dismissal and up to 14 years in prison.

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