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Army Gives Muslim Chaplain Written Reprimand

Capt. James J. Yee, punished for adultery and for downloading pornography, had initially been the focus of an espionage inquiry.

March 23, 2004|John Hendren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The high-profile espionage investigation of a Muslim chaplain at the Guantanamo Bay detention center ended Monday when Army Capt. James Joseph Yee was given a written reprimand for adultery and downloading pornography.

Yee's lawyer, Eugene R. Fidell, described the decision, made in an administrative hearing, as an act of "judicial violence" motivated by anti-Asian and anti-Muslim fervor.

Yee, one of 17 Muslim chaplains in the U.S. armed services, remained silent and swallowed hard as he was declared guilty of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Fidell, who had asked the Army for an apology, said he would immediately appeal the ruling of Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller to Gen. James T. Hill, head of the U.S. Southern Command in Miami.

"This officer is the victim of an incredible drive-by act of legal violence," Fidell said. "However, in the court of public opinion, which is truly the highest court in the land, I think that Chaplain Yee has prevailed and will continue to prevail."

Yee, 36, was arrested in Florida at Jacksonville Naval Air Station and detained for 76 days in an investigation into his handling of information taken from his post at the naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. About 610 detainees from the war in Afghanistan are being held at Guantanamo, accused of being enemy combatants.

He eventually faced criminal charges of mishandling government information, adultery and downloading pornography onto his government computer.

Fidell compared the case with the prosecution of Wen Ho Lee, another Chinese American, who was indicted in 1999 for allegedly mishandling classified information at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"Do I think that some of it had to do with suspicion arising from his faith? I have to tell you I do," Fidell said. "Do I think that the same thing would have happened to someone who had not been a Chinese American, or a hyphenated American? ... I am unable to entirely put out of mind the concern that profiling played some role in the initiation of these proceedings."

Army Lt. Col. Bill Costello, a Southern Command spokesman, dismissed that accusation.

"All military services have one Uniform Code of Military Justice," he said. "And it applies to everybody in uniform, from the bottom of the rank structure to the top of the rank structure. And there isn't a Uniform Military Code of Justice for African Americans, for Chinese Americans or for Muslim Americans. Officers take an oath to live by it.... Chaplain Yee was found guilty today."

The Army initially attempted to connect Yee to a purported spy ring at Guantanamo Bay but could not substantiate espionage allegations.

Military officials announced late Friday -- after the network newscasts had ended -- that all of the criminal charges against Yee had been dropped. They indicated that the decision was based on the military's reluctance to make sensitive information public and not because Yee was innocent of the charges. Monday's hearing on the noncriminal charges occurred at the unusual hour of 6 p.m.

"Of course I'm disappointed in the outcome," Yee told reporters in a terse statement late Monday. He thanked supporters in the United States and abroad.

Although Yee will return to duty at Ft. Lewis, Wash., the case proved personally embarrassing and most likely professionally disastrous for him. His wife, holding their child, was nearby when Yee's mistress testified to the intimate details of their relationship.

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

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