For God and Country–Faith and Patriotism Under Fire
By James Yee, former U.S. Army Muslim Chaplain at Guantanamo Bay
This is a riveting account of a young Chinese American graduate of West Point, class of 1990, who became a Muslim Chaplain assigned to the Joint Task Force Guantanamo in 2003. At the end of the eleventh month of what was to be his six-month tour of duty, he is arriving at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, dreaming of soon being reunited with his wife and daughter. But, back at Gitmo, a two-star general has other plans for Captain Yee.
The atmosphere in post 9/11 US was, at best, hostile toward all Muslims. In our military, that feeling was fostered by our government and even more intense. Virtually all Muslims were automatically suspected to be supporters of Al Qaeda. Guantanamo was chosen by our government as the site for a prison compound to house and interrogate any prisoners captured during our war on terror. Conveniently, it was not US territory and, therefore, beyond the purview of our laws and treaties prohibiting the use of torture when extracting intelligence from prisoners. Also, the prisoners held there were ruled to be not prisoners of war, subject to the Geneva Conventions, but enemy combatants. In light of this background, we can see how the distorted military minds of his associates and some of his superiors could prepare and level charges against a fellow officer who was actually a patriotic career officer.
Arriving at Jacksonville NAS, prepared for two weeks leave and reunion with his family, Captain Yee found himself charged with serious violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). He was arrested, placed in the brig at Jacksonville, and started a period of seventy-six days of solitary confinement under charges which, if he were found guilty, could result in the death penalty.
As time heavily wore on in confinement, Captain Yee obtained some excellent legal representation. And, as the prosecution attempted to develop its case against Yee, the charges, including espionage, began to prove groundless. In the meantime, the trial moved to Fort Benning, GA, and Captain Yee, released from confinement, finally reunited with his family.
Ultimately the day came that all charges were found groundless and the case was dismissed. Unfortunately, a vindictive commander did not accept defeat that easily, and new, lesser charges were brought. These charges could be handled by proceedings under Article 15 of the UCMJ. Major General Gregory Miller, the commander of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo and instigator of the original charges, would now be not only the leveler of the charges, but also the officer who would conduct the hearing. What a stacked deck! The second hearing was held at Fort Benning and Captain Yee, although actually innocent, was found guilty as charged.
Fortunately the UCMJ provides an appeal process which Captain Yee successfully used. Ostensibly the case was closed. Captain Yee should have been able to resume his career as an Army Chaplain. Ultimately, though, Captain Yee personally found it necessary to resign his commission and leave his service of the country to which he was devoted. The military service and some of its senior officers did not accept defeat easily when their groundless and unjust charges were dismissed. Captain Yee never received an apology for the unjust seventy-six day imprisonment and the familial inconvenience.
James B. Burkholder
Colonel, US Army, Retired