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September 22, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 115




Tom Fox Chaplain to Guantanamo detainees now a detainee himself

By Tom Fox, NCR publisher

Some very disturbing news surfaced this weekend concerning the ongoing assault by the Bush administration on civil and religious liberties. The Associated Press reported that a Muslim chaplain at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo, a man who counseled many of the 660 detainees, has himself now been detained.

The newest victim is Army Capt. Yousef Yee, a 34-year-old who converted to Islam after being raised as a Christian. He arrived at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba last November to counsel the detainees and to teach fellow troops about Islam.

Military officials said Sept. 20 that Yee -- who was born James Yee but later took the Muslim name of Yousef -- was detained on Sept. 10 in Jacksonville after returning from Guantanamo. He has not been charged.

A senior law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said FBI agents confiscated classified documents Yee was carrying and questioned him before he was handed over to the military.

In an interview conducted with the Associated Press in January Yee refused to answer questions about the depth of his involvement with the detainees, who then numbered 650, and now stand at about 660 -- mostly men but at least three teenagers from 43 countries.

Since the Afghanistan war, the Bush Administration's policy toward these captives has come under widespread criticism by most international legal experts. They say the United States, in holding the detainees, without charge, now for over two years, is a violations of international law.

The prisoners were captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Some of them have been at the detention center since January 2002. The United States refuses to call these men prisoners of war, a designation that would afford them certain rights and privileges.

Most wars have geographic boundaries and come to a discernible conclusion, as with the fall of a government or the surrender of a rebel commander. But the war against terrorism is different. It is being fought all around the planet; it has no battlefront. It could go on for many years, and it probably won't end with a discernible, final victory.

Thus, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talks about holding these people without a trial "during this global war," he means the government is reserving the right to keep them in prison indefinitely, without any judicial oversight or judgment about what the prisoner may or may not have been guilty of.

Some of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay may be innocent of any crime and should be released or repatriated to the government of Afghanistan that was formed last year. Others who may very well be guilty of war crimes should be prosecuted accordingly. None of them should be placed in the kind of legal limbo that the administration has chosen for them.

Yousef Yee, as a chaplain, has the right to listen and offer counsel without being coerced to share his private conversations with anyone. Apparently, the Bush administration sees it differently.

Is being sympathetic to the plight of these detainees now considered a crime as well?

Admittedly, the U.S. government is under considerable pressure to learn as much as it can about terrorism. However, it cannot be allowed to trample on civil and religious liberties to achieve its ends. This is precisely what it continues to do.

Is the long held sacred trust between priest or minister and spiritual seeker now to be violated? If this is allowed to happen no person seeking the spiritual counsel with a priest or minister can feel secure. The private bonds of confession will come tumbling down.

In an interview conducted with the Associated Press in January, Yee, asked if he was sympathetic to the prisoners, was silent and showed no emotion. When asked how his faith affected how he viewed the detention mission, he gave only a cursory answer.

"I'm here to provide spiritual services to the detainees and to the troops," Yee said, speaking of his teachings on Islam to U.S. troops at the base.

Ironically, Yee is being held at a military brig in Charleston, S.C. -- the same place where officials are holding Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American-born Saudi who allegedly fought with the Taliban, and Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member charged with plotting to detonate a bomb.

As an Arabic-speaker, Yee counseled the detainees, advised them on religious matters and made sure all of their dietary needs were met at the base in eastern Cuba. Yee, of Chinese descent and reportedly from New Jersey, converted to Islam from Christianity in 1991 after his military studies at West Point.

When asked during the January interview why he converted to Islam, Yee instead spoke of Islam's diversity. "One of the strengths of our culture is diversity," Yee told the Associated Press. "A lot of people don't know Jesus is part of Islam but Muslims believe he was a prophet," Yee said. "Surely people can be more open-minded."

To which I feel compelled to answer: "Not within the Bush Administration."

Tom Fox can be reached at

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