- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mishandling of classified information by the legal staff at America’s prison for terrorism suspects undermines the military’s case against a Muslim chaplain charged with security breaches, his attorney said yesterday.

Army Capt. James Yee had been scheduled to face the military version of a preliminary hearing Tuesday at Fort Benning, Ga., on charges he mishandled secret information at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But the hearing was postponed, Army Lt. Col. Bill Costello of the U.S. Southern Command said yesterday, after prosecutors discovered that legal staff at Guantanamo had mistakenly included a classified document in investigation packets delivered to Capt. Yee’s attorney and the hearing officer.

Capt. Yee’s attorney, Eugene Fidell, said the development shows the government case should be dismissed.

“I am wondering how they can with a straight face persist in prosecuting him when they don’t themselves know what’s classified and what isn’t,” he said.

The military’s high-security prison holds some 660 detainees from more than 40 countries. Since September, four persons who worked at Guantanamo have been arrested on charges ranging from espionage to adultery.

Security has since been tightened, with new firewalls on computer systems, increased bag screening and inspection of workers’ electronic equipment before they leave the remote base on Cuba’s eastern tip.

The classified information inadvertently included in the evidence packets for the Capt. Yee case was 15 pages, including an appointment calendar, and all or some of it was handwritten by Capt. Yee, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The 15 pages have been retrieved from the two packets, Col. Costello said. Capt. Yee’s hearing has been rescheduled for Monday.

Mr. Fidell said he examined the secret document and found “there isn’t anything classified in it.”

“Given the fact that this guy was in jail for 67 days, the gracious thing to do would be to just drop it and let everyone move on,” said Mr. Fidell, who is president of the nonprofit National Institute of Military Justice in Washington.

Capt. Yee has been charged with disobeying an order for reportedly taking classified material from Guantanamo and improperly transporting it; storing pornography on a government computer; and adultery, which is punishable under military law.

Col. Costello rejected Mr. Fidell’s assertion that the government essentially did what it has accused Capt. Yee of doing — improperly transferring classified information.

“The difference is that when the government noticed that there was an inadvertent disclosure of classified information, the government took the appropriate steps,” Col. Costello said. “In Yee’s case, he did not do that — he took these things to his quarters … where they could be potentially compromised.”

Capt. Yee was arrested in September and first charged with the security breach. Late last month, he was released and the adultery and pornography charges were added. The 35-year-old chaplain had been counseling prisoners held at Guantanamo for about nine months.

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