- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The military yesterday filed charges of adultery and pornography against Army Capt. James Yee, a Muslim chaplain, and released him after 77 days in a Navy brig.

Capt. Yee was charged last month with two counts of unlawful transportation of classified information while a chaplain at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, where about 660 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are being held, and has been reassigned to the chaplain’s office at Fort Benning, Ga.

The officer will have an Article 32 hearing, an investigative proceeding, on Monday at Fort Benning, where the appointed hearing officer, Col. Daniel Trimble, is stationed.

U.S. Southern Command said Capt. Yee faces four new charges: two counts of using a government computer to store pornographic material, one charge of giving a false statement pertaining to the release of CDs to detainees, and the adultery charge. That count states that Capt. Yee, who is married and has a 3-year-old daughter, had sexual relations with a woman at the base, and in Orlando, Fla. The public charge document censored the woman’s name.

Military sources say the officer was apprehended in September as he got off a plane in Jacksonville, Fla., to begin leave from Guantanamo. In his possession were secret lists of detainees and drawings of the prison. The military considers such material as classified materials that could harm the United States if they fell into enemy hands.

The military has suspected Capt. Yee, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., of espionage, but has not filed such charges.

Eugene Fidell, Capt. Yee’s civilian attorney, said he believes the suspect will be able to travel freely on and off Fort Benning. “He’s apparently not being restrained in any way,” Mr. Fidell said.

“I think the release is a very welcome development,” he said.

Referring to the adultery and pornography charges, the lawyer said, “I’m fascinated by the evolution, a case that began as a triumph in the war on terrorism.”

Adultery is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to which the act disrupts good order and discipline. The military normally brings the charge only in conjunction with other offenses.

At Guantanamo Bay, Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller told reporters yesterday that he knew Capt. Yee personally and was “surprised” by the charges against him.

“We’re an organization that deals on trust and honor, so when those kinds of things happen, you’re surprised,” said Gen. Miller, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo. “Capt. Yee is innocent until proven guilty,” he said, adding that the Article 32 proceedings at Fort Benning would be open-door.

Capt. Yee is one of three Muslims charged in security breaches at the maximum-security prison.

His release comes a day after Mr. Fidell sent a letter to President Bush requesting his client’s release. A spokesman for Southern Command, which oversees the Guantanamo base, said the decision to release Capt. Yee was made well in advance of the petition.

In the letter, Mr. Fidell argued that the mishandling of the classified material charges, which each carry a maximum sentence of two years, did not warrant pretrial confinement.

The letter said Capt. Yee was kept in solitary confinement, with only an hour of exercise a day. Brig personnel refused to acknowledge his officer status, denied him a prayer rug and declined to tell him the direction of Mecca for daily prayers, according to the petition.

Mr. Fidell said conditions improved after he complained but, “Even now, however, he is only allowed to read a censored newspaper, watch movies and make two 15-minute phone calls per day to immediate family members or counsel.”

“Chaplain Yee’s continuing confinement is also deeply troubling to the Muslim community, to clergy of all faiths, to his fellow alumni of the United States Military Academy, and to the military bar, whose members are well aware of the fact that allegations such as those on which he is being held simply do not result in either pretrial confinement or, if proven, sentences that include confinement.”

Capt. Yee resigned from the Army in the mid-1990s and traveled to Syria, where he underwent traditional Islamic training. He then rejoined the Army. He was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., and then assigned to Guantanamo. The Army confined him to the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C. The prison holds several high-profile figures in the war on terrorism, including Jose Padilla, also known as Abdullah Al Muhajir, who is accused of trying to bring a “dirty bomb” into the country.

Air Force Senior Airman Ahmed I. al Halabi, who worked as an Arabic translator at Guantanamo, was arrested in July and charged with gathering classified information and planning to transmit it to Syria. Syria is on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In September, authorities arrested Ahmed Fathy Mehalba, another Guantanamo translator. Federal agents at Boston’s Logan International Airport found in his possession computer discs containing the names of detainees.

Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

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