- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2003

Military officials yesterday confirmed that a Muslim chaplain who was counseling al Qaeda prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base has been detained since Sept. 10 after being found in possession of classified documents.

The Washington Times first reported yesterday that Army Capt. James. J. Yee is being held at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., charged with sedition, espionage, aiding the enemy, spying and failing to obey a general order.

Capt. Yee served as “Muslim adviser to the commander of the joint task force at Guantanamo” since reporting there in November, said Capt. Thomas Crosson of the Southern Command in Miami, which oversees the mission at Guantanamo.

As a soldier, the suspect specialized in air artillery defense and was a Patriot missile fire-control officer.

Capt. Yee, of Chinese descent, was taken into custody by FBI agents as he deplaned from a military charter flight out of Guantanamo. Sources say agents confiscated “several” documents he was carrying.

The Pentagon could not be reached yesterday and the CIA refused to comment on the detention of Capt. Yee.

Guantanamo, the lone U.S. presence in communist Cuba, serves as the holding site for 650 men from more than three dozen countries who are accused of being linked to the Muslim al Qaeda or Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.

As a chaplain, Capt. Yee had unfettered access to the accused members of terrorist groups held at the base.

He grew up in New Jersey as a Lutheran but learned enough about Islam while attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., that he decided to convert. He later became one of the 17 Muslim chaplains in the U.S. armed forces.

The military has prided itself on its promotion of Muslim chaplains, and now claims to have 17 on active duty. Capt. Yee has been among the many noted in revered tones by both reporters and the government.

“The newest Muslim chaplain is James Yee, a Chinese American and a graduate of the West Point military academy, who was born into a Lutheran family,” reads a release on the Department of State Web site from two years ago.

He became interested in Islam while a student and later spent four years studying Arabic and Islam in Damascus, Syria. He serves with the 29th Signal Battalion at Fort Lewis, Wash.

Capt. Yee said that Muslims on his base have come to him with worries about being ordered to fight Muslims overseas.

“An act of terrorism, the taking of innocent civilian lives is prohibited by Islam, and whoever has done this needs to be brought to justice, whether he is Muslim or not,” Capt. Yee is quoted as saying on the federal Web site.

In 2001, Capt. Yee wrote a piece for the Fort Lewis newspaper titled “Islam, what is there to fear?”

Fort Lewis is also the base where D.C. sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad served during his military service.

Capt. Yee, 35, a 1990 graduate of West Point, converted to Islam in 1991 and left the Army after completing airborne school at Fort Knox, Ky.

The suspect then went to Damascus to teach English and study Islam. After becoming a Muslim clergyman, he rejoined the army as a chaplain.

In an October 2001 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Capt. Yee is quoted as saying, “When I go into the field, I have a copy of the Koran and next to it a copy of the U.S. Constitution.”

The U.S. military named the first Muslim chaplain in 1993 after the Army said there were enough Islamic soldiers to warrant the appointment.

The Pentagon today estimates there are about 4,000 practicing Muslims in uniform. The American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, which did not return several e-mails yesterday, places the number around 10,000.

Several Muslims in the military have been accused in the past of putting their religion before their duty.

Army Sgt. Asan Akbar is accused in the March 23 attack on his fellow soldiers in Kuwait. Fifteen soldiers were wounded, two of them fatally.

He is awaiting a general court-martial trial.

Ali A. Mohamed, a former U.S. Army sergeant who served from 1986 to 1989, was described as a “mid-level player” in the 1998 terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in African. He pleaded guilty in 2000 and was sentenced to prison. Mohamed also admitted being a follower of Osama bin Laden.

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