A pro-military group called on the Pentagon yesterday to tighten the security review for Muslim chaplains following the arrest of Capt. James Yee in an espionage investigation.
“Here you have a guy who was trained in Syria, which is on the U.S. list of states sponsoring terrorism, and he comes back over here and is commissioned as an officer,” said Michael Waller, a researcher for the Center for Security Policy. The group has previously warned of radical Muslim influences infiltrating U.S. institutions.
“It is something like this that should tell the Pentagon that its own security policies need to be reassessed,” Mr. Waller said.
Pentagon officials yesterday said they know of no plans for reviews of how chaplains are chosen.
Capt. Yee, a Muslim and a U.S. Military Academy at West Point graduate who received his Islamic training in Syria, was arrested by the FBI on Sept. 10 amid an investigation into espionage and aiding the enemy. In November, he was made chaplain at the Guantanamo Naval Base, where a detention facility holds 660 al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists suspects.
Each of the 12 Muslim chaplains in the armed forces was endorsed by one of two groups: the Islamic Society of North America, or the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council. Capt. Yee was endorsed by the latter group.
These two groups belong to a multidenominational conference that weighs in on all military chaplains. “We have two Muslim endorsing groups in our association,” said Jack Williamson, executive director of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, an Arlington-based group. “This one came from the Veterans Affairs Council.”
Qaseem Uqdah, executive director of American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, declined to comment and referred a reporter to a statement on the group’s Web site.
“In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Our prayers and concerns go out to the family members of Captain James Yee. We would like to request that the media respect the privacy of the parents of Capt. James Yee due to their frail health.”
“Being a Muslim should not be a factor in the investigation,” said Nihad Awad, executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an Islamic advocacy group. “In principle, people want to judge the merits and facts of the case, rather than the faith of the person accused of the crime. We want to make sure that people won’t look at Muslims as suspects but as individuals.”
The military had seen evidence that some chaplain’s officers referred those interested in Islam to a Web site containing links to the speeches and writings of radical Wahabbi clerics who promote violence against Israel and the West.
The Defense Department says 4,224 Muslims are on active duty, and that there are 12 Islamic chaplains out of a corps of 5,568.
U.S. Southern Command said no formal charges have been filed against Capt. Yee.
The Washington Times has been shown a U.S. government document in the case that lists five charges, including espionage and aiding the enemy.
Capt. Yee appeared before a military magistrate and is being held at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C. The Army has 120 days to decide on a court-martial.
To hold Capt. Yee, officials must have shown him to be a flight risk or that he was likely to commit a crime, said one military legal analyst.