- "One of the ill effects of cruelty
is that it makes the bystanders cruel."
- --Thomas Fowell Buxton
- Last week, a huge group of concerned
people gathered in the Ridgewood, New Jersey library to hear
a talk by James Yee, a Muslim chaplain in the U.S. Army who had been arrested
and investigated on suspicion of espionage and possible treason.
- Mr. Yee was not new to New Jersey, for
it was the state of his birth. A third generation Chinese American
who was raised in a Lutheran family, Yee graduated from the prestigious
West Point Military Academy in 1990. His father and brother also
served in the U.S. military.
- "Shortly after I graduated from
West Point, I found myself in an interfaith dialogue," Yee told the
audience. In this dialogue, James Yee was challenged to compare Christianity
with Islam. It was then that he became aware of how
little he knew about the Islamic religion.
- "The challenge was given to me and
I realized that I could not judge something I knew nothing about."
Yee decided to learn about Islam.
- "It's a simple doctrine of believing
in one God. Throughout history there have been a number of
prophets chosen by God to teach that message."
- James was attracted to the religion and
eventually went to Damascus Syria to study. It was there that
he met his wife.
- After the September 11th tragedy, Yee
became a frequent government spokesman. He helped to educate the
soldiers about Islam and to build greater religious tolerance in the
- In November of 2002, James Yee was selected
to serve as the Muslim Chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, where, at that time,
700 detainees were being held by the government for suspected terrorist
activities. The detainees had not been charged with anything nor
had they been convicted of anything. And yet, they were there in
ongoing detention. Yee was given unrestricted access to the detainees.
- "We see these men in orange jumpsuit
as objects," James said. "But they are real. They
are our brothers. They are our fathers. They are human beings. And
yet, they are presumed guilty and are being held secretly."
- Yee felt optimistic that he could make
a difference. He listened to the prisoners' stories.
He assessed their concerns. He listened to their complaints.
- "The prisoners told me what they
were experiencing during their interrogations. They told me what life
was like in the blocks when I was not around."
- Yee soon learned that the prisoners were
being grossly mistreated. Can anyone say the word "torture"?
The tensions were leading to prison riots, hunger strikes and suicide attempts.
The Holy Koran was being desecrated. James heard stories about
how the prisoners were put in the center of a satanic circle which was
painted on the floor. They were told "Satan is your God
- James Yee instituted a policy that would
correct the religious abuses.
- "One of the most emotional things
that I saw there was how the conditions deteriorated within the
time frame that I was there. I recall seeing two detainees permanently
residing in the hospital, who had become so depressed that they could no
longer eat and had to be force fed. A tube was inserted through the
nose into the stomach. It was a very painful experience.
The prisoners had to be shackled down with handcuffs to both sides of the
bed. As the tub was inserted, you could hear the detainees scream
out in pain."
- In September 2003, the landscape of Yee's
life changed abruptly. He was on his way home to meet his wife and
daughter for a two week leave. He never arrived. For
on that trip, he was secretly arrested, accused of spying and of being
an operative in a ring that aimed to pass secrets to al-Qaeda. He
was shackled in chains and thrown in the back of a truck with an armed
guard. Goggles were put on his eyes and industrial earmuffs were
placed on his ears.
- James Yee was locked away in a navy prison
where he spent 76 days in solitary confinement. The military leaked
information about the case to the press and the media went on a feeding
frenzy. Chaplain Yee was vilified on the airwaves and on the
Internet He was called a traitor to his country and was accused
of being a mole inside of the Army.
- "I feared for my life,"
Yee stated. "It was a gross miscarriage of justice"
- After months of investigation, the military's
case began to unravel. First the charges against Yee were reduced
and eventually all criminal charges were dropped by the U.S. Government
on March 19, 2004. Yee was cleared and given an honorable discharge
from the army.
- James Yee was physically free, but can
he ever free himself from the emotional scars of his experience?
- This ordeal has cost the young man 1/4
of a million dollars in legal expenses. Today he is deeply
in debt. His new book For God And Country": Faith and
Patriotism Under Fire, recounts his nightmare ordeal.
- Alfred W. McCoy is the author of A Question
of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror
and a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
- In his book, McCoy talks about how psychological
torture has far more lasting damage than physical torture. He states
that in 2002, Jeffrey Miller, as Chief at Guantanamo, turned Guantanamo
into a torture lab. Miller used cultural sensitivity, sensory
disorientation and self inflicted pain.
- Why has the public response been mute when
these issues go to the very core of America's national identity? Perhaps
the Administration's unapologetic advocacy of torture has echoed subtly
with the trauma of September 11, 2001.
- "With the horrific reality of the
Twin Towers attack still resonating and endless nuclear -bomb-in-Times-Square
/ ticking-bomb interrogation scenarios ricocheting around the media,
torture seems to have gained an eerie emotional traction. Polls taken
over the last three years have confirmed this. With a complex reality
reduced to a few terribly simple, fantasy-ridden scenarios, torture in
defense of the "homeland" had gained surprisingly wide acceptance,
while the torture debate has been reframed-to the administration's great
advantage-as a choice between public safety and the lives of millions or
private morality and bleeding-heart qualms over a few slaps up the side
of the head. In this way, old fashioned morality has been made
to seem short of immoral."
- Copyright 2006