James Yee, Guantánamo Chaplain at USF -- by Seán Kinane


Last night on the USF Tampa campus, the Muslim Student Association and the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a Guantánamo Bay Forum featuring representatives from the local chapter of Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union. But as WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports, the main attraction was former Army Chaplain, Captain James “Yusef� Yee.

Yee was a Muslim Chaplain at the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo, Cuba for ten months beginning in November 2002. His assignment was to act as a Chaplain for the Muslim prisoners and also to help U.S. guards better understand the prisoners. During his time in Guantánamo, Yee witnessed abuse of detainees. One example of physical abuse was when four guards subdued a prisoner who had attempted to lock some of them in a prison cell.

“One of those guards continued to beat that prisoner on the back of his head after he was already secured with a heavy metal hand-held military radio. On the back of his head, bludgeoning his head. Needless to say it was a bloody incident. The prisoner had already been taken to the medical facility to have his head stitched up, but that pool of blood was still fresh in the center of the corridor where he was taken down to the ground and bludgeoned. I write about in my book what I perceived or even observed in that fresh pool of blood, chunks of flesh that I would say came from that prisoner’s head.�

But Yee also witnessed psychological torture by the Americans on the Guantánamo prisoners. He described how female American interrogators would strip naked in front of Muslim prisoners and rub against them, touch the prisoner’s genitals, or other things that would be religiously offensive.

“Gitmo’s secret weapon was the use of religion against these prisoners. And because every single one of these prisoners is a Muslim, it was the use of Islam against these prisoners.�

Abuse of the Muslim Holy text, or Koran, was one tactic that the Americans used a lot. Yee described that while searching a prison cell, guards would flip through a Koran to see if the detainees had anything hidden inside and then toss it to the ground.

“This infuriated the prisoners and they would riot. And they would protest. They would bang on their steel doors they would bang on their steel beds in protest of how these guards were searching the Holy Koran and abusing it. But the disturbances got even worse. The protests by the prisoners got worse. They would go on hunger strikes and some of them even attempted suicide in protest of how the Holy Koran was being treated, or I should say mistreated, by these guards, these military guards.�

These methods were exported from Guantánamo, also known by the slang term ‘Gitmo,’ to Iraq. Yee feels that this disdain for the prisoners is what led to the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

“And as I mentioned I would learn much about the abuses that were occurring down in Guantánamo under the command of Major General Geoffrey Miller, the infamous commander of Guantánamo who would then go on and take control of Abu Ghraib. The very same general who it’s claimed had said that he was going to Abu Ghraib to ‘Gitmo-ize’ it. Meaning taking his tactics from Guantánamo and bringing them to Abu Ghraib, which would, in my estimation, lead to the gross abuses that we saw occur in Iraq at Abu Ghraib.�

Mike Pheneger is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and a member of the National Board and National Executive Committee of the ACLU. He attributes the abuses at Guantánamo and the fact that the prisoners being held there do not have full legal rights to the abuse of power by President Bush and the rest of the Executive branch of the U.S. government.

“What we see now, and what we have seen repudiated to a degree in the last election, are the greatest abuses of executive power that I have seen in my entire lifetime. We have a president who basically said that because Congress passed a couple of authorizations for use of military force, meaning that he can use his Constitutional Commander in Chief power, that he is not basically restricted by the Constitution, by law, by moral restrictions on human conduct or anything else.�

In part because his fellow soldiers were suspicious of his empathy for the prisoners at Guantánamo, Captain Yee was arrested, charged with treason, and kept for 76 days in solitary confinement before charges were eventually dropped. Mike Pheneger feels that this story of the Army’s harassment of an innocent man is a result of inexperienced majors being in charge of intelligence at Guantánamo.

“Tomorrow I intend to write a letter to the Deputy Chief of Staff of Intelligence of the United States Army and tell him that I’m embarrassed that we allowed ourselves to get into that kind of situation [of accusing Yee]. I spent 30 years as an intelligence officer. It’s a proud calling. And it’s amazing that we managed to screw it up this bad.�

James Yee’s book about his experiences at Guantánamo and during his imprisonment is called “For God And Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire.�

Reporting for WMNF News, I’m Seán Kinane


Justice for Yee

Seattle Times series on Yee

CAIR Florida


Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

Amnesty International - Guantanamo

American Civil Liberties Union

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