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Former Guantanamo chaplain tells his story

By : Nadeska Alexis

“This is a story I believe all people in this country need to hear,” James Yee said as he shared his experiences at Guantanamo Bay in a Sept. 25 lecture on campus. “What happened to me is an example of how quickly civil liberties in this country have eroded.”

Yee, now an author and public speaker, served as the U.S. Army’s Muslim chaplain at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, sometimes called “Gitmo,” from 2002 to 2003.

He was placed under military arrest in 2003, accused of espionage, a crime punishable by death. He said his real crime was voicing his opinions against the abuse of prisoners at the detainment camp.

“I quickly realized that I was now being treated like an enemy combatant,” he said.  “I realized that all of my legal rights could be stripped by my own government.”

The case was later dropped and Yee wrote a book about his experiences titled For God And Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire.

Yee, a West Point graduate who converted to Islam from Christianity in 1991, worked to educate troops about Islam following Sept. 11, 2001.

“I speculated at first why I was being sent to Guantanamo Bay,” he said. “The Army could say, ‘We have 660 prisoners here, but we also have our chaplain, so we’re being sensitive to the religious needs of these prisoners.’”

Yee said prisoners told him how they were being treated. “Through the prisoners I was able to understand what was going on inside these rooms,” he said. “Gitmo’s secret weapon was the use of religion against these prisoners.”

Yee described prison guards desecrating the Quran, kicking and tossing it across the floor and flushing it down toilets in an effort to upset the prisoners.

“I never thought anything like this was really happening,” freshman Danielle Colantonio said after Yee’s talk. “I got some insight into how prisoners were really treated there.”

Yee tried to express to students the urgency of working to halt these injustices.

“It is incumbent upon you to get this country back on track, to regain those values that once made us a country that was considered a beacon of human rights and a beacon of the rule of law,” he said. “Today that’s not the reputation our country has in the world.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08