Former U.S. Army Chaplain James Yee spoke on campus yesterday evening about questionable interrogation tactics he saw at Guantanamo Bay prison – and what he alleged was similarly controversial treatment when he was later arrested.
The West Point graduate and author addressed a packed Campbell Hall, where he exposed alleged human rights violations that supposedly occurred during his service at the Cuba-based detention center. He also told audience members about his 76-day imprisonment in a South Carolina Naval brig after being accused of espionage, and the government’s suspension of his right to habeas corpus, a writ ordering a person in custody to be brought before a court, among other liberties during this time.
After converting to Islam in 1991, Yee became one of the first Muslim chaplains to enter the U.S. military. Following the attacks of 9/11, he was selected to serve at the U.S. detention center for enemy combatants, where he objected to controversial interrogation practices prisoners revealed, including what he alleged were instances of forced lap dances.
According to Yee, the conduct was designed to inflame Muslim sensitivities, and cause humiliation.
“[Female interrogators] would exploit [conservative Muslim culture], stripping their clothes off and standing naked in front of [detainees]. They would go further and rub their privates on shackled prisoners or give free lap dances. Where else can you get a free lap dance these days? Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, if you are a male Muslim,” Yee said, eliciting laughter from the audience.
According to Yee, his ability to speak privately and confidentially with detainees via his status as a chaplain offered the most insight into the abuses the prisoners were facing, particularly in the interrogation rooms.
“As chaplain I was granted authorized access to jail cells unaccompanied by an escort and able to speak freely, and most importantly, listen,” Yee said. “By listening in those cell blocks I learned much of what was going on, not just in cell blocks but in interrogation rooms.”
In addition to alleged sexual abuse, he alleged that religious degradation was utilized in an attempt to extract information from prisoners. Yee said methods such as defacing the Koran, and forcing Muslims to pray atop a satanic image were actively used to crack prisoners, and were often met with suicide attempts.
Yee’s subsequent arrest occurred on a two-week leave of absence. Yee claimed that following his objections to the treatment of prisoners, U.S. Customs agents detained him in order to search his backpack for “suspicious materials.” What followed was a prolonged period of captivity. He said 10 days passed before his family was notified.
“Arrested in secret, taken from my family, thrown in a high-security prison and threatened with the death penalty for charges of spying, espionage and aiding… prisoners,” he said. “Then I was only charged with mishandling classified information, but the military never conducted the search or found anything. What is going on?”
According to Yee, the FBI placed him in solitary confinement, subjected him to sensory deprivation and denied him habeas corpus. He claimed he was threatened with the death penalty and then abruptly released when the military failed to produce any evidence with which to corroborate the charges.
The government then did an about-face. Yee said he was reinstated, granted an honorable discharge at his behest and awarded an accolade for “exceptionally meritorious service.”
Yee said the U.S. government’s arbitrary imprisonment of individuals such as himself with prestigious military records and U.S. citizenship bodes ill for persons with no such credentials.
“This is a dangerous post-9/11 era and if a West Point graduate of a military family who was praised and recognized is being threatened in such a way then it could happen to anyone,” Yee said. “If I, a U.S. citizen, can not expect to be treated justly by the military then how can a foreigner expect to be?”