Army Islamic chaplain detained in probe

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — U.S. authorities have detained a Muslim chaplain who counseled suspected terrorists at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, saying he was carrying classified documents when he arrived back in the United States.

News reports said Army Capt. Yousef Yee had drawings of the prison and lists of detainees, but that could not immediately be confirmed. Yee has not been charged.

Yee, a 34-year-old who converted to Islam after being raised as a Christian, arrived at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba last November. His job was to teach fellow troops about Islam and counsel detainees suspected of links to Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime or the al-Qaeda terror network.

Military officials said Saturday that Yee — who was born James Yee but later took the Muslim name of Yousef — was detained on Sept. 10 in Jacksonville after returning from Guantanamo.

A senior law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said FBI agents confiscated classified documents Yee was carrying and questioned him before he was handed over to the military.

Bill Hurlburt, a spokesman with the FBI in Jacksonville, Fla. confirmed that agents were at the scene, but he declined further comment.

The New York Times reported Yee had sketches or diagrams of the prison facilities. CNN said he was also carrying lists of the detainees and their interrogators.

Yee is being held at a military brig in Charleston, S.C. — the same place where officials are holding Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American-born Saudi who allegedly fought with the Taliban, and Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member charged with plotting to detonate a bomb.

“He had daily access to the detainees,” said Capt. Tom Crosson, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command in Miami, who confirmed the military was holding Yee in South Carolina. “He is the first U.S. soldier that I know of to be detained and held since the war on terror began.”

This year, Army Sgt. Hasan K. Akbar, a 32-year-old Muslim, was charged in a March grenade attack in Kuwait that killed Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, and Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27, and injured 14 others.

Akbar, however, was not accused of terrorism. He was charged with premeditated murder and attempted murder.

In an interview conducted with The Associated Press in January, Yee refused to answer questions about the depth of his involvement with the detainees, who then numbered 650, and now stand at about 660 — mostly men but at least three teenagers from 43 countries.

When asked if he was sympathetic to the prisoners — some of whom have been held in Guantanamo for nearly two years without charges — Yee was silent and showed no emotion. When asked how his faith affected how he viewed the detention mission, he gave only a cursory answer.

“I’m here to provide spiritual services to the detainees and to the troops,” Yee said, speaking of his teachings on Islam to U.S. troops at the base. He also offered Friday prayer services at the base.

As an Arabic-speaker, Yee counseled the detainees, advised them on religious matters and made sure all of their dietary needs were met at the base in eastern Cuba.

In the sprawling Camp Delta — the high-security prison where the men are held — Yee was seldom out of earshot from armed guards or interpreters contracted to help with interrogations. But sometimes, he had one-on-one access to the detainees, officials said.

Yee, of Chinese descent, converted to Islam from Christianity in 1991 after his military studies at West Point. Yee’s parents still live in the house where he was raised in Springfield, N.J., neighbor Matteo Apicella said.

Yee left the Army for Syria, where he received religious training. He returned to the U.S. military soon after.

When asked during the January interview why he converted to Islam, Yee instead spoke of Islam’s diversity.

“One of the strengths of our culture is diversity,” Yee said.

“A lot of people don’t know Jesus is part of Islam but Muslims believe he was a prophet,” Yee said. “Surely people can be more open-minded.”

Yee arrived at the camp at a critical time, when officials were trying to jolt the interrogation process into high-gear. He was also there during a time when U.S. officials came under increasing pressure to either charge the about 660 men — many of whom have been held for nearly two years — or release them.

Yee was always vague about whether he was involved in interrogations.

Since the detention mission began, Guantanamo has had at least three Muslim chaplains, the first being Navy Lt. Abuhena Saif-ul-Islam, who in 1999 became the Marines’ first Muslim chaplain.

Yee is married. Prior to Guantanamo he was stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash.

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Associated Press, USA
Sep. 20, 2003

Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday September 21, 2003.
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