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Charges Dropped Against Muslim Chaplain

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Charges Dropped Against Muslim Chaplain

Sat Mar 20, 9:46 AM ET


By LARRY HOBBS, Associated Press Writer

MIAMI - The Army's allegations last year were grave: A military chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was linked to a possible espionage ring and eventually charged with mishandling classified information. Six months later, all charges against Capt. James Yee have been dropped.

"Chaplain Yee has won," his attorney, Eugene R. Fidell of Washington, said in a statement Friday. "The Army's dismissal of the classified information charges against him represents a long overdue vindication."

Yee now faces only minor punishment and should be back at work soon. If convicted of all the original charges, he could have faced dismissal from the Army and a maximum of 14 years in prison.

In dismissing the charges, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which operates the detention center, cited "national security concerns that would arise from the release of the evidence" if the case proceeded.

Yee's attorney rejected the notion that security concerns played a role and said Yee is owned an apology. Some Asian-American activists supporters of Yee, a 35-year-old Chinese-American, have accused the government of racial and religious profiling.

Charges against Yee had included mishandling classified material, failing to obey an order, making a false official statement, adultery and conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly downloading pornography on his government laptop.

The U.S. Southern Command said in a release from its Miami headquarters that Yee will face nonjudicial punishment for two side issues, allegations of adultery and pornography, at a hearing Monday at Fort Meade, Md. Only minor punishment, such as duty restriction or a temporary pay cut, is expected.

Monday's hearing will be an Article 15 proceeding, the military's method for dealing with minor infractions, with minor penalties. Fidell said he objected to the hearing being scheduled so soon, saying he and Yee did not have time to prepare.

Yee then will allowed to return to his previous duty station at Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, Wash, where he previously was a chaplain. His wife and child live in Olympia, Wash.

Believed to be the first U.S. soldier detained in the war on terror, Yee spent 76 days in custody after the military initially linked him to a possible espionage ring at the Naval base. But the government failed to build a capital espionage case against him.

He was arrested Sept. 10 as he arrived at a Jacksonville, Fla., naval base, from Guantanamo, carrying what authorities said were classified documents. Some of the documents were taken from his backpack, and others came from his laptop and his quarters at Guantanamo, officials said.

Before he was charged, Yee had told The Associated Press in a January 2003 interview that one of his goals as chaplain was to clear up misunderstandings about Islam.

"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."

He also said he was concerned about the detainees' spiritual needs.

Telephone messages seeking comment from Yee's wife in Olympia were not immediately returned.

Yee was one of four Guantanamo Bay workers arrested as part of an investigation into possible security breaches at the prison where terrorism suspects are detained.

Senior Airman Ahmad I. Al Halabi, an Arabic translator for the Air Force, is accused of trying to deliver more than 180 written and e-mail messages from Guantanamo detainees to Syria. His next hearing is scheduled for March 24.

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