Guantanamo Nay

PAUL K. HAEDER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hile questions regarding America's behavior in the so-called War on Terror are asked eloquently by intellectuals all over the world, America can't seem to stomach the self-scrutiny. Sometimes, however, a case of self-doubt blooms that we can't ignore -- as in My Lai in Vietnam, or the Pat Tillman friendly-fire cover-up in Afghanistan, or in the way this country treated James Yee, the West Point graduate and former U.S. Army Captain. Yee, who will be at Spokane Falls Community College on Wednesday, became a victim of the frightening knee-jerk reaction to supposed terrorism lurking in the promised land.

Yee's story chronicles much about the psychosis of this country's disregard for minorities, for non-Christians and for the perpetual "other" we've propped up to serve as demons or at least as the people or groups deemed threats to the American way of life. Yee was an Army chaplain assigned to Camp Delta, the gulag America set up at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. His job was to provide some semblance of spiritual support for the almost 700 so-called "enemy combatants."

"It seemed I was there to do something that was not wholly supported by the people making decisions about how the camp was run," Yee writes in his book, For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire. "As soon as I understood this, and after reading about the hostility that existed between the U.S. personnel and the prisoners, I became concerned that the role of the Muslim chaplain existed solely so that the camp command could publicly claim to be adhering to the Geneva Conventions and respecting Islam, not because of a genuine desire to respect the prisoners' rights to practice their faith."

His charge rings true, as we've seen the disintegration of any semblance of fairness and democratic principles of habeas corpus and innocent-until-proven-guilty while the hysteria of the anti-terrorism fervor and al Qaeda paranoia have gripped this administration and the general public.

But it gets worse. Yee was on his way home to Olympia, Wash., on Sept. 10, 2003, to see his wife, Huda, and 3-year-old daughter, Sarah, after 11 months away. Unbeknownst to him, his greeting party included representatives of five government agencies -- the U.S Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, Army Counterintelligence and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The general charge? The government claimed Yee was an operative for militant Muslims and that he passed secrets to al Qaeda from the suspected terrorists held at Gitmo. He was blindfolded, placed in hand and leg cuffs, and thrown in solitary confinement for more than 10 weeks inside a Navy brig. The punishment? Death by firing squad.

"This is a case that's so obviously wrong that [even] people who don't know military law are, if not outraged, then very concerned about what happened," says Kevin Barry, a retired Coast Guard judge. "There apparently was no evidence. If they had the goods, they would have prosecuted."

Despite the lack of evidence, Yee was vilified and threatened with summary execution by the bright lights on hate-talk radio and on Websites and blogs.

Yee did learn things at Camp Delta -- many Muslim interpreters confided in him, telling him that most in the Joint Intelligence Group believed that half of the 600-plus prisoners should have been sent home as they had no value for intelligence.

"It was widely rumored that some of the prisoners had been sold to American forces for $5,000 by deceitful Afghans pleased to get rid of a tribal rival by persuading the United States he was a terrorist," Yee writes.

Many of the detainees had been there for more than a year and still hadn't been charged with a crime. Conditions were getting worse.

While the charges against Yee have been rescinded and a reprimand stricken from his military record, his life was flipped upside down. He witnessed Islam being used as a weapon against the prisoners. He believes the American public has been deluded into disputing the charges of mistreatment and abuse by released prisoners because we have had a mindset -- largely concocted by the media -- that they're all bad men who have lied to hurt America, or who hate our way of life, as George W. Bush has repeated so many times.

"And I am sure that many will discount me as well," Yee says. "I may be a former captain and a chaplain, but I'm also an accused terrorist and spy."

As a country, we should be ashamed that we allowed this sadistic version of Bush's nightmare to come to life, as we've subjected these so-called prisoners to sensory deprivation with handcuffs, goggles, heavy gloves and surgical masks. We've seen photos of them kneeling for hours on end. And then we stripped James Yee of his personal well being, his rights as an American -- the very essence of what many in this country believe is the American hero, a West Pointer who sacrificed so much to deliver spiritual guidance to enemy combatants. Shame.