Wednesday, January 19, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Apologize to Yee

Cultural ignorance is such a destructive force it can compromise a sensitive military mission. For precisely that reason, a young Muslim chaplain, Capt. James E. Yee, was assigned to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo, Cuba.

Soon after he arrived, doubts about his loyalties soared to accusations of spying, mutiny, sedition, aiding the enemy and espionage. As the government's case unraveled, Yee was slimed with charges of adultery and storing pornographic images on a government computer. Through the rise and fall of a zealous assault on his freedom and liberty, one question lingered in the background: Why did suspicion fall on Yee?

Seattle Times reporter Ray Rivera answered the question in an extraordinary series of reports that concluded Sunday. He pieced together a chain of events that revealed the U.S. government had even less of a case against Yee than it appeared last spring, when the final charges were dropped.

Yee became a spiritual counselor for some 660 suspected terrorists detained without charges, but his primary duty was instructing U.S. military personnel in matters relating to Islam.

In those briefings Yee, a bright West Point graduate, spoke about the Muslim faith a little too knowingly and a little too sympathetically for some in his audience. His theological education in Syria and his Arab language skills were not so much credentials as an alarm for divided loyalties.

Yee socialized with others who shared his belief in Islam, and their sober, prayerful ways set them apart. They were different in a harsh post-9/11 setting during tense times.

Yee quickly became a target. A suspect. Someone to be watched and whose actions were subject to the most unforgiving interpretation. Had he done anything wrong? Well, no, but what he said was disturbing.

As some believed him capable of treason, others at the detention facility used Yee's respect and trust among prisoners to defuse confrontations. A man perceived as a traitor by a zealous few was held in high regard by those who wrote his military fitness reports.

In the end, all charges — from the most grievous to the most tactically vengeful — were dropped. A trained, professional soldier, his military career in tatters, Yee accepted an honorable discharge and left the service Jan. 7.

When it dropped all charges, the military admitted it was wrong. The slate ought to be wiped clean by a formal apology to Yee, a dedicated soldier who discharged his duty to God and country.

The case against Yee proved no more and no less.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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