Exonerated Guatanamo chaplain to speak today

When Army Capt. James Yee landed in Jacksonville for a vacation after 10 months of distinguished service at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, he had no idea what was waiting for him.

When he was released from solitary confinement in a super-maximum-security prison 76 days later, he was frustrated but relieved.

Yee will speak in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center Ballroom tonight at 7 to raise awareness for civil rights abuse in the face of increased national terrorism.

“I hope to help educate people about Guantanamo and the controversial issues it raises, the tarnishing of our reputation as a nation in the international community as well as motivating students to be active,” Yee said.

Yee, a former Muslim chaplain at the Guantanamo detention center – which has gained notoriety for its alleged mistreatment of detainees with suspected ties to terrorist organizations – was accused of participation in a spy ring that traded secrets with Muslim inmates.

After serving in conditions comparable to those of the inmates he had formerly comforted, Yee was eventually exonerated.

He was not only granted an honorable discharge at his resignation, but also received a U.S. Army commendation metal. However, he remains discontent. Rather than seek financial compensation for what he feels was wrongful imprisonment, Yee is seeking an official apology from the U.S. military.

However, that apology seems distant. In May, USA Today quoted military officials as saying that they dropped all six charges against Yee to keep from having to release sensitive materials rather than inferring his actual innocence.

Until Yee sees a change in U.S. policy concerning the handling of prisoners, he will continue to speak publicly.

“I believe that the American public doesn’t realize the black mark that Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is going to have on the history of the United States,” he said.

Mike Pheneger, chair of the Orlando branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, agrees with Yee.

“It’s clear that U.S. law – both the Geneva Convention and the convention against torture, cruel inhuman and degrading punishment, both of which have been implemented in U.S. law – precludes the kinds of things that the United States has done at Abu Ghraib, CIA secret prisons and other places,” Pheneger said. “That is simply unconscionable.”

Pheneger, a retired Army colonel, and Ahmed Bedier, the Central Florida director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, will join Yee on stage for a question-and-answer session after Yee’s address.

The event is co-sponsored by CAIR and the USF Muslim Student Association.

According Jassim El-Deen, president of the MSA, the intended scope of this presentation is not reaction, but enlightenment. He hopes students will walk away knowing more about what he feels is happening in these detention centers.

“This is a very important issue for everyone,” he said. “It’s not just for any particular group because the way we Americans impact other people will in turn have an effect on the way we are impacted by them.”