Former U.S. Army Chaplain James Yee is an unlikely person to be charged with espionage by the military.
A third-generation Chinese American, he is a graduate of West Point. His father fought for the U.S. in World War II, one brother is a West Point graduate and another brother will leave this month for Iraq as an army doctor.
Yee, who spoke Friday night at the University of Tulsa, said in an earlier interview that bigotry against Islam was a factor in charges that were brought against him when he was serving as a Muslim chaplain to detainees at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.
Yee was born in Illinois, raised in New Jersey, and graduated from West Point in 1990.
Less than a year later, he converted to Islam. He was raised Lutheran.
After serving as an air defense artillery officer, he left the Army, studied Islam in Damascus, Syria, and returned as a chaplain.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he became a key spokesman for Islam in the military and was recognized and respected as a bridge builder, educating the troops about Islam.
As a result of that recognition, he believes, he was assigned to Guantanamo as a Muslim chaplain.
There, before it was widely publicized in the media, he said, he witnessed a pattern of religious abuse of detainees — forcing them to shave their beards, desecrating the Quran and sexual humiliation by female interrogators.
When he complained to his superiors, he said, his troubles began.
“They accused me of spying, espionage and aiding the enemy, among other things.”
Yee said he was subjected to sensory deprivation, put in solitary confinement for 76 days and threatened with the death penalty.
In March 2004, all charges were dropped, without apology or explanation.
The military has never said what evidence it had against Yee, and has said charges were dropped to avoid compromising classified information.
“I was completely exonerated and cleared, reinstated as a chaplain and sent back to my post at Fort Lewis, Washington,” he said.
He resigned, and was given an honorable discharge and an Army commendation medal for exceptional meritorious service.
He travels widely, speaking on college campuses and elsewhere.
His book, “For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire,” is the No. 1 best-seller in Indonesia, a nation with 200 million Muslims.
Yee said U.S. civil liberties have been eroded since 9/11, and that his case is clear proof of that.
The politics of fear-mongering have dominated and made America less safe, he said.
Legal complications and human rights issues of Guantanamo Bay have seriously damaged the reputation of the United States as a nation of civil rights and the rule of law, he said, and have contributed to anti-American sentiment around the world.
He said the U.S. should close the Guantanamo Bay prison, and should establish national standards for the treatment of prisoners, including an unconditional ban on torture, to restore the values of the U.S. Constitution.