Former chaplain at Guantanamo tells about abuse and underage prisoners

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

James Yee, a Muslim chaplain formerly stationed at the Guantánamo detention camp, is now speaking out about his experience and the incidents he witnessed at Guantanamo. On May 22, Mr. Yee held a speech at Dartmouth College and told an audience of 100 he was accused of espionage and spying by the US in September 2003 and was kept in isolation for 76 days.

Mr Yee claimed in The Dartmouth, a Dartmouth College newspaper, the United States was "accepting torture" and that this "damages the reputation of the U.S." He continued: "We've lost that status of being the beacon of human rights because of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo".

On May 5 Mr Yee had spoken at the University of California, Davis, to the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas (CSHRA). They had hosted a forum about the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

Mr Yee believes journalists and congressmen who visit Guantánamo prison do not get an unsanitized picture of conditions there, and spoke at length about his personal experience there, what prisoners and interpreters told him during his time as Guantánamo chaplain, and what happened when he was imprisoned.

In one incident a cell door had mistakenly been left unlocked by guards, and a prisoner left his cell and attempted to lock the three guards in the cell while they were conducting a search. The guards easily overpowered the would-be escapee. "But the incident didn't stop there," said Mr Yee who said this incident lead to a violent reaction from the guards.

"One of the guards continued to bludgeon that prisoner on the back of the head after already being shackled at the ankles and his wrists behind his back and, of course, it was a bloody affair. There was blood all over."

Yee also said that some prisoners were children "the ages of some of the prisoners down there, as young as 12 to 14 years old. Prisoners as young as 12 to 14 years old were being held down in Guantánamo when I was there."

James Yee was accused of espionage by the military on September 10, 2003, and arrested while heading home from Cuba on a leave of absence. After 76 days, James Yee was released and the criminal charges against him were eventually dropped. He said he was locked away in solitary confinement and abused in a manner similar to that of the other detainees at Guantanamo.

About the treatment he received when he was imprisoned, Mr Yee said he was first more worried about his family, "I was arrested in secret, held incommunicado. I never showed up at the airport in Seattle like I was supposed to have, where my wife and daughter were waiting. They didn't know what happened to me. My parents in New Jersey had no idea what had happened. I essentially disappeared from society, from the face of the earth."

Mr Yee then said he was dressed up as a prisoner and subject to "sensory deprivation". "And down on the way, on this trip to Charleston, the guard pulls out of this bag these goggles ... so now I can't see a thing. He takes out these heavy industrial type ear muffs ... puts them on my ears, and now I can't hear a thing. We call this tactic 'sensory deprivation.' Sensory deprivation, it's something that I recently read that the American Psychiatric Association has included in a draft of their definition of torture."

Taking an ironic look at his own capture Mr Yee said: "On another aspect of the treatment he experienced, Yee said, "One of the most ironic parts of this situation is that down in Guantanamo, as the Muslim chaplain, I was able to protect certain religious rights for the alleged, suspected, Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners down in Guantanamo. The point is, I was denied my religious rights as a U.S. citizen in military custody, the very same rights that I was able to uphold for prisoners down in Guantanamo."

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, commander of the Guantánamo detention camp, is said to have made the decision to jail Mr Yee. Miller was then transferred to Iraq, where there was a prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib. The extent of Miller's involvement in Mr Yee's treatment at Guatamano and Abu Ghraib is not known. The US administration has not elaborated on Mr Yee's claims.

In May 2004, when Mr Yee's case attracted the attention of the media, Gen. James Hill, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, which oversaw military operations at Guantanamo, called Yee's incarceration necessary, "given the circumstances at the time." Col. William Costello, a Southern Command spokesman, also said in May 2004, "There's really nothing more that we're going to share on the case. We've dropped the charges. ... I'm not at liberty to talk about what the investigation entailed."

US have denied abuse on Guantánamo detention camp. On June 1st, 2005 Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, said, "But little has been said about the great lengths that the military go to at Guantánamo Bay to accommodate the religious practices of detainees in their care. There are specific instructions as to how those involved in the custody of detainees should handle themselves with respect to religious matters. Special meals are provided to meet cultural dietary requirements. Schedules are respectful of prayer. Indications of the direction to pray are provided."

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This audio file was created from the text revision dated 2006-05-25 and may not reflect subsequent text edits to this report. (audio help)