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Former US Muslim chaplain talks about Gitmo abuses

Last updated on: November 5, 2009 16:58 IST

Former US Muslim chaplain talks about Gitmo abuses

Matthew Schneeberger in Mumbai
To hear former United States Army chaplain James "Yusuf" Yee tell it, the US government and armed forces deliberately used Islam as a weapon against Muslim detainees at the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, where 'demonisation' of Islam was an ingrained part of daily life.

Yee, 41-year-old Chinese-American who converted to Islam in the early 1990s, was the US Army chaplain at the infamous Guantanamo Bay from November 2002 to September 2003.

In that capacity, Yee says, his primary role was to 'defend religious freedom, as guaranteed in the US constitution' and to ensure that the religious rights of the camp's 700 Muslim prisoners were not violated.

But Yee, a headline speaker on Wednesday, day six, of the 10-day International Islamic Peace Conference in Mumbai, says his position was mainly a ceremonial one, as his superiors were upset when he actually worked to engage the prisoners and brought forth their complaints of abuses.

While he himself didn't witness many of the alleged abuses, Yee trusts prisoners who told him they were made to pray to Satan, saw acts of Quran desecration and were violated sexually.

When Yee's 10 months at Guantanamo were over, he left for Jacksonville, Florida, discouraged at the continued operation of the detention centre, which he thought clearly violated the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Upon landing in Jacksonville, his problems increased dramatically, when Yee himself was taken into custody and accused of espionage and aiding Al Qaeda operatives at Guantanamo Bay.

"Despite my stellar background, despite the fact that I graduated from West Point (a leading military school in America), I was still singled out as the enemy," says Yee. "Because I am a Muslim."

For 76 days, he was held in a US Naval brig, until eventually all the charges against him were dropped. While his detractors maintain that prosecuting Yee would have required releasing confidential and high-security information, Yee says his exoneration was the government's tacit admission that he was wrongly accused.

The US Army granted Yee an honourable discharge in January 2005, after which he went on to write For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire, his memoirs about being a Muslim in the US Army, his experiences at Guantanamo Bay and an account of his own detention.

Today, Yee travels around the world and is a frequent contributor on various media programmes, where he speaks out against the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

He's so vociferous in his denunciation of 'Gitmo', he says, because he loves America, and feels Guantanamo Bay and other 'War on Terror tactics' are blots on America's 'great record' of upholding human rights.

Here, in the accompanying video, Yee recounts his experiences at Guantanamo Bay and answers a few questions about Islam, America and the US military.

Text: Matthew Schneeberger Video: Hitesh Harisinghani

Image: The video showing former United States Army chaplain James Yusuf Yee
Video: Hitesh Harisinghani