Original Blog Reporting: The Talking Dog Interviews James Yee
As usual, we’ll give you the intro and one excerpt. And as usual, the interview if read in full is sure to spark lots of debate and controversy:
James Yee is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 2002 and 2003, he served as the MuslimChaplain at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, with the rank of Captain in the United States Army. After ten months of deployment at Guantanamo, while traveling home for a two week leave, Captain Yee was arrested, and accused of espionage and spying, charges which carried the death penalty. He was then placed in solitary confinement in the Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina, under conditions resembling those in which Guantanamo detainees were kept, for 76 days. As the case against Yee fell apart, the military instead added criminal charges of adultery and having pornography on his computer, charges that were also eventually dropped. Captain Yee left the Army with an honorable discharge and service commendations. He is the author of For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire. On March 8, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing James Yee by telephone. What follows are my interview notes corrected as appropriate by Mr. Yee.
And here’s one notable exchange:
The Talking Dog: Can you tell me what your expectations were of Guantanamo and the men we were holding there? How did those expectations compare with what you actually encountered? Did you encounter either David Hicks or Moazzam Begg? Can you tell me about the use of 9-11 images at Guantanamo, both for personnel stationed there and for detainees? Can you tell me about the juveniles you encountered at Camp Iguana?
James Yee: The expectations I had, both from the military itself and our political leaders, were that we were holding 700 totally hard core terrorists. Of course, that’s not at all what I encountered when I got there. It became clear that none of the individuals we were holding at Guantanamo were connected in any way to the September 11th attacks. It became more clear that if our military and government had captured a legitimate terrorist suspect, they would not have been brought to Guantanamo Bay at all, but to the secret CIA black sites, that the President admitted existed when he transferred 14 so-called “high value” terrorist suspects to Guantanamo in September 2006 in order to get Congressional support for the Military Commissions Act after the Administration lost in its attempt to unilaterally impose military commissions of its own devising after the Hamdan case. Only at that time were any real terrorists possibly connected with September 11th brought to GTMO.
I certainly did interact with David Hicks. I had several personal interactions with him, including holding classes with him on how to properly recite the Holy Koran, both when he was in general population and later when they had him in isolation at Camp Echo. Begg was one of the few prisoners I was never allowed access to. When his group was brought in, he was kept in isolation. I was led to believe that the British prisoner, Begg– might be “negotiating” some kind of plea, and that that was the reason he was not permitted to see the chaplain.
As for the juveniles, there were at least three boys in Camp Iguana between 12 and 14 years old. There were at least 6 others, by the way, who were 15 or 16, definitely younger than 18, in general population. The three in Camp Iguana I met weekly. We were led to believe they were “hard core terrorists” but this was utterly ridiculous. The guards in charge of them would frequently discipline them with “time-outs” just as many American parents discipline their own children.
I spent a fair amount of time with the youngsters; they learned to throw footballs, and I watched them kick soccer balls- occasionally over the fence and into the ocean. These kids were not the hard-core super-terrorists capable of slitting anyone’s throat, as we were led to believe, and as portrayed by our military and governmental officials. Nevertheless, it was no fun and games for these pre-teens boys. They were subjected to harsh interrogations just like the other prisoners. Several of these interrogations were taking place when I would come visit and thereby prevent me from accessing Camp Iguana.
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