The Strange Case of Chaplain Yee

From the New York Review of Books:

Before the case against Chaplain Yee collapsed, Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Jon Kyl of Arizona, the columnist John Leo, as well as an array of conservative and Christian bloggers would seize on his arrest as evidence that radical Islamicists had taken control of the recruitment of Muslim chaplains into our armed forces. They offered no evidence bearing on his recruitment back into the army, however; by his own telling, Yee was first approached by a Muslim African-American, an ex-marine, at a Ramadan banquet at that hotbed of Islamic ferment, that notori- ous madrasa, the Pentagon.

Yee had scant opportunity to offer a public rebuttal of the charges he faced, or the portrayal of him as a traitor by anonymous government leakers, or the further allegations the charges and leaks inspired. First he was held in solitary confinement; then, on his release, placed under a gag order. “Speech that undermines the effectiveness of loyalty, discipline or unit morale is not constitutionally protected,” he was warned. The gag order stayed in force until his separation from the military—on a hard-won honorable discharge—early this year. His book thus tells a story that reporters who followed his case never got to hear from the accused.

* * *

A detainee who refused to accept a Koran in his cell would be subject to what was known as “a forced cell extraction” by an IRF (for “initial response force”)—six to eight MPs in riot protection gear (plastic masks, chest protectors, shin guards, shields) who would burst in on a cell to subdue a problem detainee in what was commonly known as an IRFing. Here is Yee’s description of these stampedes:

After they suited up, they formed a huddle and chanted in unison…. Then they rushed the block, one behind the other…. The sound of their heavy boots hammered down the steel corridor and their chants ricocheted off the tin ceiling…. The IRF team stopped at the detainee’s cell…. The team leader in front drenched the prisoner with pepper spray and then opened the cell door. The others charged in and rushed the detainee…. The point was to get him to the ground as quickly as possible, with whatever means necessary…. When it was over, there was a certain excitement in the air. The guards were pumped…. They high-fived each other and slammed their chests together, like professional basketball players…an odd victory celebration for eight men who took down one prisoner.

Once “extracted,” the recalcitrant prisoner was placed in isolation in an MSU (for “maximum security unit”) until he was ready to accept a Koran. What are we to make of this struggle in which alleged Islamic “terrorists” refuse to accept Korans from their insistent captors until they’ve been pounded into submission? And how, the chaplain rightly asks, was it “good for the mission?”

* * *

But a month after his arrest, the charge of espionage and other ser-ious charges wer abruptly dropped. Though Captain Yee had been branded a traitor and was still being held in solitary, a navy lawyer said the government lacked the “prosecutorial resources” to continue th case; also, the lawyer said, it needed more time to investigate his “misconduct.” Nothing mor was ever heard of that investigation. The only interpretation that fits the known facts is that th military lawyers assigned to the case found that there was nothing there to support the extrem charges. So now Captain Yee was left to face two relatively minor counts of mishandlin classified documents. (He insists he never had any.) Still, he was held in solitary confinemen for seventy-six days and shackled whenever he was taken from his cell

As the charges against him dwindled to nothing, the conduct of the prosecution became, if anything, more relentless, vengeful, and ugly. Yee’s wife had returned to their home in Olympia, Washington, where she was visited by a female Defense Department investigator who showed her pictures of the chaplain with other women, and told her that he’d been having affairs. When, finally, the prosecution was unable to produce any evidence of his ever having possessed classified documents, let alone of having mishandled them, the criminal case collapsed. Far from acknowledging a miscarriage of justice, the prosecution said it couldn’t disclose its evidence because of national security concerns.