During a week when President Bush rather inelegantly declared that the United States "does not torture people," the unjust treatment of Army chaplain James Yee seems especially poignant. "I don't know if the White House is playing with word semantics or what," Yee says by phone shortly after the president's statements, "but from my experience, what I became aware of down in Guantánamo at a minimum met the threshold of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."
There are few more entitled to comment on U.S. torture than Yee, a graduate of West Point and winner of two medals for exceptional service. While ministering to the alleged al Qaida and Taliban terrorists of Cuba's Guantánamo Bay detention camp and acting as staff adviser for detainee religious practices, Yee openly objected to abuses inflicted on the camp's prisoners. Upon reentry to the U.S., he was surprised to be found in possession of a list of Guantánamo detainees and interrogators. Yee was subsequently charged with sedition, spying, espionage and aiding the enemy.
Transferred to a naval brig in South Carolina, Yee was forced into solitary confinement for 76 days and made to undergo sensory deprivation. More than two months later, all criminal charges against him were dropped. Yee was welcomed back to the Army. He immediately resigned.
Yee has written a book, For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire, outlining the harsh conditions of maximum-security units in Guantánamo's Camp Delta, as well as his own inhumane treatment—an experience for which he has yet to receive an apology. He sees his writing and lecturing less as a healing agent for his own scars than as an imperative message to a new generation. "Ultimately," he says, "it will be these young men and women who will have to step up and redirect our country towards one that values the ideals that are embodied in our Constitution."
And as for the claim that the U.S. does not torture people? "It's a surety that we'll look back on Guantánamo," Yee says, "as being one of the darkest black spots in the history of our country, that's for certain."
Chaplain James Yee lectures on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Cooperage of Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. 8pm. Free. 707.664.4129.