A former military chaplain for prisoners in Guantanamo Bay is speaking today in Iowa City as part of an Armistice Day observance organized by Veterans for Peace. James Yee shared his story over the weekend during a presentation at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids.
He showed photos of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. “It looks like a place where you would hold dogs, like a kennel. And the prisoners would tell me they felt they were being treated like animals,” Yee said. When the camp opened in 2001, Yee ensured prisoners were able to practice their faith in the camp, and gave cultural awareness briefings to new military personnel.
Yee said the way Muslim prisoners were treated at the camp appalled him and interrogation methods often targeted the prisoners’ religion. “Anything from being sexually humiliated by female interrogators, to desecration of the Koran in the cell blocks and interrogation rooms, to prisoners being forced to shave their beards,” Yee said. In 2003, after nearly a year at Guantanamo, Yee was detained by the military on suspicion of espionage and held in solitary confinement for 76 days. Charges were later dropped and Yee was given an honorable discharge.
But it’s the fate of the prisoners in Guantanamo that bothers him the most. “Our government has done a huge injustice, not only to prisoners being held in Guantanamo, but to all Americans in violating the fundamentals of who we are as a nation…values that are embodied in the Constitution,” Yee said. Human rights groups estimate more than 150 prisoners are still be held in the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. In 2005, Yee published a book his experiences, called “For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire.”