Gitmo chaplain probed as spy
Counseled terror suspects
By KERRY BURKE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Capt. Yousef Yee, a chaplain at Gitmo.
A Muslim chaplain counseling Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects held at the Guantanamo military prison has been detained by federal authorities.
Capt. Yousef Yee, a West Point graduate, is the first known U.S. soldier to be detained in the war on terror and is being investigated for espionage and possibly even treason, several news reports said.
Yee was found carrying classified documents, which CNN said included diagrams of the cells and the camp, lists of inmates and the names of their interrogators.
Yee, 34, was stopped by FBI agents Sept. 10 in Jacksonville, Fla., after returning from Gitmo. After questioning, he was handed over to military officials.
He is being held at a military brig in Charleston, S.C. - the same place officials are holding Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American-born Saudi who allegedly fought with the Taliban, and Jose Padilla, a former Chicago gang member charged with plotting to detonate a "dirty" bomb.
The chaplain had largely unfettered access to the 660 inmates of Gitmo's sprawling Camp Delta. The prisoners are considered enemy combatants instead of POWs, and were captured in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Daily access to detainees
As an Arabic speaker, Yee counseled the detainees, advised them on religious matters and made sure their dietary needs were met at the base in eastern Cuba.
"He had daily access to the detainees," said Capt. Tom Crosson, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command in Miami, who confirmed that the military was holding Yee in South Carolina.
Yee is of Chinese descent and was raised in Springfield, N.J., as a Christian named James Yee. After graduating from West Point in 1990, where he studied Islam, he converted and took the name Yousef.
After leaving the Army, he went to Syria for four years, where he received religious training and married a Syrian woman, the Washington Times said. He returned to the U.S. military soon after.
Yee's father, Joseph, was clearly shaken last night and said simply, "I have no comment right now."
Family friends were also stunned.
"I find it difficult to believe based on what I know about the family. They are above reproach," said Jessie Blesdoe, a member of the New Jersey Telephone Pioneers with the elder Yee.
Blesdoe said she spent most of yesterday with Yee at a board meeting. They talked about his children, and he didn't indicate anything was wrong.
"He told me one son, the chaplain, was overseas. And his other son and his wife, who are doctors, were called up from the reserves in the Seattle area," she said.
She said Yee, a retired telephone company worker, and his wife are very active in community works and volunteered with the Salvation Army after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Shortly after 9/11, the younger Yee was quoted in an interview saying it was "an act of terrorism. The taking of innocent lives is prohibited by Islam, and whoever has done this needs to be brought to justice, whether he is Muslim or not."
In another interview, when asked if he was sympathetic to the prisoners - some of whom have been held in Guantanamo for nearly two years without charges - Yee was silent.
Before being sent to Guantanamo, he was stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., where he was the chaplain for I Corps troops.
Earlier this year, Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar, a 32-year-old Muslim, was charged in a March grenade attack in Kuwait that killed Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, 40, and Army Capt. Christopher Seifert, 27, and injured 14 others.
Akbar, however, was not accused of terrorism. He was charged with premeditated murder and attempted murder.
With News Wire Services