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Former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James "Yusuf" Yee's story ‘captivating’

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James Yusuf Lee, a former and one of the few Muslim chaplains for the United States Army, spoke about his experiences ministering to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay in the Stone Center on Thursday. The talk was put on by MSA. Lee converted to Islam is 1991 while deployed in the Gulf during the Persian War. He advocated for prisoners to have religious rights. Lee was held by the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina for 76 days because it was believed that he was spying on the United States. He believes this was because of his preaching and beliefs in Islam. Since his release he has been speaking about his experiences and fighting anti-Muslim policies.

When the UNC Muslim Students Association invited Chaplain James “Yusuf” Yee to speak, some members were not prepared for his insider’s view of Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Yee, a 1986 graduate of West Point, was the one of the first Muslim chaplains in the U.S. military when he assumed the role in January 2001.

Following 9/11, Yee assumed a role as a media representative for the U.S. military. It was his success in speaking about Islam in this post that led to his appointment as chaplain of Guantanamo Bay.

Yee served as chaplain for the 660 inmates, all of whom were Muslim, as well as American Muslims serving as translators at the camp.

“I was one of the very few individuals allowed to speak freely to the prisoners,” he said.

During his lecture, hosted by the MSA and attended by more than 40 students and faculty, Yee described the abuses that inmates suffered at the hands of intelligence officers at Guantanamo.

“Prisoners would complain about being persecuted — persecuted for being Muslim,” he said. “Intelligence personnel used religion as a weapon against prisoners.”

Yee described cases in which inmates were forced by personnel at the camp to kneel in a “satanic circle” and renounce Allah. His presentation also featured photographs showing the sensory deprivation that some inmates were forced to endure.

After hearing accounts of abuse from inmates, Yee approached his superiors. At the time, he felt his input was valued and received stellar performance reviews, he said.

Following these motions, Yee was granted permission to visit his family in Washington state, but was arrested en route, accused of leaking classified documents.

His family did not know his whereabouts and assumed he was missing until two weeks later when it was reported that the Guantanamo Bay chaplain had been arrested, Yee said.

“I was sitting in a prison cell,” he said. “I was locked away in South Carolina and subject to the same sensory deprivation as the inmates at Guantanamo Bay.”

Yee was held in solitary confinement for 76 days, he said.

The allegations against Yee were finally dropped and he was given an honorable discharge and a commendation medal for meritorious service.

“I often describe it as a harrowing ordeal — being a Muslim after 9/11 and being accused by the U.S. government; there was no telling what could happen.”

Since his release, Yee has written a book about his ordeal and is campaigning against “Islamophobia” in America.

Matthew Stevens, president of UNC’s chapter of MSA, invited Yee to speak at the University after another member had seen him speak.

“We thought he would be a very compelling speaker with a very interesting topic and unique perspectives,” said Stevens.

Sophomore Sarah Zamamiri said she was shocked by Yee’s speech.

“I did not think it was going to be this captivating,” she said.

“I was extremely taken aback by most of the slides, and I did not know this was going on in Guantanamo Bay.”

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Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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