Wednesday 21 January 2004

Modern 'Dreyfus Affair' is unworthy of America

by Eric Margolis

Hatred of Muslims has become the anti-Semitism of our era. The latest example of this ugly fact is the vicious prosecution by the U.S. military of a Muslim army chaplain, Capt. James Yee.

I call this disgraceful and shameful case America's Dreyfus Affair.

In 1894, a French army officer, Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, who was Jewish, was wrongfully convicted of spying on the basis of forged documents. Though evidence pointed to another officer, anti-Semites in the French Army framed Dreyfus. He was given a life sentence on Devil's Island, a brutal, malarial penal colony in the Caribbean off French Guiana.

Four years later, the great French writer Emile Zola published J'accuse (I accuse), his famous newspaper expose of the Dreyfus Affair in which he demolished the case against the persecuted officer and showed how hatred of Jews had led to this outrage.

Fast forward to 2003. Capt. Yee, a native of New Jersey, West Point graduate, convert to Islam and one of the few Muslim chaplains in the U.S. armed forces, was arrested for espionage. Yee had been chaplain at the Bush administration's very own version of Devil's Island, the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp, ministering to the 660 Muslim prisoners held there in cages.

Two Muslim-Americans working at Guantanamo as interpreters for the military, Ahmed Mehalba and Ahmad al-Halabi, were arrested on suspicions of passing information to Syria and possessing classified documents. U.S. Army Reserve officers at Guantanamo somehow believed they had uncovered a nefarious Syrian spy ring.

Capt. Yee had once visited Syria for religious studies. He had dinner at Guantanamo with al-Halabi and Mehalba. So he, too, was arrested and charged with espionage - a capital offence.

Spying charges have since been dropped against Halabi, but he and Mehalba still face other flimsy charges.

Capt. Yee was charged with spying and thrown into solitary confinement in a naval prison for 2 1/2 months, where he was chained hand and foot. Jailers refused to tell him the direction in which Mecca lay so he could properly pray. He was denied family visits and repeatedly threatened with execution.

Capt. Yee was finally released to face a court martial at Ft. Benning, Ga., which is ongoing.

The military's case against him has steadily crumbled. Not a shred of evidence has emerged of spying or foreign contacts.

After espionage charges were dropped, Yee was accused of the minor infraction of mishandling classified documents. But military prosecutors didn't even know which of the supposedly classified documents Yee had were actually classified. Most were apparently hand-written notes on his religious ministering.

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