A Chaplain's Test of Faith

James Yee with his wife, Huda, and daughter Sarah in Seattle in 2003. Yee had avoided telling the details of his arrest to the media.
James Yee with his wife, Huda, and daughter Sarah in Seattle in 2003. Yee had avoided telling the details of his arrest to the media. (By Ron Wurzer -- Associated Press)
By Ray Rivera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 9, 2005

His wife held the gun in one hand and two bullets in the other.

"Tell me how to use it," she whispered over the phone from the couple's Olympia, Wash., apartment. Of everything Chaplain James Yee had been through -- the arrest, the espionage allegations, the 76 days in solitary confinement -- this was the worst moment.

He had just been released a day earlier from a naval brig in South Carolina and ordered to Fort Benning, Ga. There, he would await trial -- but by then the government's case was eroding and becoming an increasing embarrassment to the Pentagon. Instead of spying and aiding the enemy -- death-penalty counts once promised by military prosecutors -- he was charged with mishandling classified documents.

His release from prison was the clearest sign yet that the government no longer considered him an imminent threat to national security.

But that same day, the military announced three new charges -- lying to an investigator, adultery (a crime in the military) and downloading pornography on a government computer. The accusations would be embarrassing to anyone, but when alleged against a chaplain, they added the taint of hypocrisy.

Now on the phone with his wife, Huda, fear welled inside him. As a military chaplain, he had been trained in suicide awareness and prevention. He knew Huda's condition had reached a critical level. She had taken the time to find his Smith & Wesson handgun in its hiding spot in the closet. She had a plan. He felt helpless.

So James Yee recounts in an interview and in his new book, "For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire." * * *

With the release of the book last week, the former Muslim Army chaplain and West Point graduate breaks his long silence on the government's case against him and how it drove his family to within a trigger's pull of tragedy.

Yee was arrested Sept. 10, 2003, on allegations of spying and aiding the enemy while assigned to minister to Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The news made international headlines, and soon word spread that he was the leader of a terrorist spy ring.

The military eventually dropped all charges.

"My intent on writing the book was with the hope that my story will keep this from happening to anyone else," he says in an interview at his publisher's offices in New York, where he is promoting the book. "No one should ever have to go through what I went through. Ever."

In a world in which having calamity or injustice thrust upon you gives you a certain celebrity, Yee, 37, made for an unusual martyr.

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