Copyright ColorsNW Magazine
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
– Robert F. Kennedy (U.S. politician, 1925-1968)
Olympia resident Capt. James Yee’s story of detention and injustice is one that should serve as a lesson to us all.
The poster child for the military’s racial and religious inclusiveness, Yee served for years as an effective apologist for the policies at U.S. detention centers such as Guantanamo Bay. The mere presence of a Muslim chaplain at the facility served as a buffer against criticism that the military used faith in Islam as one element of probable cause of terrorism.
Yet as Yee soon learned, even as an American citizen and a exemplary member of the armed forces, all the balls are the military’s court when it comes to proving oneself innocent in the War on Terror. First, Yee was accused of the worst possible crimes against the U.S.: treason and espionage. He was threatened with the death penalty for his alleged crimes. His family was pushed to the breaking point, as news organizations and government officials hounded them for details about the man they knew as a loving father and husband. Yee was held in solitary confinement for 76 days in the same conditions that he had counseled detainees and tried to advocate for them.
After months of persecution and attempted prosecution, the case against Yee began to unravel. In March 2004, the government released a statement dropping all charges against Yee and completely exonerating him. His military career is effectively over, his family forever shaken. His story serves as a painful reminder that foundations of the American justice system – access to counsel, the ability to confront your accusers, the ability to examine the evidence against you – are integral to ensuring that these types of egregious miscarriages of justice do not occur to anyone – American or not.