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The Seattle Times

Suspicion in the Ranks

Inside the spy investigation of Capt. James Yee
A special report by Ray Rivera · January 9 - 16, 2005
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In December 2002, a Muslim U.S. Army chaplain stood before a room full of American soldiers freshly arrived at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. His assignment: to brief the soldiers on Islam, the religion he shared with nearly all of the prisoners who had been detained there since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

It was a lesson no one seemed better suited to teach. Educated at West Point and steeped in the teachings of Islam, the chaplain would give this same briefing dozens of times, to thousands of soldiers. His commanders would call it "instrumental" to the success of the prison camp, helping guards and interrogators better understand their captives.

But on this day, at least one person heard something different.

"Some of the things he said sounded extremely sympathetic to the detainees," said Army Reserve Capt. Jason Orlich, a newly arrived intelligence officer. "I mean, it made the hair on the back of your neck stand up at attention."

That simply, Capt. James Yee became a suspect.

For the next two years — 76 days of it in solitary confinement — Yee would live under the cloud of treason. On Friday, he walked away from the Army with an honorable discharge but forever scarred by the treatment he received from his colleagues in arms.

This week, The Seattle Times will give the first detailed account of how this highly praised officer went from soft-spoken defender of Islam to accused spy.

It is a story of officers so eager to root out traitors that they let small suspicions and misunderstandings escalate into an international investigation, then zealously tried to salvage the case as it unraveled.

At the same time, it is a story of the enormous challenges of a war in which "the enemy" is defined not by national borders but by ideology, in which a nation burned by overlooking a villainous plot is determined not to miss another.

It is a story of post-9/11 America.

Ray Rivera: 206-464-2926 or