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Modern ‘Dreyfus Affair’ is unworthy of America

By ERIC MARGOLIS — Contributing Foreign Editor

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.

Farce and a travesty

The U.S. Army’s former judge advocate general (the most senior military legal officer), John Fugh, called the Yee case “ridiculous” and said it should be speedily ended. Other legal experts and high-ranking officers term the trial a farce and a travesty of justice.

But the military has continued with this preposterous show trial, unwilling to admit it was gravely mistaken in prosecuting Capt. Yee – just as the French Army refused to the bitter end to admit that Capt. Dreyfus was innocent.

To cover the collapse of its ludicrous espionage case, the army then bizarrely charged Yee with, of all things, adultery and keeping pornography.

So Yee, who is married, may have had an affair with a female officer. He may even have had a copy of Playboy, or used his computer to surf the smutnet.

Adultery is an offence under the Uniform Military Code, but only a few officers have ever been prosecuted for this Victorian offence – otherwise a good part of the senior ranks of the armed forces would be in jail.

Perhaps the military has forgotten that its former commander-in-chief, President Bill Clinton, violated this silly and unconstitutional regulation.

As a former member of the U.S. Army, I know there is not much real justice in so-called military justice.

It’s up to the president and Congress to order the Pentagon generals who approved this sordid case to dismiss the charges against the American Dreyfus and present him with an enormous apology. If anyone belongs behind bars, it is the cretins who accused Yee of espionage. But as all soldiers know, the military always covers its backside.

If Capt. Yee was any religion except Muslim, his prosecution – persecution is a more apt term – would have raised a public outcry. But the Bush administration’s paranoia and relentless anti-Islamic fervour, and the growing hate campaign directed against Muslims by the president’s fundamentalist Christian and neo-conservative allies, has legitimized persecution of Muslim-Americans, who now live in a state of fear that is beginning to resemble the growing terror felt by German Jews in the early 1930s.

The Yee Affair is only one of a large number of cases in which Muslims have been charged by the government with non-existent or wildly exaggerated offences, then forced to admit guilt under threats of life sentences, or even execution.

Capt. Yee courageously refused to be intimidated into confessing to crimes he did not commit. His only serious offence, according to the evidence so far available, was being a caring chaplain in a Devil’s Island created to terrify and punish Muslims.