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Muslim chaplain's defense cries foul

Capt. James Yee, in a September 2001 photo, ministered to Islamic prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Capt. James Yee, in a September 2001 photo, ministered to Islamic prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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A Muslim Army chaplain is answering lesser charges after an espionage case against him fizzled.
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Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)
Espionage and Intelligence

FORT BENNING, Georgia (CNN) -- Attorneys for a Muslim Army chaplain alleged to have mishandled classified information at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, accused the lead investigator in the case of misconduct Tuesday.

Eugene Fidell, lead attorney for Capt. James Yee, told reporters he questioned the conduct of Col. Dan Trimble, the chief investigating officer who is presiding over Yee's Article 32 hearing, now in its second day at Fort Benning.

An Article 32 proceeding is the U.S. military's version of a pretrial hearing to determine whether Yee will face court-martial on charges ranging from the mishandling of classified documents to adultery.

According to Fidell, Trimble has asked Yee to participate in private, off-the-record conferences with defense and prosecuting attorneys. The conferences dealt with procedures and were not necessary to protect legitimate, classified information, Fidell said.

"We have become concerned about the extent to which there have been conferences of one kind or another with the investigating officer in private," he said. "Any further business should be conducted in the courtroom."

Trimble declined to comment on Fidell's allegations about conferences.

Fidell said that Yee refused Tuesday to participate in more conferences and that he won't either.

"Everyone has to be confident" in the integrity of these trials, Fidell said. "This is deadly serious business, and we're certainly not going to do it behind closed doors."

Fidell said he was offended in one private conference when Trimble accused him of grandstanding. Fidell complained further that a review of documents Yee is accused of mishandling has not determined that they are classified.

The rest of the hearing was delayed until January 19 to give prosecutors time to review the documents and decide which ones can be introduced at the hearing.

Yee has been charged with three counts of failing to obey an order and one count each of adultery, making a false official statement and conduct unbecoming an officer. Two of the charges relate to allegations that he used a government computer to view and store pornography.

He was released from detention November 25 after his arrest in September at the Jacksonville, Florida, airport on suspicion that he was carrying classified materials. He then was held at a Charleston, South Carolina, Navy brig for 76 days on charges of espionage and aiding the enemy. But he was never charged with spying.

Yee's attorneys said the charges against him were trumped up because he complained about the treatment of detainees. The Army had chosen Yee to interact with the Muslim detainees because of his faith.

The Army's member of the defense team, Maj. Stephen Sikes, also questioned the government's conduct in the case.

"This is the most incredible case I've ever been involved with, and that's an understatement," Sikes said.

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