WASHINGTON -- A former Muslim chaplain at the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorism suspects has been charged with disobeying orders for improperly handling classified information, the military announced yesterday. Army Captain James Yee, who also has used the name Yousef Yee, was charged with two counts of failing to obey a lawful order, US Southern Command announced. He is charged with taking classified information home and wrongly transporting classified information.
The charges, as outlined on an Army document released by Southern Command, say that Yee was carrying classified information when he was arrested last month and that he had taken secret materials to a housing unit while serving as chaplain at the base from November 2002 until last month.
Yee is one of three former workers at the high-security military base to be arrested in an inquiry into alleged espionage there. Yee is not charged with espionage.
Conviction of disobeying orders carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a bad conduct discharge.
Authorities arrested Yee on Sept. 10 as he arrived at a Jacksonville, Fla., naval base on a flight from the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba.
He is being held in the brig in Charleston, S.C.
Telephone messages left at the office of Yee's defense laywers were not returned. Yesterday was a training holiday for the Army, so Yee's military defense lawyers were unavailable for comment, said Lieutenant Commander Barbara Burfeind, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
"The Army continues to investigate Yee's conduct, and if warranted, additional charges could be forthcoming," Southern Command said in a statement. Investigators said preliminary charges were being brought so that Yee could continue to be detained under military law.
Army Major General Geoffrey Miller, the Guantanamo Bay prison commander, will decide on the next step. Miller's options include dismissing the charges or convening a special court-martial, which could impose a penalty of up to a year in prison and a bad conduct discharge.
Miller also could send the case to an Article 32 hearing, a kind of minitrial in which prosecutors present evidence for commanders to decide whether to send the case to a general court-martial.
A team of military investigators arrived at Guantanamo Bay on Thursday to look into security at the facility. Miller has ordered a security crackdown following the three arrests, and military officials have said others who have not been arrested are under suspicion.
The most serious charges are against Senior Airman Ahmed I. al-Halabi, an Air Force supply clerk who worked as an Arabic translator at the prison for about nine months. Military prosecutors accuse Halabi of gathering classified information and messages from prisoners with plans to send that information to Syria and an unidentified enemy. The charges, espionage and aiding the enemy, could carry the death penalty.
Halabi's lawyers say their client is not guilty.
Also charged is a former civilian Arabic interpreter at the base, Ahmad F. Mehalba. Agents arrested Mehalba last month as he arrived in Boston after visiting his native Egypt. Mehalba is accused of lying to investigators by denying that computer discs he carried with him contained classified information from Guantanamo Bay.
Mehalba is being prosecuted in the civilian court system and faces a probable cause hearing Wednesday in Worcester.
About 660 suspected members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network or Afghanistan's former Taliban government are being held at the Guantanamo Bay base.