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Arsalan's Article in Esquire Magazine (Middle East edition) Septemebr 2010 issue

Arsalan's Article in Esquire Magazine (Middle East edition) Septemebr 2010 issue

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Published by Arsalan Iftikhar
"The Accused" by Arsalan Iftikhar (published in September 2010 issue of Esquire Magazine [Middle East edition] about former Guantanamo Bay Muslim Army Chaplain U.S. Captain James 'Yusuf' Yee)
"The Accused" by Arsalan Iftikhar (published in September 2010 issue of Esquire Magazine [Middle East edition] about former Guantanamo Bay Muslim Army Chaplain U.S. Captain James 'Yusuf' Yee)

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Published by: Arsalan Iftikhar on Sep 04, 2010
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converted to Islam In aprIl of 1991
,ten months ater I had graduated rom West Point.I had just completed the ocer basic course in theAir Deense Artillery as a young second lieutenant.Initially, I didn’t think my becoming Muslim wasa great lie changing experience. I was raised as aChristian by my mother, so ater learning about thecommon Abrahamic roots o Christianity and Islam,my journey to Islam was a reconrmation o themonotheistic aith in one God. It wasn’t until I visitedMecca or the rst time that I saw the true beautyo Islam. I was an army platoon leader deployed toSaudi Arabia in the atermath o the First Gul War inlate 1991. I learned o the opportunity or AmericanMuslims in the US military serving in the Gul to journey to Mecca or pilgrimage – or Umrah. As anew Muslim, I jumped at the chance, especially because the tripwas supported by the command. It was there that I saw just howuniversal a religion Islam is. Seeing men and women, o everycolour and ethnicity during those our days in Mecca was trulyinspiring. It emphasised something that I had learned as a child inschool, “…that all men are created equal.”It was that trip that created a desire to know much more aboutthe aith I had just accepted. I also realised that our military did nothave any Muslim chaplains. I believed Muslims in the U.S. armedorces could not be properly represented without this. That was therst time I got the idea that one day I would change my career track.When I was rst assigned to Guantanamo Bay in Novembero 2002, my initial impression was that the inmates were all“dangerous” men. That idea was, o course, created by mediareports o what government and military ocials were saying. Butrom the moment I stepped into the cell blocks o Camp Delta,I knew that this was alse. I went into Gitmo’s prison camp therst evening I arrived, and it was perplexing to realise that theindividuals caged in these cells were just ordinary Muslims. Theydidn’t look, behave, or speak any dierently than other Muslimsthat I had known. From behind the grated steel mesh o the lockeddoors, they were calling or us to come to over to their cells to greetus with “As-salaamu Alaikum” (Peace be unto you) and to chatmore. Chaplain Hamza did the introductions and the prisonerswere very happy to see another American Muslim.
dId torture occur at Guantanamo Bay?
Yes, it did.The cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is well documented. Iwitnessed shackled prisoners being dragged through the gravel totheir interrogation sessions. I witnessed prisoners being subjectedto sensory deprivation. And I witnessed prisoners being threatenedwith erocious, barking, military attack dogs. And no, these dogswere not muzzled. There were also ar worse things taking place –especially in the interrogation rooms, o which while I didn’t see,but I was well aware. Things like sleep deprivation, physical assault,sexual humiliation and orced nudity by emale interrogators.I reused to observe the interrogation o any prisoner atGuantanamo, but back on the cell blocks I witnessed the results -the bruises on the ace and arms o prisoners and their broken teeth.What was also utterly disturbing was the way in which prisonerswere systematically persecuted or their aith. Korans weredesecrated, Islamic prayers were ridiculed, and water was deniedto prevent washing beore prayers. Prisoners had their beardsorceully shaven, and sometimes satanic symbols were used during interrogations. I later learned o how prisoners were orceullybaptised by interrogators disguised as Catholic priests.Prolonged solitary connement was common place. Itwas especially bad or prisoners holed away in the MaximumSecurity Unit cells — known as MSU’s. These were dark cellswhere prisoners were subjected to isolation in extreme heat andhumidity or rigid cold temperatures made possible by heavy airconditioners. Senator John McCain said that the worst torture heever experienced as a POW in Vietnam was solitary connement.He said: “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance moreeectively than any other orm o mistreatment.” And it’s relevantto mention here that John McCain admits that under torture, hebetrayed his country.Many prisoners complained to me about how badly they werebeing treated — and especially how they were being humiliatedor being Muslims. This is what I attempted to put a stop to byaddressing this to my chain o command. From a military chaplain’sperspective, using religion as a weapon to humiliate and persecuteindividuals cannot be justied. It wholeheartedly goes againstour American values, and it certainly went against army values —especially those o duty, respect, honour and integrity,
IslamophoBIa was wIdespread at Guantanamo
.This hostility was also elt by the many patriotic AmericanMuslims serving at Gitmo in the military or as civilians. Oneday, the commander o Guantanamo’s prison operation, MajorGeneral Georey Miller, stopped the accommodation o religiousdietary requests or American-Muslim military personnel. Armyregulations provide members o dierent aiths accommodation tomeet religious dietary obligations, so I was quite taken aback whenMG Miller denied supporting his own troops.Every Muslim chaplain that served at Guantanamo was undersuspicion by the command and the Joint Intelligence InterrogationGroup operation. I conducted a weekly Muslim worship service
   p   H   O   t   O   s  :   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x   x
CaptaIn James Yee was a U.s. mIlItarY offICer who Converted to Islamand beCame as a mUslIm ChaplaIn at GUantanamo baY. then In a bIzarretUrn of events, he was arrested on CharGes of espIonaGe and ended UpIn a U.s. navY prIson as an Inmate. thIs Is the fUll and InCredIble storY,told In hIs own words, exClUsIvelY to esqUIre mIddle east
 middle east exclusive
as told to arsalan IftIkhar
 
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on Friday’s at noon. This was or American-Muslims serving atGuantanamo. Muslim prisoners were conned to their cells andwere denied attendance. There were times when I noticed FBIagents conducting surveillance o our prayer service. I knew theywere FBI when a ew o the translators in Gitmo’s intelligenceoperation pointed them out.The American-Muslim community at Guantanamo Bay oten gottogether or social and chapel ellowship. We enjoyed many potluckdinners that were also attended by non-Muslim riends. This wasour way to enjoy what little ree time we ound. It was certainlya lot more wholesome than drinking ourselves to oblivion at thehandul o bars on the naval base, which is what most o the soldiersdid with their ree time. These gatherings, many o which I hostedat my personal residence, gained the attention o U.S. intelligencepersonnel. Rumours were started that we were a “terrorist sleepercell” gathering to plan subversive activity. People in the intelligenceoperation oten reerred to us as Hamas extremists.American-Muslim translators were also under suspicion. Atleast two were secretly arrested — Airman, Ahmed Al Halabi o the U.S. Air Force and civilian Dept. o Deense translator, AhmedMehalba. Both were Americans sacricing to serve at Guantanamo,and both were also accused by the U.S. government o being parto a subversive spy ring at Guantanamo, o which I was supposedlythe ring leader. I believe this emphasises the amateurism o theintelligence personnel serving at Guantanamo during that time.This culminated with me being secretly arrested. I was alselyaccused o spying, espionage and aiding the enemy. As a result I was jailed or seventy-six days in a maximum security naval brig.
when I was fIrst arrested
by an NCIS (Naval CriminalInvestigative Service) agent, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous.But at the same time I naively believed the matter would be cleared-up quickly — a day or two, i not a ew hours. But when I saw thecharges o espionage, spying, aiding the enemy, mutiny and seditionon the documents, it just blew my mind. I thought the military andthe command was utterly crazy. Then a military prosecutor or thecommand threatened me with the death penalty.I was shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, in the same waythey shackle prisoners in Guantanamo. This was when I denitelyknew something was up. They put me in the back o a truck nextto an armed guard, with two other armed guards in the ront. Thearmed guard put a pair o blackened out, plastic goggles over myeyes so I couldn’t see anything. Then he put these heavy cupping ear-phone devices over my ears, so I now couldn’t hear anything —a type o torturous treatment known as sensorydeprivation. I had no idea where they weretaking me. I believed I was being carted awayto a secret black-site where I might not ever beseen again. I eared being brutally beaten up orbeing atally shot by one o the armed guards. Iknew at that moment that I was essentially being disappeared in America.Neither my wie and daughter, nor mymum and dad, or anyone else knew what hadhappened to me when I didn’t show up on myconnecting fight rom Jacksonville, Florida toSeattle, WA.I ully understood that President Bush haddeclared “enemy combatants” as people whodid not have any rights. He had even declaredthat Geneva Conventions did not apply inGuantanamo. Ater quickly recognising just howsimilar to the prisoners in Guantanamo I wasbeing treated, I eared that all o my rights wouldbe stripped rom me, even i I was a U.S. citizen. It didn’t matter thatI was a third generation American that I had graduated rom theprestigious United States Military Academy at West Point, that Ihad served in the atermath o the First Gul War, or that both o mybrothers were also on active duty in the US army. I eared or my lieat that point.I thought I too would be orever doomed to prison, especiallyater learning that I was being held along side Jose Padilla, YaserHamdi and Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri — all declared by the U.S.government as “enemy combatants” — at the Consolidated NavalBrig in Charleson, SC.
those seventy-sIx days of solItary confInement
 were extremely harrowing, to say the least. To begin with, I washeld incommunicado, and thereore denied all contact with my wieand amily. The military even reused my demand that they contactmy wie or amily to inorm them that I was in government custodyas a prisoner.My amily was horried when they learned o my whereabouts
no
rom the military, but rom breaking news reports on TV.Initial media coverage was based solely on inormation leaked bythe government almost two weeks ater mydisappearance. My amily watched in panic andear as pictures o me fashed over and over onevery news channel, and alongside media reportsthat accused me o being a Muslim terrorist spythat had inltrated Guantanamo Bay.While all this was happening, I was lockedaway in a concrete cubicle no larger than thecage-like cells in Guantanamo. Marine guardsthreatened to beat me violently, and I was held inisolation or 24-hours a day under the constantwatch o two surveillance video camerasinstalled in the ceiling o my cell.Only later, when I was aorded militarydeense counsel, did an attorney ght to get mea single hour o recreation outside o my cell. Ialso elt utterly violated by the almost daily stripsearches, which I believe were done to humiliateme. Why else would they continuously view theinnermost areas o my private parts both ront
“charges ofespionage, spying,aiding the enemy,mutiny and sedition.then a militaryprosecutor for thecommand threatenedme with the deathpenalty”
James Yee at a rallyfor then presidentialcandidate, BarackObama

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