MIAMI – Citing national security concerns, the Army on Friday dropped all charges against a Muslim chaplain accused of mishandling classified documents at Guantanamo Bay (search), which houses suspected terrorists.
Capt. James Yee (search) will be allowed to return to his previous duty station at Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, Wash., said the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the detention center in Cuba.
"Chaplain Yee has won," his attorney, Eugene R. Fidell (search) of Washington, said in a statement late Friday. "The Army's dismissal of the classified information charges against him represents a long overdue vindication."
In dismissing the charges, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, which operates the detention center, cited "national security concerns that would arise from the release of the evidence" if the case proceeded.
"In the grand scheme of things, and in the interest of national security, Gen. Miller felt like the charges needed to be dropped," said Lt. Col. Bill Costello, a Southcom spokesman. "It seemed to be the prudent way to proceed."
Yee spent 76 days in custody after the military initially linked him to a possible espionage ring at the Naval base in Cuba. But the government failed to build a capital espionage case against him. Prosecutors have not disclosed much about their case.
Some Asian-American activists and Yee supporters have accused the government of racial and religious profiling in Yee's case.
The Army charged Yee last September with mishandling classified material, failing to obey an order, making a false official statement, adultery and conduct unbecoming an officer for allegedly downloading pornography on his government laptop.
Fidell rejected the notion that security concerns played a role in the dismissal of charges. He said Yee, who was in the Washington, D.C.-area on Friday, was entitled to an apology.
Miller said Yee, a 35-year-old Chinese-American, will be offered nonjudicial punishment for allegations of adultery and pornography.
That would come through an Article 15 proceeding, the military's method for dealing with minor infractions. The penalties would be minor, such as duty restriction or a temporary pay cut.
"We anticipate that Yee will be returned to his home duty station at Ft. Lewis, Washington, at the conclusion of any Article 15 proceedings," Southcom said in a news release.
Fidell said he objected to the Article 15 hearing, scheduled for Monday at Fort Meade, Md., saying they did not have time to prepare.
If convicted of all the original charges, Yee could have faced dismissal and a maximum of 14 years in prison.
Yee previously was a chaplain at Fort Lewis, and his wife and child live in Olympia, Wash. At Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, he counseled suspected Muslim terrorists and dispensed religious guidance.
He was arrested Sept. 10 as he arrived at a Jacksonville, Fla., naval base, from Guantanamo, carrying what authorities said were classified documents. Some of the documents were taken from his backpack, and others came from his laptop and his quarters at Guantanamo, officials said.
Before he was charged, Yee had told The Associated Press in a January 2003 interview that one of his goals as chaplain was to clear up misunderstandings about Islam.
"A lot of people don't know Jesus is part of Islam but Muslims believe he was a prophet," Yee told The AP. "Surely people can be more open-minded."
He also said he was concerned about the detainees' spiritual needs.
Telephone messages seeking comment from Yee's wife in Olympia, Wash., were not immediately returned.