Giving credit where credit is due, The Washington Times is the paper that came through with the scoop on Captain Yee; I picked up on the AP version of the story that originally ran on their pages. I pulled up the Washington Times story, written by veteran Pentagon reporter Rowan Scarborough, to find the details as originally reported. Mr. Scarborough didn't disappoint -- he has a report tonight on the precise charges that Captain Yee is facing.
The Army has charged Capt. Yee with five offenses: sedition, aiding the enemy, spying, espionage and failure to obey a general order. The Army may also charge him later with the more serious charge of treason, which under the Uniform Code of Military Justice could be punished by a maximum sentence of life.Analysis: Now I have some more facts on which to base my analysis. First, if you're interested in this case, I recommend reading a primer on the military justice system. The National Institute of Military Justice has a few good primers on its site, and I would also recommend this piece I wrote on the system from last year. Also, the Manual for Courts Martial that Captain Yee will be tried under is a good reference to have for this case. Finally, the actual articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice are codified in Title 10, and are good to have as references too.
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Capt. Yee had almost unlimited private access to detainees as part of the Defense Department's program to provide the prisoners with religious counseling, as well as clothing and Islamic-approved meals. The law-enforcement source declined to say how much damage Capt. Yee may have inflicted on the U.S. war against Osama bin Laden's global terror network.
The source said the "highest levels" of government made the decision to arrest Capt. Yee, who had been kept under surveillance for some time.
The military's "convening authority" — the officer who would authorize criminal proceedings — is the commander of U.S. Southern Command in Miami, which oversees the prison at Guantanamo.
Here are some general notes and points of analysis, in no particular order:
(1) The penalty for the crimes charged is death, according to the text of the articles under which Captain Yee is charged according to the Washington Times story. The Times reports that the maximum penalty as life, but they're wrong according to what the UCMJ says. These articles include: sedition, aiding the enemy, spying, espionage and failure to obey a general order. No military court has imposed the death penalty for these charges since Private Slovik's case at the end of WWII. But I would not say that is an impossibility in this case, if the facts are as alleged.
(2) One legal question to be asked is whether these offenses were committed in wartime or not. If they were committed in wartime, the available penalties increase dramatically. It's fairly certain that we are currently in a state of armed conflict, if not a state of declared war, but this is a legal question that will certainly be asked in this case. The government will certainly argue that we are at war, and thus the higher penalties are available. Indeed, it's hard to see how you could have "aiding the enemy" if one were not at war. But again, this is a question of law for the military judge to resolve, and one that will probably be appealed to the intermediate appellate court and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
(3) Captain Yee will undoubtedly be pressured to plead guilty, in a quid pro quo where he gives information to the government in exchange for a life sentence. I imagine that he has already refused to plead guilty at this juncture, given the way the government is proceeding in this case.
(4) Military commissions v. military courts martial. I do not think we will see Captain Yee's case transferred to a military commission. For one, he is statutorily entitled to a general court martial on these charges as an American serviceman, and it would be very hard to overcome that in court. Second, the military system already has all the safeguards the Pentagon wants in a court -- protection of classified evidence, a jury of military officers, a secure setting, and defense attorneys with security clearances. I don't see any added value in a military commission here. Moreover, a high-profile trial (as this will be) will showcase the military justice system, which is generally regarded by experts as a fairer system than the federal criminal system.
(5) Unlawful command influence will be an issue in this case. Note this quote from the Washington Times story: "The source said the "highest levels" of government made the decision to arrest Capt. Yee, who had been kept under surveillance for some time." That means the decision to arrest Captain Yee came from 1600 Penn. Ave and the E-Ring of the Pentagon, and that prosecutorial decisions will likely have to be vetted in both places as well. Unfortunately, the UCMJ expressly prohibits command influence on the actual trial, and the actual decision to bring charges. The Commander of SouthCom will have to do his best to resist pressure from the President and SecDef here if he wants his verdict to stand. I guarantee that Captain Yee's defense counsel will raise this issue on appeal.
I plan to follow this story as it develops. More to follow...
See also the sites hosted by Donald Sensing and Winds of Change for some interesting commentary and links regarding Captain Yee. As I find more good links on the subject, I'll post them. I imagine we'll see a lot more reporting on this case than those of enemy combatants Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, because the depth of the betrayal is so great in Captain Yee's case (assuming the facts are as alleged).
And also check out Jeff Quinton's notes at Backcountry Conservative, which includes some really good research into CPT Yee and various other issues in this case. Among other things, Quinton has a State Department story on CPT Yee, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer profile of CPT Yee, and a DoD press release discussing the Muslim clerics currently serving as American military chaplains.