Earlier this week I contacted James Yee about him being chosen as a national delegate and what will it will entail at this years Democratic Convention from August 25-28.
James Yee is the “former US Army Chaplain and graduate of West Point who served as the Muslim Chaplain for the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba that would become controversial for its treatment of detainees designated as “enemy combatants” by the U.S. government. While ministering to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Captain Yee advised the commanders of the camp on detainee religious practices and objected to the cruel and degrading abuses to which the prisoners were subjected.
After being officially recognized twice for outstanding performance, Captain Yee was arrested and imprisoned in a naval brig for 76 days in September 2003 while being falsely accused of spying, espionage, and aiding the alleged Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners. He was held in solitary confinement and subjected to the same sensory deprivation techniques that were being used against the prisoners in Cuba.
After months of government investigation, all criminal charges were dropped. With his record wiped clean, Chaplain Yee was reinstated to full duty at Fort Lewis, Washington. He tendered his resignation from the U.S. Army and received an Honorable Discharge on January 7, 2005. Upon separation he was awarded with a second Army Commendation medal for “exceptionally meritorious service.”
Chaplain Yee’s gripping account of his Guantanamo experience and struggle for justice has been recently published and is entitled For God And Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire. The Washington Post called it “required reading for all U.S. officials waging war on Islamist terrorists.” For this work, Yee received the Exceptional Communicator Award from New America Media in Jan 2006.
Chaplain Yee is a third-generation Chinese American who converted to Islam in April of 1991. After serving in the aftermath of the first Gulf War as a Patriot Missile Fire Control Officer, he traveled to Damascus, Syria studying the Arabic language and the traditional Islamic sciences. Four years of intensive study led to a Certificate of Islamic Studies equivalent to a graduate degree. An endorsement from the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council (AMAF&VAC) brought Chaplain Yee back to active duty as a U.S. Army Muslim Chaplain in January 2001.
Following September 11, 2001, Chaplain Yee represented Muslims in the military “with great distinction” handling a multitude of national and global media requests. He endeavored to educate soldiers about Islam by building bridges of understanding. In June 2006, Chaplain Yee earned his Masters degree in International Relations. He now lectures about his harrowing ordeal, Guantanamo, Islam, Asian-American and religious diversity issues, and the challenges of protecting both national security and civil liberties.
He has appeared on national and global news programs including The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC’s Hardball, CNN Paula Zahn Now, Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, PBS Religion and Ethics, Al-Jazeera’s From Washington, Democracy Now, NPR All Things Considered, MSNBC’s The Situation with Tucker Carlson, CSPAN-2 After Words, ABC Australia’s The 7:30 Report, UK Sky World News Tonight, and BBC World Service. Chaplain Yee has recently made presentations on Capitol Hill to congressional staff members, at Harvard University, Dartmouth, Duke, Northwestern University and several other academic institutions of higher learning.”
The following is the interview that I had with James Yee:
Maimounah: What made you interested in attending the Democratic National Convention (DNC)?
James Yee: I want to be an example for other Asian Americans and Muslim Americans to get involved in the political process.
Maimounah: How were you chosen for the DNC?
James Yee: Each state has its own selection process as defined in its state’s party rules. In my state, I was selected first by other people caucusing at the local precinct level, and then subsequently by other local delegates at the county and congressional caucuses. At each caucus level, people engage dialogue and attempt to persuade each other to support who they think is the best party candidate. By the time our state held its primary election and caucus, there were only two candidates left to choose from: Clinton and Obama. I supported Obama. About two thirds of the people caucusing for the Democratic Party supported Obama and one third supported Clinton.
At the county and congressional level, each delegate candidate was given the opportunity to give a one minute speech in front of other delegates. At the county level I was the only candidate to receive a unanimous vote to become a delegate at the congressional level. At the congressional level I was the only candidate to receive a majority vote in winning a national delegate seat to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. It was a very competitive process with my congressional district only having 3 national delegate seats for those pledged to Senator Obama.
Maimounah: What is the responsibility of a national delegate at the convention?
James Yee: I’m still learning about my role as a national delegate. What I do know so far is that we will be voting for certain things on the floor of the convention. We will be casting votes for the party’s candidate making Barack Obama the official nominee for the presidential election. Obama will select his vice presidential candidate and delegates will vote to approve it. At our state’s democratic convention in June, national delegates had the responsibility of electing at-large and PLEO (Party Leaders & Elected Officials) delegates who also go to the national convention.
Maimounah: When you speak at the DNC, what will you speak about?
James Yee: The actual convention itself is held from about 4pm-9pm. Their will be many other events hosted by various groups going on during convention week. For example there will be programs hosted by veteran groups, Asian Pacific American organizations, religious organizations, etc. etc. etc. I will be speaking on a panel alongside Congressman Mike Honda at an event hosted by the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections. The subject of our discussion is “Defending America By Defending Its Liberties.”
Maimounah: What are you expecting from this convention?
James Yee: I expect this year’s Democratic National Convention to be an exciting and historical event. It is my first experience attending any national political convention. I expect the Asian and Muslim communities to have much more of a presence than at past conventions based on the tremendous amount of diverse people Senator Obama has inspired. Also, for the American Muslim community, this is the first Democratic National Convention that will have Muslims serving in congress, two in fact - Democrats Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana.
Maimounah: How have you prepared for this convention?
James Yee: I have been attending meetings, phone conferences, and participated in some media training with other national delegates from my state.
Thank you for your time James Yee and enlightening the readers about your role at the DNC. I will be keeping in touch with you during the DNC and afterwards to continue to update our readers about your experiences at the DNC.”