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Airman charged with spying at Guantanamo
( 2003-09-24 11:21) (Agencies)

An Air Force translator at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terror suspects has been charged with espionage and aiding the enemy, officials said Tuesday, three days after disclosing the arrest of a U.S. Army chaplain working at the same base.

The two men knew each other, an Air Force spokesman said, but officials said they didn't know if there had been any conspiracy to breach security at the prison camp.

The Air Force announced Tuesday that the translator, Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi had been charged with 32 crimes including espionage and aiding the enemy, crimes that could lead to the death penalty. On Saturday, officials had disclosed the arrest of Army Capt. Yousef Yee, a Muslim chaplain who ministered to the inmates.

Al-Halabi was arrested in July, more than six weeks before Yee's arrest. Authorities took each man into custody as he arrived in Jacksonville, Fla., from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Al-Halabi, 24, from Detroit, had worked for about nine months as an Arabic language translator at Guantanamo Bay, said Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers.

He is charged with eight counts related to espionage, three counts of aiding the enemy, 11 counts of disobeying a lawful order, nine counts of making a false official statement and one count of bank fraud.

Pentagon officials said a broader investigation into possible security breaches at Guantanamo Bay continues.

About 660 suspected al-Qaida or Taliban members are imprisoned at the U.S. Navy base. American officials are interrogating them for information on the terrorist network.

The military has classified many details about the prison camp and the detainees and has not identified any of the men being held there.

Espionage and aiding the enemy are military charges that can carry the death penalty, said Eugene Fidell, a civilian lawyer in Washington and president of the National Institute of Military Justice. The commanding general in charge of al-Halabi's case would have to decide whether military prosecutors could seek the death penalty in this case, Fidell said.

That decision has not been made, Shavers said. Air Force officials also have not decided yet whether al-Halabi's case will be handled by a court-martial.

The last military execution was in 1961, Fidell said.

Al-Halabi was based at Travis Air Force Base in California and assigned to a logistics unit there, Shavers said. An item in that base's newspaper from July 2002 said he was assigned to the 60th Support Squadron and was selected for an early promotion last year.

Yee was arrested Sept. 10 and is being held at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. A senior law enforcement official has said authorities confiscated classified documents Yee was carrying.

A military magistrate ruled on Sept. 15 there was enough evidence to hold Yee, 35, for up to two months while the military investigates.

Al-Halabi was arrested July 23 at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, also after getting off a flight from the base in Cuba. The next day, military authorities flew him to Travis Air Force Base. At some point later, he was transferred to Vandenberg, Shavers said.

Meanwhile, a senator criticized the Pentagon for not investigating the Muslim organization that certified Yee as an appropriate military chaplain candidate. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs Council is a subgroup of the American Muslim Foundation, which has been investigated by Customs agents for possible financial ties to terrorism.

Officials of the groups have denied any terrorist ties. An e-mail to the council seeking comment was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Schumer said he requested a Defense Department investigation of the group in March but the Pentagon had not started one.

"I fully support the teaching and worship of Islam in the military but I think it's common sense to ensure the groups in charge of vetting people don't have links to terrorism," Schumer said.

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