- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2003

One of the two translators suspected of spying at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba will face a court-martial on charges of espionage and aiding the enemy but will not be sentenced to death if convicted, military officials said yesterday.

Senior Airman Ahmad I. al Halabi, who served as a translator at Guantanamo for nine months before his arrest in July, faces 20 charges, including four accusing him of espionage and one of aiding the enemy. But the Air Force general presiding over the court-martial “did not refer the case as a capital case,” the Air Force said.

A statement issued by the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command said the court-martial, or military criminal trial, is expected to be conducted at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., although a date has yet to be determined.

Twelve of the initial 32 charges against Airman al Halabi have been dropped, the officials said.

Airman al Halabi, 23, who is from Detroit but was born in Syria and is engaged to a Syrian woman, has been accused by the Air Force of trying to pass classified information about the Guantanamo prison camp to an unspecified “enemy” in Syria.

At the time of his arrest July 23 at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Fla., he is said to have had in his possession 180 letters written by detainees at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Airman al Halabi’s attorneys have said he is innocent.

He is being held at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., while the espionage probe continues at Guantanamo, which the United States is using as a jail for more than 600 al Qaeda and other terrorist suspects held in the war on terrorism.

The maximum sentence for Airman al Halabi “would be life in prison,” an Air Force spokesman said. And a lesser sentence could be “a dishonorable discharge, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, reduction to the grade of airman basic, the lowest grade and a fine.”

The spokesman said the decision not to pursue the death penalty was made by Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul W. Essex, who based it on a specific set of criteria outlined by the military’s manual for courts-martial.

“If it had been a capital case, the two charges that qualified the accused for death sentence were the aiding-the-enemy charge and the espionage charge,” the spokesman said.

The other translator accused in the Guantanamo spy probe is a civilian, Ahmed Fathy Mehalba, a U.S. citizen of Egyptian descent. Arrested Sept. 29 in Boston after returning from a visit to Egypt, he is being held in Massachusetts pending trial in a federal criminal court.

Mr. Mehalba, 31, who pleaded not guilty last month, is charged with lying to federal agents by denying that computer disks in his possession contained classified information from Guantanamo. One of the disks reportedly contained a list of names mentioned during interrogation sessions with Guantanamo detainees.

Also charged is U.S. Army Capt. James J. Yee, who served as a Muslim chaplain for the detainees at Guantanamo. While initially accused of spying, Capt. Yee, 35, who used the name “Yousef,” has been charged with two counts of mishandling classified information, but not espionage.

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