- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ahmad al Halabi liked to fiddle with robots in high school. He grew up in one of America’s biggest Arab communities, and went straight into the Air Force after graduation.

He planned to marry his fiance days after his tour as an Arabic translator ended at Guantanamo Bay.

But now Senior Airman al Halabi — once honored as “Airman of the Year” — is in custody at an Air Force base in California, facing allegations of espionage that could bring the death penalty for the 24-year-old son of Syrian immigrants.



The supply clerk-turned-translator is the second member of the U.S. military to be arrested for actions at Guantanamo, the U.S.-run military base in Cuba housing some 660 suspected members of al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups. A Muslim Army chaplain was also arrested this month; a third military person is under investigation, authorities said yesterday.

“I have never made any anti-American or anti-United States statements,” Senior Airman al Halabi told Air Force Special Agent Lance Wega, according to federal documents of the 32 military charges against him.

He also denied having unauthorized contacts with detainees, taking any detainees’ letters to his residence, or taking any prohibited pictures at the base’s Camp Delta.

A portrait of Senior Airman al Halabi’s personal life is slowly emerging: a typical high school yearbook photo, a trip to Disney World, his engagement to marry a woman in Syria, from where his family emigrated in 1996.

The family settled in Dearborn, Mich., a suburb of Detroit where mosques, Arabic store signs and cafes with thick coffee and Middle Eastern sweets greet the area’s Arab-Americans. Some 300,000 live in the region. He entered Fordson High School in the 10th grade, and joined the school’s robotics club.

His yearbook portrait shows a clean-cut young man with brushed-back black hair, hints of a mustache and a wide grin.

Senior Airman al Halabi went straight into the Air Force after graduating that year and worked as a supply clerk before being pressed into service as a translator, said Maj. James Key III, one of his attorneys.

He did well, was named “Airman of the Year” and promoted fairly quickly to senior airman, his attorney said. He had served in Kuwait prior to the war in Iraq and spent nine months at Guantanamo.

Senior Airman al Halabi had been engaged to a woman from Syria. Maj. Key did not recall her name.

When he was arrested July 23 as he arrived in Jacksonville, Fla., on a flight from the prison camp, he was holding a plane ticket for Syria, where he planned to marry in Damascus, Maj. Key said.

Maj. Key said Senior Airman al Halabi’s pending marriage explained the contacts with the Syrian Embassy cited in the charges.

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