- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

Charges of spying leveled against a Syrian-American airman who worked as an Arabic translator at the Guantanamo Bay military prison were dropped yesterday as part of a plea deal he reached with the Pentagon.

Military officials yesterday also announced the release of 11 Guantanamo prisoners to their home country of Afghanistan, bringing to less than 550 the number of terror suspects still held at the naval base on Cuba’s southeastern tip.

Senior Airman Ahmad al Halabi, who initially was accused of trying to deliver written messages from Guantanamo prisoners to an unidentified Syrian, pleaded guilty to lesser charges yesterday during court-martial proceedings at Travis Air Force Base in California.

He admitted to taking two photographs in Guantanamo, wrongfully transporting a classified document to his living quarters, lying about taking photographs and conduct prejudicial to military discipline, according to a Reuters news agency account.

The case of al Halabi, 25, is the latest in a series connected to the Pentagon’s once-hot Guantanamo “spy probe” that has fallen apart because of lack of evidence.

The Pentagon earlier dropped all charges against U.S. Army Capt. James Yee, who had been accused of espionage when he served as a Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo.

Also dropped were charges against Army Reserve Col. Jack D. Farr, an intelligence officer at Guantanamo who was accused of trying to take classified material from the base.

The prisoner releases, meanwhile, brought to 202 the number who have left Guantanamo since their arrest as “enemy combatants.” It was not clear how long the 11 freed men were held at the prison, although they likely were among hundreds taken by U.S. forces battling the Taliban in late 2001.

The men were released apparently without going through the new Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) system, which was created in response to a June Supreme Court ruling calling for more legal rights for Guantanamo prisoners.

The system is used to determine whether any detainees are wrongly classified as enemy combatants. The Pentagon says an enemy combatant is anyone supporting “the Taliban or al Qaeda” in hostilities against the United States or its allies.

One military official said, “A lot of the detainees were already in the process of being released” before the CSRT system was established. Of 43 reviewed by the system, 42 have been found rightly classified as enemy combatants. The one not found so was released earlier this month.

Elisa C. Massimino, the Washington director of Human Rights First, said, “It’s fair to question what this [tribunal process] really means when you’ve also got a parallel system of some kind making the decision that certain people can be released.”

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