- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2005

BOSTON (AP) — An American translator who admitted taking classified documents from the U.S. prison camp at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was sentenced yesterday to 20 months in prison.

With time already served, Ahmed Fathy Mehalba could be out in three weeks.

Mehalba, 32, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen and civilian Arabic translator at Guantanamo, told the judge he exercised “very poor judgment,” but said he never intended to use the files for any illicit purpose.

He was one of four men swept up in an espionage investigation at the Navy base. Some or all charges were dropped against the three other men ” a Muslim chaplain, another interpreter and an Army Reserve colonel.

Mehalba was arrested at Boston’s Logan International Airport in 2003 after returning from Egypt. Customs agents found 132 compact discs in his luggage, including one that contained hundreds of documents labeled “SECRET” or “SECRET/NOFORN,” meaning no foreign government was allowed to look at them.

Mehalba initially told investigators that the discs contained only music and videos, and later said he had no idea how the classified documents got on the discs.

His lawyers argued that he was taking materials with him to work on translating them.

Last month, Mehalba pleaded guilty to unauthorized possession of classified materials and lying to federal investigators.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, he would have faced around three to four years in prison. But prosecutors agreed to recommend a lower sentence because he accepted responsibility for his actions, has no criminal record and had “significantly reduced mental capacity” at the time he committed the crimes.

Defense attorney Joseph Savage said Mehalba has been treated for manic depression and attention deficit disorder.

Mehalba received a medical discharge from the Army in May 2001 and was later hired by San Diego-based defense contractor Titan Corp. to be a translator at Guantanamo Bay.

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