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US airman charged with spying at al Qaida camp

Washington, Sept. 24 (Reuters): An air force enlisted man has been charged with spying and aiding the enemy while working as an Arabic translator at the US base in Cuba where hundreds of suspected al Qaida and Taliban prisoners are jailed, the Pentagon said yesterday.

Senior US airman Ahmad al Halabi of Detroit, Michigan, is in jail at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, where he is charged with 32 counts, including espionage and other criminal violations, according to the Pentagon.

Defence officials said the 24-year-old al Halabi was found to have classified information on a computer in violation of strict security rules at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The announcement came as the Pentagon also investigated possible espionage charges against army Islamic chaplain James Yee, held in a military jail in South Carolina since September 10. No charges have been filed against Yee, who this year ministered to many of the 660 prisoners at Guantanamo.

Air force Major Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman, said al Halabi knew Yee, but it was not clear whether the two arrests were linked.

Al Halabi is also charged with three counts of aiding the enemy as well as disobeying orders and making false official statements, according to Shavers. “He served as an interpreter at Guantanamo for several months and was arrested on his return to the US from Cuba,” the spokesman said.

Possible court martial

Any decision on whether or not to try al Halabi at a military court martial would be made based on the results of an Article 32 Hearing — the equivalent of a civilian grand jury — into the charges, Shavers said.

Al Halabi was arrested on July 23 at the US naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida, after getting off a flight from Guantanamo. He was then flown to Travis Air Force Base, California, where he had been based with a military logistics unit, and later transferred to Vandenberg. Officials gave no explanation of why al Halabi’s arrest was only disclosed two months after it happened.

Yee, 35, a graduate of the army’s West Point military academy, was arrested on September 10 when he flew from Guantanamo to the naval air station at Jacksonville.

Yee had been assigned to the task force holding the Guantanamo prisoners since November 2002, and was the only Muslim chaplain tending to the religious needs of the 660 detainees. Media reports have said that what appeared to be sketches or diagrams of the jail facilities in Guantanamo were found when Yee was searched at Jacksonville.

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