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Airman charged with espionage at Guantanamo

Possible link to detained Muslim chaplain sought

Two servicemen who worked at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay have been detained on suspicion of espionage.
Two servicemen who worked at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay have been detained on suspicion of espionage.

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An Air Force enlisted man who was a translator at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been charged with espionage. CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports
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Capt. James Yee counseled Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
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Guantanamo Bay security is under investigation.
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Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An Air Force enlisted man who was a translator at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been charged with espionage and aiding the enemy, Pentagon officials told CNN on Tuesday.

Officials said Senior Airman Ahmad al Halabi was arrested July 23 because he allegedly had classified information about suspected al Qaeda detainees and facilities at the Guantanamo Bay base on his laptop computer.

Al Halabi, an American of Syrian descent, allegedly e-mailed information that included details about the base's flight schedule to contacts in Syria, officials said.

He also is believed to have smuggled notes of interviews with detainees and laptop computer files from Camp Delta -- the prison camp at the base.

He is being held at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Al Halabi was charged with 11 counts of failing to obey a lawful general order or regulation, three counts of aiding the enemy, four counts of espionage, nine counts of making a false statement and five counts that include violations of the Federal Espionage Act.

He also was charged with a single count of bank fraud.

Al Halabi's home base was Travis Air Force Base in California, but he served nine months at Guantanamo Bay as a translator between the detainees and investigators.

His arrest took place about seven weeks before Army Islamic chaplain Capt. James Yee was taken into custody on similar suspicions arising from his duty at Guantanamo Bay.

Officials said that when Al Halabi was questioned he had no reasonable explanation for possessing the classified material.

The investigation now centers on whether there was a connection between the two detained men. Officials said they have no proof of a connection.

Officials also told CNN that additional arrests of other members of the U.S. military are possible shortly.

Yee, who has not been charged, is being held in the stockade in Charleston, South Carolina, on suspicion of espionage and treason.

Military authorities took him into custody September 10 at the naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida, while he was in possession of classified documents "that a chaplain shouldn't have," said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the documents included "diagrams of the cells and the facilities at Guantanamo," where the military is holding about 600 suspected al Qaeda members and others termed enemy combatants.

Yee also allegedly was carrying lists of the detainees as well as their interrogators, the official said.

In addition, Yee is suspected of having ties to radical Muslims in the United States who are under investigation, the official said, adding that he couldn't elaborate.

Schumer: Chaplain-training group in terrorism probe

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York told reporters Tuesday that the group the military relies on to train Muslim chaplains such as Yee is under investigation by the Justice Department for allegations of supporting terrorism.

He said Yee was trained by the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, a subgroup of the American Muslim Foundation, which is under investigation, along with the Graduate School for Islamic Social Sciences.

The Pentagon uses the two groups to certify and train Muslim chaplains for the military, Schumer said.

A government official confirmed to CNN that the two groups are under investigation as part of a probe into whether they and other groups supported terrorism.

"I fully support the teaching and worship of Islam in the military, but I think it is common sense that the groups in charge of vetting people don't have links to terrorism and are fundamentally pluralistic," Schumer told reporters.

The government official confirmed a relationship between Yee and the group, but he did not know its nature.

Schumer said the Justice and Defense departments opened a probe into the two groups six months ago at his urging.

But he said their inspectors general have dragged their feet. He said Yee's arrest underscored the need to pick up the pace.

Army chaplain Capt. James Yee
Army chaplain Capt. James Yee

"You would think that a chaplain who was detained for supposedly stealing classified documents and was also trained by a group under investigation for terrorism would set off alarms at the highest levels," the senator said.

"But it is business as usual and we are going to pay a price for it."

Schumer said he would like to see the Pentagon use a broader range of groups to certify clerics than just the two under investigation.

Yee, who has been assigned a military defense lawyer, appeared September 15 before a military magistrate, who ruled there was sufficient reason to hold him in pretrial confinement.

Army officials with the U.S. Southern Command, which controls the Guantanamo Bay facility, said that they could not comment on the status of the investigation.

The U.S. military began sending suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members detained in Afghanistan to the Guantanamo Bay base in January 2002. A number have since been released after interrogation cleared them, and several have arrived from other locations.

The naval base at Guantanamo Bay on the southwest coast, called "Gitmo" by sailors, was established by treaty with Cuba in 1903, following the Spanish-American War in 1898 that liberated the country from Spain.

CNN correspondents Barbara Starr and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this story.


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