WASHINGTON — An Air Force translator at the U.S. prison camp for suspected terrorists has been charged with espionage and aiding the enemy — counts that could carry the death penalty, a military spokesman said Tuesday.
Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi is being held at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, facing 32 criminal charges, spokesman Maj. Michael Shavers said.
Al-Halabi worked as an Arabic language translator at the prison camp for al-Qaida and Taliban suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Shavers said. The Air Force enlisted man knew the Muslim chaplain at the prison who was arrested earlier this month, but it is unclear whether the two arrests are linked, Shavers said.
The translator was arrested more than six weeks before the chaplain, he said.
Al-Halabi is charged with eight counts related to espionage, three counts of aiding the enemy, 11 counts of disobeying a lawful order, nine counts of making a false official statement and one count of bank fraud.
Espionage and aiding the enemy are military charges that can carry the death penalty, said Eugene Fidell, a civilian lawyer in Washington and president of the National Institute of Military Justice. The commanding general in charge of al-Halabi's case would have to decide whether military prosecutors could seek the death penalty in his case, Fidell said.
If the death penalty is an option, the 12-member military jury that hears the case would have to vote unanimously to impose it, Fidell said.
Al-Halabi was based at Travis Air Force Base in California and assigned to a logistics unit there, Shavers said.
Pentagon officials said an investigation into possible security breaches at Guantanamo Bay continues.
About 660 suspected al-Qaida or Taliban members are imprisoned at the U.S. Navy base. American officials are interrogating them for information on the terrorist network.
The military has classified many details about the prison camp and the detainees and has not identified any of the men being held there. Military officials have said the fight against terrorism could be hampered if terrorist groups got such information.
The Muslim military chaplain who ministered to the inmates at the camp, Army Capt. Yousef Yee, was arrested Sept. 10 in Jacksonville, Fla., after getting off a flight from Guantanamo Bay.
A senior law enforcement official said authorities confiscated classified documents Yee was carrying.
Yee, 35, is being held at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. A military magistrate ruled on Sept. 15 there was enough evidence to hold Yee for up to two months while the military investigates.
Al-Halabi was arrested July 23 at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, also after getting off a flight from the base in Cuba. The next day, military authorities flew al-Halabi to Travis Air Force Base. At some point later, he was transferred to Vandenberg, Shavers said.