St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Guantanamo security probe widens to third person

Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi of Detroit, as he appeared in the 1999 Fordson High School yearbook.

By Wire services
Published September 25, 2003

WASHINGTON - An investigation into possible security breaches at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terror suspects has expanded to a third member of the military, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The arrests of an Air Force translator and a Muslim Army chaplain - both worked at the Cuban base and have apparent ties to Syria - have shaken Defense Department officials.

"We don't presume that the two we know about is all there is to it," Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.

A member of the Navy who was also part of the small military community at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp is under investigation in the security probe but has not been arrested, Pentagon officials said. They did not identify the service member.

So far, charges have been filed only against Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi, 24, who worked as an Arabic language translator for the detainees. He is accused of espionage, aiding the enemy, lying to investigators and charges that he tried to pass classified information about prisoners and base security to "the enemy" and to his native Syria. The most serious charges carry a possible death sentence.

Halabi denies the charges, said his lawyer, Air Force Maj. James Key III. He is also accused of not reporting unauthorized contacts with the Syrian Embassy, but Key said those contacts were to arrange for a trip to Syria to get married. Halabi had his plane ticket for that trip with him when he was arrested July 23 after arriving in Florida from Guantanamo Bay, Key said.

Syrian government spokesmen denied links to the airman.

Halabi's arrest came more than six weeks before the arrest of the chaplain, Army Capt. James "Yousef" Yee, 35. Yee has not been charged but is being held in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., on suspicion of breaching Guantanamo Bay security.

The two men served at Guantanamo Bay at the same time and knew each other, though the extent of their relationship is unclear, said military officials and Key.

Halabi is being held at a prison on Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California. Authorities have imposed restrictions on him including banning Halabi from speaking Arabic, Key said. That means he has to speak to his father through a translator, Key said.

"He loved America. He loved being a soldier," said his father, Ibrahim al-Halabi, a Syrian immigrant in Detroit.

Halabi moved to the Detroit area with his family in 1996. The family then moved from the suburb of Dearborn to Detroit, where Halabi attended Fordson High School.

Halabi went straight into the Air Force after graduating and worked as a supply clerk before being pressed into service as a translator.

He did well, named Airman of the Year one year and promoted fairly quickly to senior airman, Key said.

He had served in Kuwait before the war in Iraq, and spent nine months at Guantanamo.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., demanded that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld order a "top-to-bottom review" of security procedures at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. military facilities.

- Information from the Associated Press and Knight Ridder News Service was used in this report.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.