Camp Delta translator charged in military court

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An Arabic translator at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, made his first appearance in military court yesterday to be formally arraigned on 17 charges of espionage, lying and disobeying orders.

Senior Airman Ahmad al-Halabi, who is accused of trying to deliver more than 180 written and e-mail messages from suspected al-Qa'ida and Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay to Syria, was led in handcuffs into the court at a US Air Force base in California. He is also said to have made over documents, names of detainees and plans for base operations, and have lied to Air Force investigators.

Though the alleged offences are serious, the Air Force last month dropped the charge of "aiding the enemy" which might have brought the death penalty, and that he transmitted information to unauthorised recipients. "The gut of the case has gone," Airman al-Halabi's civilian lawyer said at the time.

Born in Syria but now a naturalised American, Airman al-Halabi was arrested in July at Jacksonville in Florida as he was about to leave for his nat-ive country to marry. He was the first of four workers at Guantanamo, where some 600 people are being held, to be arrested in an investigation into possible security breaches.

Most charges have been dropped against James Yee, a former Muslim chaplain at the prison. A civilian interpreter, Ahmad Mehalba, denied lying to federal agents, and Colonel Jack Farr, an Army reserve officer, was charged in November. 2003 with transporting secret documents without proper containers and with lying to investigators.

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