WASHINGTON – An Air Force airman who had worked at the U.S. prison camp for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base has been charged with espionage and aiding the enemy — charges that could carry the death penalty.
Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi, an Arabic-language translator at the prison camp, is accused of trying to send information about detainees to Syria.
Al-Halabi knew Yousef Yee (search), the Muslim chaplain whose arrest earlier this month was announced Saturday, but it was unclear if there had been any conspiracy to breach security at the prison camp.
The charges against al-Halabi, however, include an allegation that he failed to report unauthorized contacts between prisoners and other military members. Those other military members were not identified.
Al-Halabi, 24, of Detroit, is being held at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers said Tuesday.
A military attorney representing al-Halabi, Air Force Maj. James E. Key III, denied the charges, telling The Washington Post: "Airman al-Halabi is not a spy and he is not a terrorist."
Al-Halabi worked for nine months as an Arabic language translator at Guantanamo Bay, a job that ended shortly before his July 23 arrest as he arrived in Jacksonville, Fla., on a flight from the prison camp.
When he was arrested, al-Halabi was carrying two handwritten notes from detainees that he intended to turn over to someone traveling to Syria, the charging documents say.
He was also carrying his personal laptop computer, which contained classified information about detainees and 180 messages from detainees al-Halabi intended to send to Syria or Qatar, the documents allege.
Al-Halabi is accused of taking pictures of the prison camp and having unauthorized contact with the inmates, including giving them baklava desserts. The documents allege he had contacts with the Syrian Embassy to the United States, which he failed to report as required.
Al-Halabi, who joined the Air Force in January 2000, is Syrian. He also is accused of lying to the Air Force by falsely claiming to have become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2001.
The charges accuse al-Halabi of sending e-mails with classified information "to unauthorized person or persons whom he, the accused, knew to be the enemy." The Air Force documents do not say who the enemy is.
Syria and the United States have normal diplomatic relations, although Syria is on the list of countries the U.S. says are state sponsors of terrorism.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other administration officials accuse Syria of having a chemical weapons program and of helping Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime before and during the war.
Syrians have made up the largest number of foreign fighters captured in Iraq since the war ended, Rumsfeld said during a visit there earlier this month.
Syria has denied helping Saddam's regime or having a chemical weapons program.
Secret documents al-Halabi is accused of trying to pass to Syria include details of flights to and from the Guantanamo Bay base, names, serial numbers and cell numbers of prisoners, a map of the base and other military documents.
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.
The bank fraud charge involves allegations al-Halabi used false information in credit card applications for several prominent banks. It's unclear whether those allegations are related to the espionage charges.
Pentagon officials said a broader investigation into possible security breaches at Guantanamo Bay continues.
About 660 suspected Al Qaeda 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.
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 (search).
The commanding general in charge of al-Halabi's case would have to decide whether military prosecutors could seek the death penalty in this case, Fidell said.
That decision has not been made, Shavers said. Air Force officials also have not decided yet whether al-Halabi's case will be handled by a court-martial.
The last military execution was in 1961, Fidell said.
Al-Halabi was based at Travis Air Force Base (search) in California and assigned to a logistics unit there, Shavers said. An item in that base's newspaper from July 2002 said he was assigned to the 60th Support Squadron and was selected for an early promotion last year.
Yee was arrested Sept. 10 and is being held without charge at a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. A senior law enforcement official has said authorities confiscated classified documents Yee was carrying.
Last week, federal agents raided Yee's apartment in Olympia, Wash., according to a local Islamic cleric, Mohammad Joban. He quoted Yee's wife as saying agents retrieved a computer and a list of phone numbers from the apartment.
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 him to Travis Air Force Base. At some point later, he was transferred to Vandenberg, Shavers said.
Meanwhile, a senator criticized the Pentagon for not investigating the Muslim organization that certified Yee as an appropriate military chaplain candidate. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs Council is a subgroup of the American Muslim Foundation, which has been investigated by Customs agents for possible financial ties to terrorism.
Officials of the groups have denied any terrorist ties. An e-mail to the council seeking comment was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Schumer said he requested a Defense Department investigation of the group in March but the Pentagon had not started one.
"I fully support the teaching and worship of Islam in the military but I think it's common sense to ensure the groups in charge of vetting people don't have links to terrorism," Schumer said.
Earlier Tuesday, senior military officials told Fox News that a member of the Navy was also in custody, under suspicion of espionage and possible improper communications with the camp's detainees. The Navy member's role at the camp has not been disclosed.
Fox News has learned al-Halabi and the Navy member both were detained roughly two weeks before Yee was arrested. Officials said the two were being surveyed for some time before Yee came to their attention.
Determining what Yee’s intentions were may be difficult, according to one senior official. The official told Fox News he was having a difficult time assessing the meaning of the articles said to be in the chaplain's possession when he was arrested.
Yee was detained in part because he carried classified information without having something called a "courier card" in his possession. Such mistakes are not uncommon, the official said.
Yee also possessed a laptop equipped with a modem, which are strictly forbidden at the base. The official pointed out that nearly every laptop now sold is equipped with a dial-up modem.
A Pentagon official told Fox News that classified information was also found on the laptop of the Air Force member now in custody. But the official said slip-ups such as this - which he described as "sloppy computer security" — are somewhat common.
A military magistrate ruled on Sept. 15 there was enough evidence to hold Yee for up to two months while the military investigates.
Fox News' Bret Baier, Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this report.