Hearing Begins for Wash. Soldier Accused of Trying to Aid Al Qaeda

The military began a hearing Wednesday to determine if a National Guardsman should be court-martialed on charges that he tried to assist Al Qaeda (search) and join the organization so he could conduct terrorist attacks.

Spc. Ryan G. Anderson (search), 26, a Muslim convert and member of the Washington Guard's 81st Armor Brigade, was arrested in February and charged with four counts of attempting to provide information to the terrorist network. The information allegedly involved U.S. troop movement and tactics.

A fifth count disclosed Wednesday alleged that Anderson told undercover military personnel: "I wish to desert from the U.S. Army. I wish to defect from the United States. I wish to join Al Qaeda, train its members and conduct terrorist attacks."

Wednesday's proceeding at this Army base south of Tacoma was an Article 32 hearing, similar to a preliminary hearing in civilian court. After hearing the evidence, the investigating officer, Col. Patrick J. Reinert, will recommend whether Anderson should face a court-martial. Reinert's recommendation will go to the base commander, Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano, who will decide whether Anderson will be tried.

Military law says those convicted of trying to aid the enemy could face the death penalty.

The first witness Wednesday was Shannen Rossmiller of Conrad, Mont., who belongs to a group that tracks terrorist activity and provides the information to the government.

Rossmiller testified that she saw a posting last October on a Muslim-oriented site by "Amir Abdul Rashid." She said she linked that name and e-mail address to Anderson through a string of Internet searches.

Then she posted a message seeking people interested in fighting a holy war against the United States, and Rashid wrote back, she said.

"He was curious if a brother fighting on the wrong side could join or defect," said Rossmiller, who contacted authorities.

Among those at Anderson's hearing was Capt. James Yee (search), a Muslim chaplain who was arrested and then cleared in an investigation of suspected espionage at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.

Yee has resumed his chaplain duties at Fort Lewis, but his reason for attending Anderson's hearing was not clear. Under Army rules, any interviews would be handled through the base's public affairs office.

The charges allege Anderson disclosed "true information" to undercover agents about U.S. Army troop strength, movements, equipment, tactics and weapons systems, as well as methods of killing Army personnel and destroying Army weapons systems and equipment.

The Army also alleges he passed sketches of the M1A1 and M1A2 tanks, as well as a computer disc that included his passport photo, weapons card and military ID card.