April 24, 2004

Is another of those 'Guantanamo spy' cases starting to fall apart?

The Washington Post reports on recent developments in the case of Airman Ahmad Halabi, a translator at the Guantanamo Bay prison who faces numerous charges, including mishandling classified information and attempted espionage. Halabi's attorneys say that US military officials have been giving them different, contradictory explanations about whether information found in Halabi's possession (translations of letters from Guantanamo prisoner to their families)was classified. As a result, the lawyers say they're having a hard time figuring out the basis for many of the charges against Halabi.

Some of the details in this case sound like they came out of Alice in Wonderland:

According to Halabi's court papers, last July, soon after Halabi was arrested in Florida following eight months in Guantanamo Bay, officials said the copies of detainee letters that he had on his laptop computer were classified because the letters contained inmate identification numbers. The combinations of names and numbers made them a secret, they added.

But, in September, officials said having the names alone was a violation.

At a hearing last month, officials said neither the names nor the numbers, nor any combinations, were classified. Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent Lance Wega said, though, that the "family names and addresses of detainees" in the letters remained classified.

In addition, officials said, a CD-ROM that Halabi had with information identical to that on the laptop was classified. Defense attorneys said that, earlier this month, an official at the Southern Command, the military unit that oversees the Guantanamo Bay prison, told them why the CD-ROM was secret, but that he added that the reason was itself classified. Halabi's attorneys wrote that the official's reason was "completely inconsistent" with all the other explanations given previously.

Halabi's military lawyers, Air Force Majors James Key and Kim London, wrote that the letters cannot be classified because they were created not by the government but by detainees -- and that, in any case, the letters are "old mail long ago released to detainees or their families." Guantanamo Bay translators such as Halabi translated the letters on non-secure computers and were not warned to treat the letters or inmate numbers as secret, the lawyers wrote.

All of this sounds even more nonsensical than the conduct of military prosecutors in the case of James Yee, which fell apart totally and ended recently in his complete exoneration. We'll keep an eye on Halabi's case — we suspect it might have a similar ending.

Posted by Magpie at April 24, 2004 11:04 AM | War on Terrorism | Technorati links |