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Affidavit: Guantanamo translator had CD labeled 'Secret'

From Barbara Starr and Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

Detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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CNN's Barbara Starr has the latest developments into the widening probe at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (October 1)
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(CNN) -- A civilian translator who worked with the U.S. military based at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, appeared in a Boston, Massachusetts courtroom Tuesday, a day after he was arrested with materials alleged to be classified information.

Ahmed Mehalba appeared before a federal magistrate but wasn't arraigned. He was held over until October 8, when a detention and probable cause hearing is scheduled.

Mehalba was arrested Monday after U.S. immigration officials at Boston's Logan Airport found him carrying CD-ROMs and paper documents allegedly related to the detainees held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

According to an affidavit presented in court, one disc contained documents labeled "Secret."

The Department of Homeland Security describes Mehalba as a naturalized U.S. citizen of Egyptian descent. He arrived in Boston from Cairo, Egypt, via Milan, Italy.

DHS said in a written statement that Mehalba carried with him military identification as a contract linguist for the United States in Guantanamo Bay.

The court affidavit says Mehalba denied three times that there were government, classified or Guantanamo Bay documents on the discs.

He was arrested on a charge of knowingly and willfully making materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representation. That carries a penalty of up to five years in prison upon conviction.

Mehalba, accompanied by a court-appointed attorney, denied any knowledge of how the documents came to be on the discs.

He appeared before Magistrate Judge Charles Swartwood in handcuffs wearing sneakers, blue jeans and an orange polo shirt.

Mehalba told the judge he could not afford to provide his own attorney.

Mehalba is the third person arrested in what appears to be a widening investigation of possible espionage at the base where suspected al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are held.

Mehalba is a civilian translator working for Titan Corp., CNN has confirmed. Titan, based in San Diego, California, describes itself as "a leading provider of comprehensive information and communications products, solutions, and services for national security."

Officials emphasize that Mehalba is not a member of the military and is being held by civilian law enforcement.

A Bush administration official said agents from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not have any advanced intelligence on Mehalba.

Previous arrests

A week ago, Pentagon officials said Air Force Senior Airman Ahmad al Halabi -- who worked at the U.S. Navy base -- had been arrested and charged with espionage and aiding the enemy.

Al Halabi's attorney has denied the charges against his client.

Another member of the military who also worked at Guantanamo -- Islamic chaplain and Army Capt. James Yee -- is being held on suspicion of espionage and treason in at a stockade in Charleston, South Carolina. Yee has not been charged.

Investigators are trying to determine whether the men are linked in a conspiracy, official said.

According to al Halabi's charge sheet, he is also accused of failing to report unauthorized communications between U.S. troops and detainees, who are designated as enemy combatants. More than 600 suspects, brought to the base after the war in Afghanistan, are housed there.

Al Halabi was arrested July 23 because he allegedly had classified information on his laptop computer about detainees and facilities at the Guantanamo Bay base, Pentagon officials said. He is being held at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

An American of Syrian descent, al Halabi allegedly e-mailed information to people in Syria that included details about the base's flight schedule, officials said.

Al Halabi served nine months at Guantanamo Bay as a translator and was arrested about seven weeks before Yee was taken into custody.

Military authorities took Yee into custody September 10 at the naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida, while he was in possession of classified documents "that a chaplain shouldn't have," said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the documents included "diagrams of the cells and the facilities at Guantanamo."

In addition, Yee is suspected of having ties to radical Muslims in the United States who are under investigation, the official said.


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