Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Department of Kafka Did It Best, but It Still Goes On, Every Day

This is an update on the case of Ahmad Halabi, a Syrian-American member of the U.S. Air Force, rank Senior Airman. Halabi was posted as a translator at the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay. In July 2003, after eight months at the camp, he was arrested and charged with 20 counts, including espionage and (in itself, a petty charge) the mishandling of classified information.

Most of those charges have since been dropped. But now Halabi’s attorney says the contradictory positions taken by military officials make it difficult to pin down what charges, if any, are left.

Halabi's case, by the way, bears a great similarity to the one recently dumped, unceremoniously, by the military against Captain James Yee, a Chinese-American who served as a Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo Bay. (I find it interesting, too, that when you type "Capt. James Yee" into Google, the second piece you get is about Yee's arrest; I had to go on to the next page before I found a piece about how the Army cleared Yee's record.)

Anyway, as I intimated above, Airman Halabi's case is as Kafkaesque as they come. Check this out:

"Halabi, who has been held in solitary confinement on a California military base, is charged with mishandling classified material and attempted espionage, among other charges. The latter charge stems from an alleged plan, apparently never carried out, to pass information to someone in his native Syria.

"A military spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Jennifer L. Cassidy, declined to comment on the attorney's assertions, saying they are 'matters properly resolved by the military judge.'

"Military officials dropped the charges against Yee for the alleged mishandling of classified material on March 19, saying that holding a trial risked exposing secrets. Yee's attorneys disputed that assertion, noting that officials failed for months to agree on which of the documents found in Yee's possession were classified, and why. The hearings in the Yee case were delayed five times because of this security review.

"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."

And they wonder why we don't trust them with the prisoners in Guantánamo.