Java News from Monday, September 27, 2004

Senior Airman Ahmad I. al-Halabi, the second of three soldiers assigned to Guantánamo Bay and arrested for being Muslim (well, officially for espionage, but let's face facts: this never would have happened to a white Christian) has been cleared. He had originally been arrested for attempting to bring classified documents to Syria. Of course, it turned out that the documents on which the case was based weren't actually classified. Throughout, the case was marked by prosecutorial misconduct including witness tampering and lying to the defense team. In an ironic twist, the initial chief investigator in the case, Marc Palmosina, was pulled from the case after he took classified documents to his home, the same offense he was investigating al-Halabi for.

It's not a complete victory for al-Halabi. He pleaded guilty to four minor counts of taking photographs, lying to investigators, and improperly handling sensitive materials, spent ten months in jail, was demoted, and will probably be dishonorably discharged from the Air Force. (The discharge will be appealed.) Even these charges were questionable, but I suspect al-Halabi just wanted to get this over with and out it behind him.

Beyond the serious and trumped charges levelled at al-Halabi and three others, the various legal actions in the cases have revealed numerous instances of petty, racist bigotry in the military. One of his sergeants referred to him as al-Qaida instead of al-Halabi. Non-Muslims at Guantánamo made various derogatory comments about the Muslim translators, and sent each other Abu Ghraib style posed photos of Muslims praying via e-mail. This whole disgusting affair should be yet another warning to any Muslims considering joining the U.S. military that they're not welcome.

In related news, Colonel Jackie Farr, the only white, non-Muslim accused in this fashion, has all charges against him dropped. He allegedly received "nonjudicial punishment", whatever that means. The discrepancy in treatment of Muslims and non-Muslims for the same minor offenses is particularly telling. Not that I think Colonel Farr should have been demoted, spent ten months in prison, and dishonorably discharged for minor oversights. By I do wish justice were applied equally without considering the defendant's religion and race. Sadly that seems unlikely in today's army. The one remaining case is against civilian translator Ahmed Mehalba. He's been in jail for about a year now. Hopefully his case will come to trial soon, and he too will be released.