US Navy says officer passed secret Guantanamo data

WASHINGTON - The military has charged a US Navy officer who worked as a lawyer at Guantanamo Bay with mailing classified information on foreign terrorism suspects there to an unauthorised person, the Navy said today.

Lt Cmdr Matthew Diaz, stationed from July 2004 to January 2005 at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, faced a total of eight counts of three criminal charges and could spend 36 1/2 years in prison if convicted on all, the Navy said.

Diaz, 40, was not charged with espionage and remains free, working at a Navy office in Jacksonville, Florida, ahead of a military hearing set for October in Norfolk, on whether the case will proceed to court-martial, said Navy Mid-Atlantic Region spokeswoman Beth Baker said.

The charges relate to improper safeguarding of classified information and improper forwarding of classified information to a person not authorized to receive it.

Diaz was accused of mailing "a multi-page classified document that contained the names and other identifying information" about Guantanamo detainees from that base to "a nongovernmental organisation not authorized to receive it," Baker said.

The charge sheet provided by the Navy said Diaz copied and transmitted secret national defence information "with intent or reason to believe that the said information was to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation."

Baker declined to identify the organisation beyond saying it was in the United States, and said the group turned over the document to federal authorities, prompting the investigation that led to the charges.

As deputy staff judge advocate at Guantanamo, Diaz's job was to give legal advice on a variety of issues to military commanders, Baker said, and he never represented any Guantanamo detainees.

The charge sheet stated between on December 20, 2004 and February 28, 2005, Diaz violated a Navy regulation by failing to properly safeguard and store classified secret information and failing to properly transport and mail such information by sending it via routine first-class mail. It also said he was derelict in his duties.

While the United States for more than four years refused to identify those held at Guantanamo, the Pentagon this spring released the names and nationalities of all the detainees it said had ever been held under military control there.

Diaz has served for 11 years as an officer in the Navy after spending eight years as an enlisted soldier in the Army, Baker said. Baker said his hometown is Topeka, Kansas.

Diaz was formally charged on Monday, Baker said.

The Pentagon said the US military currently holds about 445 detainees at the Guantanamo facility, most held without charges for more than four years.

The United States has faced international criticism over the indefinite detention of Guantanamo detainees amid allegations of their mistreatment. The Pentagon said the Guantanamo facility is needed to hold dangerous prisoners and extract important information from them.

Rear Adm Frederic Ruehe is scheduled to decide after the October hearing whether Diaz will face trial, Baker said.

- REUTERS

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