updated 1/10/2005 8:06:15 PM ET 2005-01-11T01:06:15

A former Arabic translator who took classified documents from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba pleaded guilty to federal charges Monday in a deal that will set him free within two months.

The man, Ahmed Fathy Mehalba, 32, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen and civilian translator at the base, was arrested at Logan International Airport in Boston in September 2003 after returning from a trip to Egypt.

Customs agents found 132 compact discs in his luggage, including one that contained hundreds of documents labeled “SECRET” or “SECRET/NOFORN,” meaning no foreign government was allowed to look at them.

He pleaded guilty Monday to one count of unauthorized possession of classified materials and two counts of lying to federal investigators.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Mehalba would have faced 37 to 46 months in prison. Prosecutors agreed to a lower sentence because Mehalba had no criminal record, accepted responsibility for his actions and had “significantly reduced mental capacity” when he committed the crimes.

Joseph Savage, one of Mehalba’s attorneys, has said his client has been treated for bipolar disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder.

He was one of four men swept up in an espionage investigation at the Navy base. Some or all charges were dropped against the three other men: a Muslim chaplain, another interpreter and an Army Reserve colonel.

Mehalba initially told investigators that the discs contained only music and videos, then later said he had no idea how the classified documents got on the discs.

His lawyers had argued that he was taking materials with him to work on translating them.

With credit for time served since his arrest, Mehalba is expected to be freed in two months, shortly after his sentencing March 9.

Mehalba formerly served in the Army, but he failed to complete a military intelligence course to become an interrogator. After being medically discharged from the Army in May 2001, he was hired by San Diego-based defense contractor Titan Corp. as an interpreter.

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