Army officer faces death penalty
BAGHDAD – A U.S. officer has been accused of aiding the enemy – a charge that carries the death penalty – for allegedly providing an unmonitored cell phone to detainees while he commanded an MP detachment at the jail that held Saddam Hussein, the military said Thursday.Army Lt. Col. William H. Steele faces nine charges in all, including fraternizing with a prisoner’s daughter, storing and marking classified material, maintaining an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter and possessing pornographic videos.The rare charges were among the most serious levied against a senior American officer in Iraq, but were the latest in a series of embarrassments for the U.S. military detention system here.The alleged incidents occurred from October 2005 to this February, starting when Steele was commander of the 451st Military Police Detachment at Camp Cropper on the western outskirts of Baghdad and in his later post as a senior patrol officer for the provincial transition team headquarters at nearby Camp Victory, the main U.S. military base.Steele was detained in March and is being held in Kuwait pending an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing, officials said. His age and hometown were not released.The U.S. military command declined to comment on the case but stressed nothing had been proven. “These are troublesome allegations, but again they are just allegations at the moment,” the main U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, told The Associated Press Radio.The most serious charge, aiding the enemy, was tied to Steele’s time at the jail at Camp Cropper.Military officials refused to give any details about the charge, including who used the phone and how.Saddam spent most of his final days at the Camp Cropper jail before his Dec. 30 execution at an Iraqi military base in northern Baghdad, and many members of his regime remain among the facility’s 3,000 or so prisoners.A new, $60 million jail opened at the base in August and many inmates were transferred there from Abu Ghraib prison, which was closed and transferred to Iraqi control after gaining notoriety for widely publicized photographs of American guards and interrogators abusing detainees.Steele served at Camp Cropper from October 2005 through the end of October 2006, after which he transferred to Camp Victory with the 89th Military Police Brigade, said a military spokesman, Lt. Col. James Hutton. He was arrested while based at Camp Victory, the spokesman said.Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, said the charge of aiding the enemy “could cover a multitude of sins,” but he said a prosecutor would be hard pressed to get a death sentence without showing “evidence that the purpose was really to aid the enemy and hurt our side.”However, he added, Steele could be found guilty regardless of his intent in loaning the phone to a detainee – “even if he thought the detainee was calling his wife’s allergist” – as long as the phone calls helped the detainee or some enemy.Steele also is accused of fraternizing with the daughter of a detainee toward the end of his tenure at Camp Cropper and during his subsequent posting at Camp Victory.Other charges stemming from his tenure at Camp Victory include failing to obey an order by an MP deputy commander and possessing pornographic videos. He also is charged with failing to fulfill his obligations in the expenditure of funds, the military said without elaboration.Hutton declined to provide more details on the charges, saying the investigation was still under way.In a similar case, a Muslim chaplain in the Army, Capt. James Yee, was charged in 2003 with mishandling classified material, failing to obey an order, making a false official statement, adultery and conduct unbecoming an officer after the military linked him to a possible espionage ring at the Guantanamo Bay prison where suspected terrorists are housed.All criminal charges were dismissed in March 2004, but Army officials found Yee guilty of the non-criminal charges of adultery and downloading pornography. But the reprimand he received was thrown out by a general a month later and he later received an honorable discharge.—Associated Press writer Sarah DiLorenzo in New York contributed to this report.