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Mideast edition, Saturday, May 5, 2007

A former U.S. prison camp commander in Iraq will learn within weeks whether he’ll face court-martial for aiding the enemy by allowing detainees to make unsupervised calls on his cell phone, a charge that could carry the death penalty if he is convicted.

Lt. Col. William H. Steele, a 51-year-old Army reservist from Virginia, is also accused of fraternizing with a detainee’s daughter, mishandling classified information, maintaining an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter, possessing pornographic videos, failing to obey an order and dereliction of duty for misusing government funds.

Testimony wrapped up earlier this week during a two-day hearing to decide whether Steele’s case should proceed any further. Col. Elizabeth Fleming, the investigating officer, could recommend a full court-martial, that some or all of the charges be dropped or that lesser administrative action be taken. Fleming has up to 30 days to present her findings, but a military official said her report would likely come sooner.

“I don’t think it’s going to take that long in this case,” said Lt. Col. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for Multi-National Corps — Iraq, in Baghdad.

The charges against Steele stem from a series of incidents that allegedly took place from October 2005 to February 2007, when he commanded the 451st Military Police Detachment at Camp Cropper and later served as the 89th Military Police Brigade’s senior patrol officer at nearby Camp Victory, a sprawling U.S, base near Baghdad.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that witnesses during the hearing testified that Steele took a more lenient approach with detainees than previous authorities in charge of Camp Cropper, a prison that was used to house “high-value” detainees, including Saddam Hussein, before he was hanged last December.

Testimony reported by news agencies indicated that Steele allegedly exchanged emails with the daughter of one detainee, purchased computer software for her, and used government money to purchase Cuban cigars and hair dye for Saddam before he was executed. But the testimony also revealed that the practice of buying cigars for Saddam had been approved by U.S. military authorities in Iraq for more than a year.

Steele is currently in custody at a detention facility for U.S. troops in Kuwait, where U.S. troops charged with crimes in Iraq are routinely held.

Once Fleming decides on her recommendations, her report will be sent to Steele’s commanding officer, Col. Michael Galloucis, commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade, Aberle said. Galloucis will forward those, along with his own recommendations to Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, who will make a final decision.

Soldier guilty of disrespect, missing flight

A soldier has been convicted by a special court-martial of disrespecting a commissioned officer and intentionally missing her flight to Iraq, military officials in Baghdad said Friday.

A military judge demoted Master Sgt. Penny F. Johnson, 39, of Washington, D.C., to staff sergeant, fined her $2,000 and restricted her to Camp Slayer, Iraq, for two months, according to a statement from Multi-National Corps — Iraq.

The military said Johnson, of the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade, was disrespectful to a captain during a conversation at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in November. Johnson later missed her flight to Baghdad in January, after intentionally failing to report to Ali Al Saleem Airport, the statement said. She rejoined her unit later in Iraq.

The court-martial was April 15 at Camp Victory, a U.S. base on the outskirts of Baghdad, but details were released Friday by the military.

— Drew Brown

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