Senior officer accused of aiding the enemy
A senior officer at the U.S. military’s Camp Cropper prison in Iraq has been arrested and charged with aiding the enemy, fraternizing with the daughter of a detainee and mishandling classified information, among other violations, military officials said Thursday.
Lt. Col. William H. Steele was commander of the 451st Military Police Detachment and is being held in Kuwait, an Army spokesman in Iraq said.
The charge of aiding the enemy involved providing an unmonitored cell phone to detainees at Camp Cropper, a military prison in Baghdad where — at times — Saddam Hussein and other high-value prisoners have been held. The maximum penalty for aiding the enemy is the death sentence.
A second charge, of conduct unbecoming an officer, alleges that Steele “did … knowingly and wrongfully fraternize with the daughter of a detainee,” according to a military news release detailing the charges.
Additionally, Steele “did … knowingly and wrongfully provide special privileges to and maintain an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter,” the release read.
In all, Steele faces nine counts of four different violations of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Among the others: unauthorized possession of classified information, storing classified information in his living space, improperly marking classified informatione, failure to obey a lawful order from the 89th Military Police Brigade Deputy Commander, violating General Order Number 1 by possessing pornographic videos and mishandling military funds.
The alleged offenses took place between October 2005 and February of this year, according to the Army’s charge sheet against Steele. The arrest was first reported early Thursday by NBC News and the military issued its statement Thursday afternoon.
Steele is “presumed innocent unless and until he is proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of any alleged offense,” the Army’s statement read. He was arrested sometime last month and has been held in Kuwait since that time, officials said.
An Article 32 hearing — the military’s equivalent of a grand jury investigation — has not yet been held. The hearing would determine what, if any, charges Steele would face at a potential court-martial.
Camp Cropper holds some 3,000 prisoners and is the second-largest U.S. military prison in Iraq. With the closure and return of Abu Ghraib to the Iraqis last year, Camp Bucca in southern Iraq is the largest prison, holding some 15,000 prisoners.
According to a U.S. military official, Saddam was not under Steele’s responsibility while the former dictator was being held at Camp Cropper. In fact, the miltiary said for the first time Thursday, Saddam was only at Cropper for medical treatments and in the days before he was executed by the Iraqis on Dec. 30.
Instead, his “full-time residence” was a separate, still secret prison, officials said.
The U.S. military detention system in Iraq has come under repeated criticism, both for the notorious Abu Ghraib abuse scandal and the system of holding many prisoners without charge for long periods of time.
Military officials have said they expect the numbers of prisoners to spike during the ongoing Baghdad security “surge.”
Gen. David Petraeus, the overall U.S. commander in Iraq, declined to comment on the matter when speaking to reporters Thursday.
“As with any case that is ongoing, a senior commander cannot comment because of the concern over command influence,” Petraeus said.