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 yesterday.
Army Lt. Col. William H. Steele faces nine charges, 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 against a senior American officer in Iraq in the latest in a series of embarrassments for the U.S. military- detention system here.
The alleged incidents occurred from October 2005 to February 2007, starting when Steele commanded 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 would not comment on the case but stressed that 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 would give no details about the charge, including who used the phone and how.
Hussein 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 photos of American guards and interrogators abusing detainees.
Steele served at Camp Cropper from October 2005 through the end of October 2006, then 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 that the charge of aiding the enemy "could cover a multitude of sins," but that 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."
He said Steele could be found guilty regardless of his intent in lending 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.
The Charges Against Lt. Col. Steele
cell phone to detainees between Oct. 1, 2005, and Oct. 31, 2006.
to and maintaining an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter between Dec.1, 2005, and Dec. 11, 2006.
by a military police deputy commander on or about
SOURCE: Associated Press