U.S. Officer in Iraq Accused of Aiding Enemy

By Joshua Partlow and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, April 27, 2007

BAGHDAD, April 26 -- A senior U.S. Army officer who led a military police unit guarding prisoners in Iraq has been charged with "aiding the enemy" for allowing detainees to use a cellphone, having a relationship with a detainee's daughter and other offenses, according to a U.S. military statement.

Lt. Col. William H. Steele, an active Army reservist whose mother lives in Frostburg, Md., oversaw high-value detainees at Camp Cropper, the sprawling holding center on the western outskirts of Baghdad where Saddam Hussein was held after his capture. The preliminary investigation shows that Steele had an intimate relationship with an Iraqi woman whose father is a former Baath Party official held at Camp Cropper, according to a U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.

Steele allowed both the woman and her father to use an unmonitored cellphone and was "sloppy" with sensitive documents, the official said, describing Steele as a former police officer. There appeared to be no evidence so far that the father was passing U.S. military secrets to insurgents or others intent on attacking American soldiers, the official said.

Steele's military lawyer could not be reached Thursday.

"I haven't heard anything from him or the Army," said Ilene Steele, his mother. "I don't remember when I spoke to him last. It seemed like it was early this month."

A man from the Pentagon, she said, called her earlier Thursday asking questions about her son.

"I don't believe any of this, until I hear from my son or his commander," said Steele, referring to the allegations against her son.

The accusation of aiding the enemy is grave and relatively rare, and can carry stiff punishments up to the death penalty upon conviction. Steele was charged March 14 and is being held in Kuwait while he waits for the military equivalent of a grand jury, a proceeding known as an Article 32 hearing, expected to be held in Baghdad.

"Any time such charges are brought, it is serious in the eyes of the commander to charge him," said Lt. Col. James Hutton, a military spokesman in Baghdad. "This is not something that's taken lightly."

The other charges against Steele, which span a period from October 2005 to February 2007, include having an "inappropriate" relationship with a female interpreter, "wrongfully and knowingly" storing classified information in his living quarters, failing to obey orders and keeping pornography, according to a statement by the military.

The Article 32 hearing will allow both Steele and his accusers to explain their cases to a military investigator, who will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a court-martial. Investigators are expected to make a recommendation to Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander in Iraq, who will decide whether the court-martial will convene.

At Camp Cropper, Steele commanded the 451st Military Police Detachment from October 2005 through October 2006. At the end of his tour, he volunteered for more time in Iraq, joining the 89th Military Police Brigade based at Camp Victory in Baghdad, where he led a provincial patrol police transition team, a group that works with Iraqi police, Hutton said.

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