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.
Violence continued across Iraq Thursday. A suicide attacker's car bomb exploded behind a minibus in a commercial district of central Baghdad, killing four people and wounding six, most of them women, according to police and witnesses.
"There was a big fire that rose quickly from the car bomb and towered over me. The sky was raining metal," said Muhammad Yaseen, who sells fish from a three-wheel cart near the site of the explosion in Karrada. He had stepped away from his cart before shrapnel slammed into it.
"God did not plan to take my soul today," he said.
Bystanders used long knives and metal bars to pry open the minibus doors and pull out the dead and injured.
"You know that they are not targeting the police or military now, they are attacking the civilians," said a soft-drink vendor who identified himself by his nickname, Abu Nameer. "I swear to God, every day when I come to work here, I know that I am heading toward death."
Police said patrols found 18 corpses around Baghdad in the past day.
Outside the capital, a car bomb detonated in a suicide attack at a police checkpoint in Khalis, a predominantly Shiite town in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. Sunni insurgents regularly attack Khalis as part of a broader effort to drive Shiites out of the predominantly Sunni province. The attack killed at least nine people and wounded 15, according to Brig. Gen. Salam Hassoun of the Interior Ministry.
Near the northern city of Mosul, two car bombs exploded in front of the office of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, killing four people and injuring 13 others, Hassoun said.
Staff writer Daniel de Vise in Rockville, Md., staff researchers Meg Smith and Robert E. Thomason in Washington, special correspondent Naseer Nouri in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.