By Katarina Kratovac
Saturday, October 20, 2007
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq, Oct. 19 -- A former U.S. commander at the Iraqi jail that held Saddam Hussein was acquitted Friday of aiding the enemy but received two years' imprisonment for convictions on other charges after pleading for leniency from the judge.
Army Lt. Col. William H. Steele, 52, a reservist from Prince George County, Va., and former police officer in Anne Arundel County, Md., could have faced a life sentence if convicted on charges related to accusations that he let prisoners make unmonitored calls on his cellphone.
"I have no excuse that would even remotely justify my actions," Steele told the judge at his court-martial near Baghdad. His voice shook with emotion as he described the humiliation he felt from being in confinement for the past eight months following a 28-year military career.
Steele was acquitted of the charge of aiding the enemy for allegedly lending his cellphone to former members of Hussein's regime, including those on death row, and an al-Qaeda member at Camp Cropper prison in Baghdad.
The judge, Lt. Col. Timothy Grammel, convicted Steele of unauthorized possession of classified documents, behavior unbecoming an officer for an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter, and failing to obey an order.
The two-year sentence was lenient, considering that Steele could have received 10 years in jail on the classified documents charge. He will also be dismissed from the service.
Maj. David Barrett, the defense attorney, said Steele never provided a cellphone to a detainee for an unmonitored conversation and said his client was doing his job by treating the suspects at the prison humanely.
Barrett said Steele's storage of classified documents was an "honest mistake," and he argued that Steele's relationship with an interpreter did not constitute behavior unbecoming an officer. Steele's wife, Judith, also an Army Reservist, testified in the sentencing phase, describing the e-mails written by her husband to the interpreter as "inconsequential."
The only other U.S. officer known to have been accused of collaborating with the enemy since the 2003 start of the war was Capt. James J. Yee, a Muslim chaplain who was linked to a possible espionage ring at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison. He was cleared.