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U.S. commander faces misconduct charges

Times Staff Writer

A U.S. military commander who helped oversee the prison camp that once held Saddam Hussein has been charged with aiding the enemy, mishandling classified information and engaging in “inappropriate” relationships, officials said Thursday.

Lt. Col. William H. Steele was arrested last month and accused of nine violations of U.S. military code, including keeping classified information in his living space, failing to monitor funds, disobeying an order and possessing pornographic videos, the military said.

The most serious accusation, that of aiding the enemy, arose from allegations that Steele provided an unmonitored cellphone to detainees between October 2005 and October 2006.

In a formal statement of charges, he also was accused of wrongfully fraternizing with the daughter of a detainee and giving special privileges to an interpreter, with whom he maintained an “inappropriate relationship.” Steele is being held at a detention facility in Kuwait pending the outcome of an Article 32 military hearing, which is comparable to a grand jury inquiry.

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“The results of the Article 32 hearing will determine whether it goes to court-martial,” said Lt. Col. Jocelyn Aberle, a military spokeswoman in Iraq.

Steele was a senior commander at Camp Cropper, a large U.S. detention facility near Baghdad’s international airport.

The camp has several thousand detainees, including many transferred from the Abu Ghraib prison. It is best known for holding high-value detainees, including Hussein before he was executed in December.

U.S. supervision of Abu Ghraib, which was one of Iraq’s most notorious prisons during Hussein’s rule, was phased out after a 2004 scandal in which it was revealed that U.S. soldiers had abused and humiliated Iraqi detainees. Photographs depicting naked prisoners forced into demeaning poses sparked outrage and anti-U.S. sentiment throughout the Middle East.

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Steele is not the first officer of his rank to be charged with misconduct while working at detention facilities in Iraq. Last year, Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan was charged with 12 counts related to the Abu Ghraib incidents. The charges included forcing detainees to strip naked and intimidating them with military dogs, as well as misleading investigators and providing inadequate training and supervision to his troops.

Steele, whose age was not released, was the commander of the 451st Military Police Detachment. In that role, he was one of a handful of senior officers who reported to the commander of Camp Cropper, Aberle said.

In October, Steele moved to Camp Victory in Baghdad to work with the 89th Military Police Brigade, the Associated Press reported. Some of the charges stem from that period. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the maximum sentence for aiding the enemy is death. U.S. military officials did not say when or where the Article 32 hearing would take place.

Meanwhile Thursday, two suicide bombers targeted the offices of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Zummar, about 40 miles west of Mosul in northern Iraq. Three people were killed and 13 were injured, police said.

Kurdish party officials have blamed a recent rise in violence there on the U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown in the capital.

“Due to the failure of the security plan, we see an escalation [of violence] in Iraq overall and also against headquarters of Kurdish parties in Mosul,” said party spokesman Abdulghani Yahya.

In Diyala province, one of Iraq’s most volatile regions in recent weeks, a suicide car bomber rammed into an Iraqi army checkpoint in Khalis, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, killing nine soldiers and injuring 15.

Earlier this week, nine U.S. soldiers were killed in a double suicide car bombing against a patrol base in the province. U.S. and Iraqi officials say Al Qaeda-linked militants who were pushed out of the capital after the launch of the Feb. 13 security campaign are believed to be regrouping in the area.

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In Baghdad, U.S. military officials said seven militants were killed overnight in two separate skirmishes. In one fight in Taji, just north of Baghdad, two women and two children were killed during fighting that involved U.S. airstrikes against terrorist targets, officials said.

Elsewhere in Baghdad, four separate bombings Thursday, most believed to involve parked cars, killed 11 people and injured 27, police said.

“This is the second time this year that a car bomb went off right across the street from me,” said Ali Hussein, 34, who runs a kiosk. “I guess I’m going to get it sooner or later.”

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

Times staff writer Said Rifai in Baghdad, special correspondent Ruaa Al-Zarary in Mosul and special correspondents in Baghdad and Baqubah contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The allegations

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Charges against U.S. Lt. Col. William H. Steele under provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice:

* Aiding the enemy by providing an unmonitored cellphone to detainees.

* Possessing classified information without authorization.

* Fraternizing with the daughter of a detainee.

* Providing special privileges to and maintaining an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter.

* Wrongfully storing classified information in his living space.

* Improperly marking classified information.

* Failing to obey an order by a military police deputy commander.

* Possessing pornographic videos.

* Failing to fulfill obligations as an approving authority in the expenditure of funds.

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Source: Associated Press


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