U.S. Military Court Weighs Charges Against Officer


Monday, April 30th 2007, 7:13 am
By: News On 6


BAGHDAD (AP) _ Prosecutors alleged Monday that a U.S. officer gave computer programs to a prisoner's daughter in Iraq, beginning to lay out their case at a hearing to determine if evidence warrants a trial on charges that include the capital offense of aiding the enemy.

Lt. Col. William H. Steele, an Army reservist from Virginia serving full time, also is accused of fraternizing with the detainee's daughter, illegally storing classified material, maintaining an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter, possessing pornographic videos, failing to obey an order and dereliction of duty regarding government funds.

The most serious allegation, aiding the enemy, is tied to Steele's time as a military police commander at the Camp Cropper jail and carries a maximum penalty of death. The prison near Baghdad airport held Saddam Hussein before he was hanged.

``He had a conversation with one of the detainee's daughters. He gave her a box containing some computer programs and computer sheets,'' Lt. Col. Quentin Crank, another MP officer, testified during the hearing at Camp Victory, the main U.S. military base on the western outskirts of Baghdad.

Steele, 51, who was detained in March, wore military fatigues and sat quietly.

The hearing was expected to last at least two days and include witnesses called by prosecution and defense lawyers.

Col. Elizabeth Fleming, the investigating officer presiding over the hearing, will have the option of recommending that no action be taken, that some or all of the preliminary charges be dismissed, or that a court-martial be held, among others.

Her report will be forwarded to Steele's commanding officer, Col. Michael Galloucis, commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade, who will then forward his own recommendations to the No. 2 American commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno for a final decision.

The alleged incidents took place from October 2005 to February 2007, starting when Steele was commander of the 451st Military Police Detachment at Camp Cropper and in his later post as a senior patrol officer for the provincial transition team headquarters at nearby Camp Victory with the 89th Military Police Brigade.

Crank, whose MP unit replaced Steele's at Camp Cropper, testified he saw the defendant download about 20 CDs from a secure government laptop computer. He also said Steele later visited the jail and gave the detainee's daughter a box that contained computer programs and computer sheets.

``I saw a box of some form of computer programs and some literature exchanged with her,'' Crank said. ``It was done in the open but in a separate room away from everyone else.''

Steele's chief attorney, Maj. David G. Barrett, said it was reasonable for Steele to download material on CDs from a computer that he was about to leave behind when he transferred to another assignment.

Neither the detainee nor his daughter were identified during the hearing, part of which was closed to reporters to keep classified information out of the public domain. It isn't known if they participated in the investigation or are prepared to testify.

Another witness, Capt. Mike Borgel, from Crank's unit, testified that the package Steele gave the detainee's daughter also contained ``college paperwork,'' suggesting she might be of college age.

Capt. Michael A. Rizzotti, one of the four prosecuting lawyers, suggested in his questioning of witnesses that Steele may have had an inappropriate relationship with an Iraqi interpreter.

``Do you call your interpreters gorgeous, beautiful or sweet?'' Rizzotti asked Crank. ``No,'' he replied.

Another prosecution witness, Special Agent Patrick Rasmussen, a computer forensic specialist, said two computers recovered as part of the investigation contained 37 adult pornographic videos and 122 adult pornographic images.

The only other U.S. officer known to have been accused of collaborating with the enemy since the start of the Iraq war in 2003 was Capt. James J. Yee, a Muslim chaplain who was linked to a possible espionage ring at the military's Guantanamo Bay prison. He was eventually cleared and given an honorable discharge.