by David Phinney
April 25, 2007 — A former top prison commander at a prison known for “high-value” detainees, Camp Cropper, Iraq, has been quietly under arrest for weeks and detained in Kuwait under charges that he was aiding the enemy, according to numerous independent sources.
U.S. officials arrested Army Lt. Col. William H. Steele, 51, as long as three weeks ago. In addition to charges that he was aiding insurgents, he also is accused of having personal relationships with Iraqi women, misappropriating government funds and conduct unbecoming of an officer. (The relationships may not have been sexual.)
U.S. military sources were contacted last Friday: But made themselves unavailable for comment to confirm or deny the charges. However, the Army released a statement Wednesday afternoon claiming that Steele faces nine charges, notably “aiding the enemy.” (Press release below)
Other charges: Include retaining classified material; failure to obey lawful orders; wrongfully storing classified materials; improperly marking classified materials; failing to obey an order from a superior officer; possession of pornography and dereliction of duty as an approving official for the expenditure of government funds.
Steel is charged with aiding the enemy because of accusations that he provided “an unmonitored cellular phone to detainees.”
Steele’s mother in Frostburg, Md., said by phone Friday that she hadn’t heard from her son in three weeks and wasn’t sure why. Attempts to contact his wife have been unsuccessful. Steele last resided in Prince George, Va., according to Army sources.
Camp Cropper is a high-value holding facility: for insurgents and others is where former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was held for a time. Located near the Baghdad International Airport, the prison camp has been identified as a place where torture has taken place that equals that of Abu Ghraib.
Former American detainees Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel were held without charges for months last year after being taken to Camp Cropper in mid-April, 2006. Both met with Steele briefly before being released, Vance said.
In a lawsuit against the U.S. government and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: Vance and Ertel claim they were subjected to constant abuse 24 hours a day.
Lights were kept on in their cell around the clock. They endured solitary confinement. They had only thin plastic mattresses on concrete for sleeping. Meals were of powdered milk and bread or rice and chicken, but interrupted by selective deprivation of food and water. Ceaseless heavy metal and country music screamed in their ears for hours on end, their legal complaint alleges.
They lived through “conditions of confinement and interrogation tantamount to torture”, says the lawsuit filed in northern Illinois U.S. District Court. “Their interrogators utilised the types of physically and mentally coercive tactics that are supposedly reserved for terrorists and so-called enemy combatants.”
Vance claims that during the months leading up to his arrest, he worked as an unpaid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Sometimes twice a day, he would share information with an agent in Chicago about the Iraqi-owned Shield Group Security, whose principals and managers appeared to be involved in weapons deals and violence against Iraqi civilians.
A third detainee: Joseph Trimpert, was also arrested the same day as Vance and Ertel and held until August 10, 2006. An anonymous posting on myspace.com seems to represent Trimpert’s telling of his experience with photos of his release papers.
Opened in April 2003: The facility began modestly with some 150 detainees, but has since exploded to an estimated 3,000 under the recent U.S. military effort to crack down on insurgents in and around Baghdad. Since 2003, six inmates have died at the facility. according to the military. The latest death is still under investigation. The latest died April 4 and the cause of death remains under investigation.
Brutal treatment is apparently an ongoing problem among the detainees at Cropper, The Los Angeles Times reported April 8:
A former detainee from Camp Cropper, where Saddam Hussein and other high-profile prisoners have been held, said he once watched Sunni militants attack a former police officer whom they suspected of being an informer. He said six men, their faces hidden by towels, gathered around the victim in a dormitory at 2 a.m.
Two kept a lookout for U.S. soldiers while one man swung a sock stuffed with rocks at the inmate’s head, he said. The man tried to get up, but another pressed him down with a foot to the chest. The attackers pummeled his head, spattering themselves with his blood, until he lost consciousness.
When they had finished, other prisoners dragged the victim to the front of the hall, where the U.S. guards would find him.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RELEASE No. 20070426-01
April 26, 2007
Multi-National Corps – Iraq PAO
Baghdad, Iraq- Lt. Col. William H. Steele has been charged with offenses under the provisions of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.
These charges are merely an accusation of wrongdoing. Lt. Col. Steele is presumed innocent unless and until he his proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of any alleged offense.
CHARGE I: Violation of the UCMJ, Article 104
Specification: In that Lieutenant Colonel William H. Steele, did, between on or about 1 October 2005 and 31 October 2006, aid the enemy by providing an unmonitored cellular phone to detainees.
CHARGE II: Violation of the UCMJ, Article 134
Specification: In that Lieutenant Colonel William H. Steele, did between on or about 31 October 2006 and 22 February 2007, having unauthorized possession of classified information, violate Title 18, United States Code, Section 793(e), by knowingly and willfully retaining the same and failing to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States.
CHARGE III: Violation of the UCMJ, Article 133
Specification 1: In that Lieutenant Colonel William H. Steele, did, between on or about 20 October 2005 and 22 February 2007, knowingly and wrongfully fraternize with the daughter of a detainee, wherein such acts constituted conduct unbecoming an officer in the armed forces.
Specification 2: In that Lieutenant Colonel William H. Steele, did, between on or about 1 December 2005 and 11 December 2006, knowingly and wrongfully provide special privileges to and maintain an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter, wherein such acts constituted conduct unbecoming an officer in the armed forces.
CHARGE IV: Violation of the UCMJ, Article 92
Specification 1: In that Lieutenant Colonel William H. Steele, did, between on or about 18 February 2007 and 21 February 2007, violate a lawful general regulation, to wit: paragraph 7-4, Army Regulation 380-5, dated 29 September 2000, by wrongfully and knowingly storing classified information in his living space.
Specification 2: In that Lieutenant Colonel William H. Steele, did, between on or about 1 September 2006 and 21 February 2007, violate a lawful general regulation, to wit: paragraph 4-32, Army Regulation 380-5, dated 29 September 2000, by improperly marking classified information.
Specification 3: In that Lieutenant Colonel William H. Steele, having knowledge of a lawful order issued by the 89th Military Police Brigade Deputy Commander, did, at or near Camp Victory, Iraq, on or about 22 February 2007, fail to obey the order.
Specification 4: In that Lieutenant Colonel William H. Steele, did, between on or about 18 February 2007 and 21 February 2007, violate a lawful general order, to wit: paragraph 2e, Multi-National Corps-Iraq General Order Number 1, dated 16 December 2006, by wrongfully and knowingly possessing pornographic videos.
Specification 5: In that Lieutenant Colonel William H. Steele, between on or about 1 October 2005 and 31 October 2006, was derelict in the performance of his duties in that he willfully failed to fulfill his obligations as an approving authority in the expenditure of Field Ordering Officer funds.
Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army
Public Affairs Officer
Q&A: Responses received Thu 4/26/2007 6:18 AM
Received 21 Apr:
Q1: Where do I get in touch with Lt. Col. Steele, or do you know his whereabouts? My understanding is that he is no longer stationed at Cropper. What happened?
A1. LTC Steele commanded a compound within Camp Cropper from October 2005 until he completed this assignment in September 2006. He then volunteered to serve in another position in Iraq. He is currently in pre-trial confinement at the Theater Field Confinement Facility (TFCF), pending court-martial charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Q2: How many American detainees are there presently at Cropper and Camp Bucca? What are the charges?
A2. Currently, three American citizens are in MNF-I Theater Internment Facilities. None of the allegations against Lt. Col. Steele are related to these individuals.
Received 23 Apr:
Q3: It has come to my attention that Army Lt. Col. William H. Steele is being detained in Kuwait and awaiting trial under the U.S. military code of Justice. Other military personnel related to this matter may also be held.
A3: Lt Col. Steele is being held in the TFCF in Kuwait. All US Military pre-trial prisoners within the CENTCOM AOR are held in this facility. Military post-trial prisoners are held in the TFCF until they can be transferred to permanent confinement facilities. The TFCF confines only U.S. military prisoners. No other military personnel are pending charges in this matter.
Q4: My understanding is that Lt. Col. Steele was the commander of the Camp Cropper prison. Correct? What are the dates of his Camp Cropper command and his responsibilities?
A4: Answered Above A1
Q5: My further understanding is that Lt. Col. Steele is being held for aiding and abetting imprisoned insurgents and American detainees? Correct? Others may also be involved?
A5: These charges are merely an accusation of wrongdoing. Lt. Col. Steele is presumed innocent unless and until he his proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of any alleged offense.
Lt. Col. Steele was charged on March 14, 2007 with the following offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)