US Army Officer In Iraq Charge For Possessing Secret Military Document

A senior US Army officer in Iraq was found guilty of possessing thousands of secret military documents that the prosecution in his court martial argued could have benefited a foreign power.

Lieutenant-Colonel William Steele, 52, was acquitted on the more serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carried a sentence of life imprisonment, for allowing security detainees to use his mobile telephone for unmonitored calls.

He faces up to 10 years' imprisonment on the secret documents charge. He was also found guilty of having an inappropriate relationship with an Iraqi woman interpreter and refusing to obey an order.

Steele is the former commander of Camp Cropper, a US detention centre near Baghdad airport where he oversaw the detention of Saddam Hussein in the days leading up to the former Iraqi leader's execution on December 30.

Earlier, prosecutor Captain Michael Rizzotti told the court that nearly 12,000 secret documents had also been found in a search of Steele's living quarters in Camp Victory, the main US base in Baghdad.

"(They were) documents that if (they had) fallen into the wrong hands could be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of a foreign nation. He did not get authority to take these documents," Rizzotti said.

Much of the trial was held in closed session because of the sensitive nature of the documents, but reporters were given a glimpse of one which contained aerial photographs of Kandahar airbase and Bagram airfield in Afghanistan.

The court also heard how Steele sent intimate emails to his interpreter Bahar Ahmed Suseyi, including one saying "there are a few things I need to do with you/to you" and planned to take her with him on a trip to Qatar.

The prosecution had argued that he openly favoured Suseyi over other interpreters and provided her with special privileges. Suseyi herself testified that she had a professional relationship with the colonel and thought of him as a friend.

Prosecutors struggled from the beginning to make the case of aiding the enemy, with the judge, Lieutenant-Colonel Timothy Grammel, warning at the start of the trial that they would have to prove that detainees still qualified as enemies.

Rizzotti told the court that in one instance Steele had allowed an al-Qaeda detainee, identified only as ISN 2184, "responsible for hundreds of deaths of coalition forces" to make a five minute unmonitored telephone call in Arabic.

"We'll never know who was called, we'll never know what was said. ... It's the equivalent of putting an AK-47 in his hand.

"He aided the enemy," Rizzotti said.

Steele opted not to testify, but his defence team argued that allowing detainees to use his mobile phone did not justify such a charge and that the prosecution had failed to prove that the detainees still posed a security threat.

He was the highest-ranking US officer to face a charge of aiding the enemy since Captain James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, was charged in September 2003. The army eventually dropped the case.

Steele had already pleaded guilty to three other charges, including one of possession of pornography, which each carry a maximum sentence of two years.

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