Trial of Commander Charged with "Aiding the Enemy" Begins

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 3:57 PM EDT

The New York Times and Washington Post report today on the hearing held to determine if charges against Lt. Col. William Steele hold water. I wrote last week that the charges sound suspiciously trumped up, and are, in fact, almost identical to those filed against James Yee. They include "aiding the enemy"—for allowing detainees to use an unmonitored cellphone—mishandling classified information and government funds, conduct unbecoming an officer for giving gifts to the daughter of a detainee and being overly friendly with a translator, and possessing pornography.

Most of the hearings were closed to reporters, but the two articles give a hint of what might be going on. The flashiest charge, that of aiding the enemy, was barely discussed (at least publicly). Instead, testimony focused on the contents of Steele's laptop. Let's not forget that possessing pornography is more common than not among the armed forces. Mishandling classified information is also fairly widespread: Rules are incredibly strict, and not all classified information seems to warrant the cloak-and-dagger procedures. Steele had the the text of a classified memo on his laptop and at least one witness saw him download CD-ROMs onto the computer—though no one has indicated that the CDs were classified.

The real meat of the charges against Steele therefore seems to relate to the gifts he gave a detainee's daughter. The young woman's mother and sister were present, so there is no question of sexual misconduct. However, the detainee—who is described as "high value"—complained that Steele was trying to supplant him as a father. So one guess as to why Steele is being slapped with charges that could be made against a huge percentage of the military is that someone wants to butter up the detainee in hopes that he'll talk. Either that or Steele embarrassed the Pentagon in some way during his October 2005 to October 2006 tenure as commander at Camp Cropper.