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Unusual charges against former U.S. prison chief in Iraq

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Finally, an office in charge of prison operations in Iraq is being held accountable for his conduct in dealing with detainees. At long last, we are punishing someone who handles prisoners, after years of reported abuse and mismanagement. This is a vindication for those of us who --

Wait, what's that? This commander has been criminally indicted for being too nice to his prisoners? For allegedly "aiding the enemy" in the camp? Whoa.

The charges against LTC William Steele, who commanded Camp Cropper, which houses thousands of detainees and many high profile prisoners, are serious. They include: giving a cell phone to a detainee ("aiding the enemy"), possessing pornography, possessing and mishandling classified information, disobeying an order, and improperly fraternizing with the daughter of a detainee. Much of this sounds pretty bad, but I'm very skeptical, and it reeks of politics. Of those accusations, all except the first and last are charges that virtually anyone who has served in Iraq could conceivably be charged with. Rules on classified information are so byzantine that virtually everyone who deals with intel "breaks" them at some point, usually in a minor, irrelevant, and widely accepted way. Possessing pornography? For real?? We might as well arrest the entire military. Disobeying an order is a serious charge, but also one that's easily trumped up.

There are no specifics on the nature of the "improper fraternization", but it could be anything from really bad to overblown. As for the cell phone, it's to imagine legitimate scenarios in which a prison supervisor would give a cell phone to a detainee -- an an intelligence operation, as a reward, etc. It's much harder to imagine that a U.S. LTC would purposefully put himself and his men in danger by attempting to aid the detainees under his supervision.

He may, in fact, be guilty of these charges, and they may be more serious and significant than the vague accusations initially seem, but the whole thing is pretty weird. Especially after the James Yee debacle in Gauntanamo (long story short: Yee, a Muslim chaplain in Guantanamo, was charged with five offenses: sedition, aiding the enemy, spying, espionage, and failure to obey a general order; every single charge was eventually dropped, and he agreed to plead guilty to "mishandling" classified information -- see above for the reality on that -- and, wait for it, adultery).

And either way it's a joke to have the first serious prosecution of a (regular Army) prison supervisor be for aiding the enemy. The story bears watching.

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