World and Nation

Senior Officer Testifies Against Previous Military Jailer in Iraq

A senior commander in the American military’s main detention center here testified Monday at a military hearing that his predecessor, Lt. Col. William H. Steele, gave computer programs and other gifts to the daughter of a high-value detainee.

The commander, Lt. Col. Quentin Crank, whose military police unit took over for Steele’s at Camp Cropper in October 2006, said the gifts, which would be a breach of military law and Iraqi cultural norms, were given after Steele had moved to another assignment in Iraq. The detainee was said to be outraged by the personal contact with his daughter, telling American officials that Steele was trying to supplant his role as father.

A computer forensics expert testified that an IBM laptop recovered during the investigation contained classified material, 37 adult pornographic videos, 122 adult pornographic images and an e-mail message to an undisclosed person that “appeared to be adulterous in nature.” A second laptop, a Dell, contained the text of a secret document, the investigator said.

The testimony once again cast the ethical conduct of American jailers in Iraq in an unfavorable light, even as the military sets in motion plans to expand its detention facilities to make room for the rapidly growing ranks of prisoners captured during the new security plan.

The hearing was convened to weigh the evidence against Steele, 51, a married reservist from Prince George, Va., who has had prior scrapes with the law. In November 1993, he was charged with aggravated child abuse and resisting an officer with violence, both felonies, according to Hernando County, Fla., court records.

A state prosecutor accused Steele, a former Hernando County sheriff’s deputy, of physically and verbally abusing his 11-year-old stepson for homework errors, and of padlocking the family’s refrigerator and food cabinets to prevent the boy from eating, according to court records. The charges were dropped when Steele, an Army reservist at the time, agreed to give up custody of the boy.

Steele has been accused of nine violations of military law, including “aiding the enemy,” related to the allegation that he passed an unmonitored cell phone to detainees. He is also accused of mishandling classified information and government funds, fraternizing with the daughter of a detainee, engaging in an inappropriate relationship with an interpreter and possessing pornography.