BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The officer in charge of a key U.S. military detention camp in Iraq has been charged with “aiding the enemy” and having improper relationships, including one with a detainee’s daughter, the military said on Thursday.
In Washington, the U.S. Congress delivered an unprecedented slap at President George W. Bush by approving legislation that linked funding for the war with a commitment to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq over the next 11 months.
Bush has pledged to veto the bill.
Lieutenant-Colonel William Steele, commander of the 451st Military Police Detachment, was in charge of the detention facilities at Camp Cropper near Baghdad international airport.
“He has been in detention in Kuwait since last month,” U.S. military spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Josslyn Aberle said, pending an Article 32 hearing which would determine whether he should face a court-martial.
Steele was accused of “aiding the enemy” by providing detainees with unmonitored mobile phones. He was also charged with having an improper relationship with a translator and the daughter of a detainee and keeping pornographic videos.
Also in Washington on Thursday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David Petraeus, warned the struggle to stabilize Iraq may mean higher U.S. and Iraqi casualties in the near term and said sectarian violence would likely rise if his troops pulled back from securing Baghdad in the fall.
“My sense is that there would be an increase in sectarian violence, a resumption of sectarian violence, were the presence of our forces and Iraqi forces, at that time, to be reduced,” Petraeus told reporters at the Pentagon.
He said the new effort to curb violence with more troops, ordered by Bush in January, meant going into neighborhoods where extremists had been able to operate freely.
“Because we are operating in new areas and challenging elements in those areas, this effort may get harder before it gets easier,” said Petraeus.
“I think there is the very real possibility that there’s going to be more combat action and ... more casualties.”
TENET: ‘SLAM DUNK’ COMMENT MISUSED
Bush’s former U.S. spy chief, George Tenet, accused the administration of ruining his reputation by misusing a “slam dunk” comment he made during a White House meeting ahead of the U.S.-led invasion.
The former CIA director told CBS Television’s “60 Minutes” that the administration leaked his comment as opposition to the war grew when troops found no weapons of mass destruction, whose threat was cited as the main reason for the invasion.
“You don’t do this. You don’t throw somebody overboard just because it’s a deflection. Is that honorable? It’s not honorable to me,” Tenet said. He said the leak of his words was “the most despicable thing that ever happened to me.”
The “slam-dunk” comment first surfaced in journalist Bob Woodward’s 2004 book, “Plan of Attack,” which portrayed Tenet as assuring Bush that finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would be a virtual certainty.
He said the most difficult part was hearing administration officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refer to his comment as though they had had to hear him “say ‘slam dunk’ to go to war with Iraq.”
In fresh violence, a suicide car bomber killed 10 Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint north of Baghdad. The bomber rammed his car into a checkpoint in the town of Khalis, 50 miles (80 km) from Baghdad. Another 15 people were wounded.
It was the third major bomb attack this week in volatile Diyala province, where U.S. and Iraqi forces are engaged in fierce fighting with entrenched insurgents and al Qaeda militants as part of a security crackdown.
Tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops have been deployed in and around Baghdad since mid-February as part of the crackdown, seen as a last-ditch attempt to stop all-out sectarian civil war.
Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia in Baghdad, Michelle Nichols in New York and Andrew Gray in Washington