US officer sent intimate emails to Iraqi interpreter

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BAGHDAD, Oct 17 (Reuters) A US military officer accused of having an intimate relationship with an Iraqi interpreter wrote her an email saying ''there are a few things I need to do with you/to you'', his court martial heard.

Lieutenant-Colonel William Steele is a former military police commander at Camp Cropper, a US detention facility near Baghdad airport where he oversaw the detention of Saddam Hussein in the days before the Iraqi leader's execution on Dec. 30.

Steele, 52, faces more serious charges of unauthorised possession of classified documents and of aiding the enemy by allowing detainees unmonitored access to a mobile phone.

If found guilty of aiding the enemy, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

His relationship with interpreter Bahar Ahmed Suseyi took centre stage yesterday, when prosecutor Lieutenant-Colonel Kevin Walker read excerpts of emails Steele had sent Suseyi.

Suseyi, a Kurd from the northern city of Sulaimaniya, was in court dressed in jeans and a white shirt with light blue stripes.

She had sunglasses placed over short black hair that was tied at the back.

''Good evening my darling sweet Bahar. It's 9 p m now so I just wanted to send you a message and tell you that I hope to see you in my dreams ... I remember that night very well and I hope to do it again soon,'' Walker read from one email.

In another excerpt, Steele wrote: ''I miss you and there are a few things I need to do with you/to you, I think you know what I mean. I'll bring a midnight movie.'' Steele is accused of wrongfully providing special privileges to an interpreter and maintaining an inappropriate relationship with her.

DOCUMENTS DESTROYED Steele's defence counsel asked the court for the full documents but the prosecution said they had probably been burnt.

A US military official told reporters later that a fire had burned down the criminal law division of the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, destroying all the evidence inside it. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Suseyi, who spent five months at Camp Cropper and became a US citizen in June 2006, testified that she had considered Steele a friend, discussing her divorce with him and dining with him three times a week as part of a larger group.

Asked if she was ever physically intimate with Steele, she said: ''One evening, I was upset with Hannah, one of the interpreters. He found me emotional and he gave me a hug, but he did not kiss me.'' Steele's wife Judith has been attending the sessions, talking to him during breaks in proceedings.

A guard at Camp Cropper also testified that he had seen Steele give a phone to one detainee. The prosecution has not named any of the detainees who had access to Steele's phone or said whether Saddam was among them.

Steele is 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.

REUTERS RN AS1150

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