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Maintaining The Army's Image

US Army Colonel uniform, magnifying glass, cell phone, over Iraq flag and map.
AP / CBS
CBS News consultant Ret. Col. Mitch Mitchell wrote this piece for CBSNews.com.

Disturbing news that a senior Army officer, Lt. Col. William H. Steele, has been charged with multiple offenses connected with his duty in Iraq underscores once again the need for our Army to maintain higher-than-normal standards of conduct, whether inside or outside the United States.

As the nation's military public servants, soldiers everywhere are under intense scrutiny and are expected to uphold the highest standards of discipline and conduct. When a soldier fails to do so, the issue quickly becomes one of public interest and attention — and overshadows the good work and proper conduct by the overwhelming majority of soldiers in the Army today.

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib incident, we are once again looking at looking at allegations of misconduct at Camp Cropper, the U. S. military-run prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad that held Saddam Hussein until his execution last December. This time the charges are not of abuse, but of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. The officer involved was the commander of the camp. An investigation is under way to determine if there is sufficient evidence to try him for aiding the enemy, fraternizing with Iraqis, mishandling classified information and failing to obey an order. There are other charges as well covering a period of more than one year.

Whether the officer is exonerated or sent to trial, the damage has been done. The story is out there, and the Army's image has been tarnished. While innocence must be presumed, there is sufficient evidence to warrant a formal Article 32 investigation (the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation) and to keep the officer confined in a military jail in Kuwait until the findings are released. That, in itself, is indicative of serious misconduct.

Put in a practical light: The alleged offenses by the officer in question seriously undermine the image of the U.S. Army in Iraq. No amount of schools and soccer fields we build, and no other projects we undertake to help the people of Iraq, can offset the negative impression of our Army that Iraqis and people all over the world will have.

Maintaining the Army's image is all about good leadership. Although the numbers are few, there have been too many incidents of misconduct by our troops in Iraq. We must look to the leaders to become more involved in how our troops conduct themselves and work diligently to reduce the number of misconduct incidents to zero — the only acceptable figure.

By Mitch Mitchell

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    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.