[JURIST] US Army Col. Michael Steele has been formally reprimanded for giving improper orders to soldiers in Iraq, leading to the deaths of four unarmed Iraqi civilians [JURIST report] near Samarra last May, according to recent reports by two US Defense Department officials. Military documents indicate that Steele, a subject of the book and movie Black Hawk Down [Wikipedia backgrounder], led his soldiers in the Third Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] to believe that they did not need to distinguish enemy combatants from non-combatants during a raid. The investigative report by Brig. Gen. Thomas Maffey did not suggest that formal charges be filed against Steele in the four deaths, including that of a 70-year old Iraqi man, because of Steele's "honest belief" that the soldiers would face hostile fire in the mission, even though that did not occur.
Steele was formerly reprimanded in private for not reporting the deaths or details of the mission and was reassigned to an administrative position. The reprimand essentially prevents him from being promoted to general. Four soldiers of Steele's brigade were charged [JURIST report] with premeditated murder in the incident, but two have since pleaded guilty to lesser charges [JURIST report]. The New York Times has more.