The massive Iraq
security contract awarded to British firm Aegis
Defense Services came in for renewed criticism earlier this month, when
the family of murdered Belfast man Peter McBride met with the U.S.
consul-general in Belfast Howard Dean Pitman.
Aegis chief executive Tim Spicer was commanding officer of the Scots Guards
in Belfast in 1992, when 18-year-old Peter
McBride was shot dead by two soldiers under his command, Mark Wright and
Wright and Fisher were convicted of murder after a judge rejected their defense
that they believed McBride, who had just been searched by members of the same
patrol, was carrying a homemade coffee jar bomb.
The McBride family accuses Spicer, who supported
the soldiers' version of events, of lying about the case.
Peter McBride's mother Jean and sister Kelly
were accompanied by members of human rights group the Pat
Finucane Center (PFC) to the meeting, where they called on the U.S. to review
the Aegis contract in the light of Spicer's involvement in the McBride case,
and later in several controversial mercenary operations around the world.
"We gave a number of documents to the consul-general," a PFC spokesman
"Jean McBride made the point to him that the U.S. government would
not take kindly if the Irish or British governments were to give a major contract
to someone who condoned the murder of American citizens by soldiers under his
command. That's exactly our position on this.
"The U.S. Army has been basically trying to evade its own responsibility,
by saying that these issues were looked
at by the GAO, while the GAO has said that they didn't look at those particular
issues. The reality is that this contract was awarded to a very controversial
figure. The allegations surrounding his activities here, in Papua
New Guinea and in Sierra
Leone have never adequately been scrutinized. That still needs to happen.
"The consul-general had already been in contact with the State Department
and with [presidential envoy] Mitchell
Reiss in advance of the meeting. He said he's going to go through all the
documents and get back to the various government bodies, and get back to us.
We're pleased with that."
A spokesperson for the U.S. consulate said: "The U.S. consul-general met
the McBride family at their request to hear of their ongoing concerns about
this contract. The consul-general assured the McBride family that these concerns
would be relayed in full to appropriate administration officials."
The McBride family and the PFC are set to step up their campaign in the coming
months in the U.S., where they have already won the support of prominent
figures including Senators Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy.
However, the focus will move to London next month, where Mayor
Ken Livingstone will host the launch of the Article Seven – End Impunity
Campaign at the Assembly Room in City
Hall from 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.
The campaign will seek to change the rules that allowed Wright and Fisher to
remain in the army after a press and lobbying campaign secured their early
An Army Board ruled that there were "exceptional circumstances" justifying
the retention of the two soldiers, despite their murder conviction. The Ministry
of Defense has declined
to review the decision, although it has twice been ruled
unlawful by the British courts.
The campaign takes its name from Article Seven of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which states that: "All are equal before
the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the
"Victims of serious crimes such as murder, rape, and torture are not afforded
equal protection of the law if the perpetrator is allowed to return to a position
where they are responsible for protecting the public," the campaign's launch
briefing states. "Peter McBride's killers, Wright and Fisher, served in
Iraq after being allowed to continue their military careers. This sends a disastrous
message to other soldiers that they can get away with murder. There are grave
implications for the safety of the people of Iraq when soldiers have little
if any expectation of accountability for human rights abuses they commit."
As well as Mayor Livingstone, speakers at the London meeting will include:
a lawyer acting for the families of a number of British
soldiers killed in Iraq, and for Iraqi
victims of coalition human rights abuses; Guardian writer Roy
Hegarty of the University of Ulster; and prominent human rights lawyer Michael