15 December 2005

New questions over Iraq contract linked to Belfast murder

Pat Finucane Centre

A leading US Senator has backed calls for the Pentagon to reconsider its contract with the company run by former Scots Guards officer Tim Spicer.
The move by Illinois Senator Barack Obama, a rising star of the Democratic Party, comes as documents obtained by the Irish World raise new questions about the decision to award the $293 million security contract in Iraq to Spicer's firm Aegis Defence Services.
"The CEO of Aegis Defense Services Tim Spicer has been implicated in a variety of human rights abuses around the globe," Senator Obama said in a letter to a constituent last week. "Given his history, I agree that the United States should consider rescinding its contract with his company."
"Several of my colleagues have contacted the Pentagon expressing their concerns about this issue. I will be in touch with their offices to see how I can be of assistance in their efforts."
The Pat Finucane Centre and the Washington-based Irish National Caucus have campaigned against the Aegis contract, because of Spicer's role as commander of the Scots Guards in Belfast in 1992, when two of his men murdered 18-year-old Peter McBride.
The campaign won support last year, when five leading Democratic Senators, including Hilary Clinton, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, called for an investigation of the contract.
In response the head of the US Army Contracting Agency, Sandra Sieber, stated: "It is significant that the British Ministry of Defence was apprised of our intention to award the contract to Aegis, and did not object to or advise against the action."
However, documents obtained by the Irish World under US freedom of information laws show that the Ministry of Defence warned the Americans about the financial status of Aegis.
In a letter on 11 May last year, an official at the MOD's Pricing and Forecasting Group wrote: "We would draw your attention to the financial strength of this company. In the year to 31 December 2003 its operating loss before tax was £170k on a turnover of £542k. It had a negative net worth. The company is wholly supported by a £1m loan repayable over five years. It is also a holding company for 3 subsidiaries, the two significant subsidiaries both traded at a loss in the year to 31 December 2003 totalling £91k, on a turnover of £438k. The trading results of the third company, whilst in profit was insignificant (turnover below £12k)."
Commenting on the document, a spokesman for the Pat Finucane Centre suggested it showed that the award to Aegis "had little to do with the perceived ability of the company to fulfill the contract, but was in fact the payback for British support for the US in the war itself."
The contract has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks, with the emergence on the internet of a series of videos appearing to show private security contractors shooting at Iraqi civilian cars. A new video has appeared within the past few days on www.aegisiraq.co.uk, a site maintained by a former Aegis employee.
The company is expected to announce the results of an internal investigation of the footage this week.
Sources within the private security industry have defended the scenes shown. "The video (it ain't clear if its an Aegis video yet) certainly does raise some questions," one industry insider told the Irish World. "The main thing it brought home rather graphically is what the level of insecurity is in Iraq - the fact that rules of engagement requires that kind of graduated use of force in such instances. Two of the incidents are clearly within ROE norms, the other two are more questionable. Hopefully we'll see the full videos at some point and be in a better position to judge if the gunners were operating appropriately considering the threat."


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