Kerry Joins Campaign Against Iraq Contract

The conviction of British mercenary Simon Mann by a Zimbabwean court could not have come at a worse time for Tim Spicer, Mann’s fellow former Scots Guards officer and erstwhile colleague in security firm Sandline International.

Mann’s alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea drew unprecedented scrutiny to the international mercenary trade, in the same week that some of America’s leading politicians joined the campaign to block a $293 million contract awarded to Spicer’s new company, Aegis Defence Services.

Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry has joined with fellow senators Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd and Charles Schumer to demand a Pentagon investigation into the deal, which will see Aegis coordinating the work of up to 50 other private security companies in Iraq, and providing security teams for the U.S. Project Management Office.

The Senators’ intervention follows a campaign by Irish-American groups incensed by Spicer’s record in Northern Ireland.

Spicer was commander of the Scots Guards in Belfast in 1992, when two of his soldiers, Guardsmen Mark Wright and James Fisher, shot and killed 18-year-old Peter McBride. The pair were subsequently convicted of murder, but released early following a campaign in which Spicer featured prominently. They were allowed to rejoin their regiment and served in Iraq during last year’s invasion and its aftermath.

Washington-based lobby group the Irish National Caucus (INC) announced in July that it would raise Spicer’s record with President Bush, Senator Kerry and other members of Congress.

Support for the campaign has since snowballed. An endorsement by John Kerry’s Massachusetts colleague Congressman Marty Meehan last month proved to be the prelude to the latest intervention by some of the heaviest hitters in the Democratic party.

“I am very grateful to these five Senators,” INC President Fr. Sean McManus said on Monday. “They are showing  sensitivity to the family of Peter McBride, and  a concern for basic human rights and decency. President Bush must do likewise. He must cancel this contract. President Bush must decide if he wants the respect of Irish-Americans or the gratitude of Timothy Spicer for the fat contract. He cannot have both.”

The senators’ intervention was also welcomed by Peter McBride’s mother Jean. “Peter’s anniversary is this coming Saturday and it is comforting to see such high profile support from the U.S.,” she said. “We are awaiting judgment from the courts in the battle to have Wright and Fisher kicked out of the British Army and its great to see that our family is not alone. Even the U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry has taken this on board and spoken out against this contract. Surely some day soon justice will be done.”

In their letter to Rumsfeld the five senators refer to a number of “troubling concerns” about the Aegis contract:

“The United States Government requires all contractors to be ‘responsible bidders.’  Contractors have to ‘have a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.’ We would like to know whether the government considered human rights abuses – or an individual who vigorously defends them – as part of this record.

“Additionally, the United States Government requires consideration of the contractor’s ‘past performance.’  We would like to know whether the contracting team adequately reviewed the contractor’s record, identified past human rights abuses or defense of abuses, and whether the contractor received a poor past performance rating on that basis.

“We would also like to know the extent to which these factors were evaluated in awarding this contract to Aegis. If they were evaluated, we would like to know the rationale for awarding the contract.”

The letter continues:

“In light of the recent revelations of abuses of detainees in Iraq, it is important that U.S. actions, whether by military personnel or contractors, have respect for the law. It is troubling that the government would award a contract to an individual with a history of supporting excessive use of force against a civilian population.

“Certainly we understand the urgent need to establish a secure environment, but the United States government is also working to create a democracy in Iraq in which respect for fundamental human rights is guaranteed.”

With a closely fought election contest barely two months away, Senator Kerry’s intervention raises significant doubts about the future of the Aegis contract. It is also an intriguing straw in the wind.

Aegis’ advisory board includes a former chief of the UK General Staff and a former British Ambassador to the United Nations. There is a widespread perception that the company’s Iraq contract is a quid pro quo for British participation on the Iraq conflict.

If so, Senator Kerry’s intervention is perhaps the first concrete sign that a Kerry presidency may not be inclined to reward Britain for Tony Blair’s steadfast support of George Bush.