Mother Pleads to Pentagon Over Spicer Contract

The mother of a man murdered by two British soldiers in Belfast has asked the U.S. Department of Defense to cancel a $293 million Iraq security contract awarded to their commanding officer.

Irish human rights group the Pat Finucane Center has filed a detailed submission on behalf of Jean McBride challenging the Pentagon’s deal with Aegis Defense Services and its controversial Chief Executive Lt. Col. Tim Spicer. Spicer’s record and links in the mercenary world will also be raised next month, when Democratic senators hold hearings on contract abuses in Iraq.

The moves mark the latest phase in a battle which began earlier this year when Irish-Americans launched a campaign against the deal, arguing that Spicer had condoned the killing of unarmed teenager Peter McBride by Guardsmen Mark Wright and James Fisher, who were subsequently convicted of murder.

Senators John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd, and Charles Schumer wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calling for an investigation. Campaigners believe that a reply issued last month by the head of the U.S. Army Contracting Agency, Sandra Sieber, leaves them with an opening to challenge the Aegis contract.

“It is significant that the British Ministry of Defense was apprised of our intention to award the contract to Aegis, and did not object to or advise against the action,” Ms. Sieber said in her letter to the five senators.

“The contracting officer was not aware of the allegations subsequently lodged against Mr. Spicer in the press at the time of the contract award. However, our post-award review of the facts surrounding these matters did not establish that Mr. Spicer’s advocacy on behalf of his former soldiers had any bearing on his or Aegis’ record of integrity or business ethics. I understand that others besides Mr. Spicer, including members of the British government, also advocated for the soldiers’ release from prison. The British government reviewed the case and found in favor of the soldiers’ release. Recently, a British Army review board reinstated the soldiers into the British Army.”

In its submission, the Pat Finucane Center points to a number of inaccuracies in this account.

“The allegation against Mr. Spicer is not that he advocated for the soldiers’ release from prison,” the PFC document states. “The issue is that he opposed their arrest and opposed their being charged with any offense whatsoever. In a sworn affidavit and in his autobiography, Spicer stated, ‘They should never have been charged with murder, let alone convicted of it.’ In his sworn affidavit and again in his autobiography, Spicer has sought to portray an entirely fictitious and untruthful version of the events preceding, during, and following the actual murder. It is essential to point out that the version of events as described by Spicer, which constituted the defense offered by the soldiers, has been totally rejected by the courts and described as a ‘concoction of lies’ by the trial judge. The original judgment has been upheld in subsequent appeals.”

The submission also points out that Guardsmen Wright and Fisher were not in fact reinstated in the British Army. Instead, contrary to Queen’s Regulations, they were never discharged after their convictions. Following their release, a decision to retain the two soldiers was made by an Army Board including General Sir Roger Wheeler, who is now an advisor to Aegis Defense Services. The Belfast High Court subsequently ruled this decision was unlawful.

“We are extremely concerned that your review has been misled and provided with erroneous information as to the current status of this case,” the submission continues. “Was this provided directly by the British Ministry of Defense or by any other British government department? If so, we are also anxious to know when this occurred as this information could be relevant to ongoing legal action.”

The British government has distanced itself from the Aegis contract in statements by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the Department of Trade and Industry.

Spicer is best-remembered in Britain for his role in the Arms to Africa affair in 1998, when his former company Sandline International illegally supplied weapons to Sierra Leone.

However, it appears he is far from being persona non grata in official circles. Earlier this month, he was a key speaker at a conference held at Oxford University and sponsored by the Royal United Services Institute devoted to the role of private military companies.

This attempt to burnish the image of the mercenary trade was somewhat undermined days earlier by new revelations about the ongoing plight of Spicer’s erstwhile colleague in Sandline, Simon Mann, currently in jail in Zimbabwe following a failed attempt to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea in March.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was forced to admit in the House of Commons that the British government had advance information of the coup plot.

“I considered the case and agreed that the FCO should approach an individual formerly connected with a British private military company, mentioned in the report [of the impending coup], both to attempt to test the veracity of the report, and to make clear that the FCO was firmly opposed to any unconstitutional action such as coups d’etat,” Straw said. “A senior Foreign Office official did so within days. The individual concerned claimed no knowledge of the plans.”

The Sunday Times and Observer newspapers have claimed that the individual approached by the Foreign Office was none other than Tim Spicer.

There have also been reports in the South African press that Spicer has been accused of involvement in the coup by the government of Equatorial Guinea.

The controversy has prompted those concerned about the role of Western mercenaries in Africa to make common cause with campaigners at the Pat Finucane Center and the Irish National Caucus (INC) in Washington. Earlier this year, Botswana-based German journalist Dr. Alexander Von Paleske contacted the head of the INC, Fr. Sean McManus with details about Spicer’s record.

Dr. Paleske believes that the Aegis contract may be vulnerable because of Spicer’s links with British businessman Tony Buckingham, a key figure at Sandline.

Buckingham is alleged to have been the only British businessman in a 1995 delegation to Iraq to discuss oil deals with Saddam Hussein. Members of the delegation stayed at the al-Rasheed Hotel, where the floor was decorated with a picture of the elder George Bush, intended as a calculated insult to the former U.S. president.

Ironically, Buckingham’s company Heritage Oil has co-sponsored training for Iraqi oil ministry officials in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s fall.

Earlier this month, the company announced it had signed a joint venture agreement in Iraqi Kurdistan, with a plan to produce over 50,000 barrels of oil a day.

Perhaps the greatest concerns center on Sanjivan Ruprah, former chief executive of Branch Energy, a company founded by Buckingham.

Ruprah, who was arrested in 2002 in Belgium, is a close associate of Viktor Bout, a Russian businessman accused of supplying weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

“Spicer’s activities in Sierra Leone [the arms to Africa affair] are well documented, as well as the involvement in Papua New Guinea. To give [a contract to] this man, Spicer, whose gang boss had contacts to Saddam Hussein and links to weapons suppliers to al-Qaeda, and who was shamefully trying to protect British soldiers who killed an innocent Irish man, is an absolute scandal,” Dr. Paleske said.

Fr. McManus intends to raise Spicer’s record in January, when Senate Democrats plan hearings on contract abuses in Iraq. “I have amassed a ton of information on this issue,” Fr. McManus said. “This provides us with an excellent opportunity to hold Spicer accountable for his military unit assassinating young Peter Mc Bride in Northern Ireland in 1992. We must seize the moment and not be found wanting. We owe it to the McBride family.”

Read more by Tom Griffin