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 James Fisher.
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 said afterward.
"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 release.
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 law."
"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: Phil Shiner, 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 Greenslade; Angela Hegarty of the University of Ulster; and prominent human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield.