US Ambassador Pledges Full Investigation of Mercenary Videos

The mother of a murdered Belfast teenager has met U.S. diplomats to express her concerns about a Pentagon security contract in Iraq.

Jean McBride’s son Peter was shot dead in 1992 by two soldiers from the Scots Guards. Their commanding officer, Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, is now the head of Aegis Specialist Risk Management, one of the largest private security companies operating in Iraq.

Mrs. McBride met earlier this month with the U.S. Special Envoy on the Irish Peace Process Mitchell Reiss and U.S. Consul Howard Dean Pittman.

"I told the ambassador that his government would not take kindly to the Irish or British governments doing business with someone who justified the murder of a U.S. citizen, and that I don’t take kindly to the U.S. government doing business with someone who has accused my son of carrying a bomb and who has justified the shooting, in the back, of my unarmed 18-year-old son," she said afterward.

During the meeting, Mrs. McBride also raised the issue of a number of so-called trophy videos circulating on the Internet, which appear to show Aegis personnel shooting at Iraqi civilians.

A spokesman for the Pat Finucane Center said that Ambassador Reiss had agreed to keep the McBride family informed of the progress of the investigation, and had denied claims that Aegis was involved in carrying out the inquiry.

The Pat Finucane Center presented Mr. Reiss with material from a now-defunct Web site run by Rod Stoner, the former Aegis employee who released the trophy videos on the Internet.

Aegis threatened Mr. Stoner with legal action after he was interviewed on Britain’s Channel Four News in March. Although Aegis has denied there is any evidence [.pdf] to connect it with the videos, it reportedly accused Mr. Stoner of breach of copyright over their release.

However, Aegis’ subsequent application to the High Court in London instead focused on the discussion of company procedures on the message board of Mr. Stoner’s site. As a result of the interim injunction awarded to Aegis, the site has been taken down.

The trophy videos remain online at the Channel Four News Web site, while a copy of the site’s message board has been posted by the Pat Finucane Center.

The long-running controversy over Aegis’ contract with the U.S. government may be fueled next month, when a new documentary on private military companies (PMCs) is screened on Capitol Hill.

Although the film, Shadow Company, offers a largely impartial survey of the PMC phenomenon, it includes severe criticisms of the Aegis deal.

The film’s director Nick Bicanic said in an interview earlier this year:

"[E]very individual that I spoke to was appalled that this was happening. Even the guys who just carry the guns, and are obviously not going to be in touch with somebody at the level of Tim Spicer, had heard of him and how much he screwed up before. To this day, it’s still not clear as to why that contract was awarded."

Among those interviewed in the film is Canadian journalist Madelaine Drohan, who has followed Spicer’s career in Africa, as well as that of Tony Buckingham, the man who introduced Spicer to the mercenary industry.

Drohan describes Buckingham’s business methods in her book, Making a Killing:

"Tony Buckingham had been making a practice of introducing Executive Outcomes to weak and unstable governments in need of armed support. These governments often hired the mercenaries to retake prime resource areas in their countries – diamond mines in particular – from rebel forces. Once these areas were back in a government’s control, mineral concessions were awarded to multinational corporations. When it was revealed that some of these corporations were associated with Buckingham, he was accused of employing armed force to acquire mineral riches, much as the imperial chartered companies had done a century before." (Random House Canada)

Buckingham is today a director of Heritage Oil, which holds an oil concession in Iraqi Kurdistan, certainly a prime resource area. This contract is one of a number of deals that are currently the subject of a dispute between the Kurdish regional government and the central authorities in Baghdad.

Significantly, Spicer has pointed to an increased role for private military companies in protecting the oil industry.

"I don’t subscribe to the view that there is a civil war going on, but if the coalition left it could very easily disintegrate into one," he told The Guardian recently. "The Iraqi security forces are not ready to take control. And therefore there would be a very significant increased role for private security – protecting critical infrastructure like oil, power station and water supplies, otherwise the insurgents will blow them up."

Spicer’s record suggests that there is a real danger that U.S. sponsorship of his company may bring the methods of African resource wars to the new Iraq.