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Bereft Belfast Mother Charges Private Security Firms with Wanton Murder in Iraq

The mother of a teenager shot dead by British soldiers in Belfast has launched a campaign for an inquiry into alleged killing of civilians by private consultants in Iraq.

The woman is Jean McBride, the mother of 18-year-old Peter McBride, shot dead by members of the Scots Guards regiment in the New Lodge Road area in September, 1992. The men’s commander, Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, now heads the company at the centre of the Iraq allegations.

In June, the Pentagon announced that an inquiry had cleared Spicer’s company, Aegis Defence Sevices, of shooting up civilian vehicles in Baghdad. However, a former British paratrooper working for Aegis at the time says that the inquiry was a whitewash. He claims that, although he had witnessed the shooting and possessed video-tape of it, repeated offers of evidence were refused.

Now, Jean McBride has written to a United Nations working group on the use of mercenaries asking for a new investigation. The former para who worked for Aegis, Rod Stoner, says that he will testify to any new inquiry.

UK-based Aegis is the largest private security company operating in Iraq. Stoner resigned from the company last October last year following a dispute over an Aegis employees’ website which Spicer claimed was damaging the company. In an e-mail to Spicer at the time, Stoner denied that he intended to post “videos taken by your teams showing innocent Iraqis being shot up and in some cases killed.” However, after leaving the company, he posted the video on the website.

Stoner says he was the “team leader” in the sports utility vehicle from which the shooting took place.

The three-and-a-half minute video contains four clips in which automatic fire is directed at civilian cars travelling behind the SUV. One clip shows a white car apparently drifting out of control and then coming to a stop as it is raked with machine-gun fire. Another shows bullets splattering the bonnet and windshield of a Mercedes which crashes into another car. A number of people are seen running from the other car. No one emerges from the Mercedes.

The video is shot from inside the SUV as it travels along “Route Irish,” the eight-mile carriageway between Baghdad airport and the city. A sound-track features Elvis Presley singing “Mystery Train.”

The Derry-based human rights group, the Pat Finucane Centre, learned of the Pentagon inquiry in May from Mitchell Reiss, the Bush administration’s special envoy on the North. The Centre’s director Paul O’Connor and Jean McBride had met with Reiss in Belfast to protest against the Pentagon’s employment of Spicer’s company.

Said Jean McBride afterwards: “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 US citizen, and that I didn’t take kindly to the US government doing business with someone who has justified the shooting, in the back, of my unarmed 18-year-old son. “When we then brought up the Iraq video, Reiss told us there was a Pentagon investigation into it already under way and that I would be informed of the outcome.”

The video had been shown on More4 News in Britain on March 30 . The More4 bulletin also included an interview with Stoner. In the High Court in London on April 6, Aegis obtained an injunction compelling Stoner to take down the website.

Following coverage of the Finucane Centre’s meeting with Reiss the following month, Stoner contacted the Derry group by e-mail, saying that he had made “repeated requests [to Aegis] to be put in contact with those within the Pentagon responsible for the investigation,” but had had no response. He said that he believed that none of the other occupants of the SUV had been interviewed, either: these included the alleged shooter, a South African ex-British Army soldier.

On June 1, the Centre e-mailed Reiss: “This man has informed us that he is a former Aegis employee, Mr. Rod Stoner. He has informed us that he was present in the vehicle when the shooting occurred and that he was responsible for posting it on the website. Mr. Stoner has informed us that it is his understanding that none of those present in the vehicle have been contacted by the Pentagon, or indeed by any official investigating the video.” Stoner was available to give evidence, the PFC added. The e-mail was copied to the Inspector General of the US Army, Lt. Gen. Stanley Green.

On June 9, a Margaret Baines of Lt. Gen. Green’s office acknowledged receipt of the e-mail.

In Baghdad the following day, June 10, the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of Green’s department announced that its inquiry had been completed and had not found “any potential criminality that falls within CID’s investigative purview…No further investigative effort…was warranted.”

Aegis issued a statement in London on June 11 welcoming the verdict and referring to its own, earlier investigation which, it said, had concluded that, “The films were recorded during Aegis’ legitimate operations….and the incidents recorded were within the rules for the use of force.” Aegis had not previously published these finding but said now that it had passed them to the US investigators.

Stoner has told the PFC that Aegis “showed no interest” in interviewing him during its investigation, and had not interviewed any of his colleagues who had been in the SUV.

Jean McBride said last week: “The truth seems to be that there was no inquiry. If you don’t interview people who are offering eye-witness evidence, you aren’t inquiring.”

Mrs. McBride and the PFC wrote last week to Armanda Benavides de Perez, Colombian chairwoman of the UN’s new Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries (WGUM), asking her to consider whether the issues arising from the Aegis video come within the working group’s remit. The WGUM was established on June 16 at the inaugural meeting in Geneva of the Human Rights Council, (presided over by Kofi Annan,) which has replaced the long-standing UN Human Rights Commission.

“We are not letting go of this,” says Jean McBride. “A man who praised the murderers of my son and who has since been involved in very dubious activities around the world is now running an operation for the US in Iraq in which more innocent people are seemingly being gunned down.

“We will be actively seeking support for an inquiry by Ms. De Perez from politicians and others in Ireland, Britain, the US and elsewhere. How can we talk about human rights and the rule of law if people like Tim Spicer are allowed to defend murder in Northern Ireland and then go on to inflict the same attitudes elsewhere?”

Eighteen-year-old father-of-two Peter McBride was shot in the back by Scots Guardsmen Mark Wright and James Fisher in north Belfast on September 4th 1992. In February 1995, Wright and Fisher were convicted of murder and sentenced to life. The High Court and Court of Appeal in Belfast and the House of Lords upheld the verdicts. The pair was freed by Northern Secretary Mo Mowlam in September 1998, in advance of releases under the Belfast Agreement.

In November 1998, an army board accepted Wright and Fisher back into the regiment. The men’s commander, Col. Spicer, told the board that he’d arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting and that: “It was my inclination that (the soldiers) should be rearmed, re-zero their weapons and in my view return to the streets.” Tne soldiers, he added, had been “acting entirely in good faith and, in my view, in complete accordance with the Rules of Engagement.”

Jean McBride has campaigned to expose what she says is retrospective complicity by the British authorities in her son’s death. She and the Pat Finucane Centre have lobbied the Dublin Government and parliamentarians in Europe and traveled to the US seeking support from members of Congress.

In December 2000, a motion condemning the return of Wright and Fisher to their regiment was passed unanimously in the Irish parliament, Dail Eireann.

In June 2003, Peter McBride’s sister, Kelly, stood in a by-election in Brent East, London, to highlight the case. Lib Dem Sarah Teather, who won the seat, has since been a vocal supporter of the campaign.

In April 2005, Ms. Teather and London Mayor Ken Livingstone were among politicians who condemned the award of Iraq contracts to Aegis, citing Spicer’s role in the McBride killing.

After leaving the British Army in 1994, Spicer, with former Scots Guards colleague Simon Mann and others, set up Executive Outcomes, providing security for business and government interests. Executive Outcomes won contracts in countries including Angola, Rwanda, Burundi and Sierra Leone.

In October 1996, Spicer and Mann established Sandline International, which was hired the following year by the government of Papua New Guinea to suppress a revolt on Bougainville, site of the world’s largest copper mine. However, the revolt spread, the government fell and Spicer was briefly jailed. Backed by the British Government, SI collected an $18 million fee from the new government.

In 1998, Sandline organised an arms shipment to Sierra Leone in defiance of a UN embargo. It later emerged that British and US officials had secretly given Sandline the go-ahead. Britain’s High Commissioner in Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold, resigned.

In September 2004, Mann was sentenced to seven years in prison in Zimbabwe for attempting to buy arms to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.

Spicer had meantime, in 2002, founded Aegis Defence Services. The company won a number of contracts in Iraq following the April 2003 occupation. In May 2004, the US Army gave Aegis a $293 contract to coordinate all PSC operations in Iraq: this followed the lynching of four US contractors who had strayed into Fallujah. Last year, Aegis was hired by the UN to provide security during the October referendum and December elections. Aegis’s current Iraqi contracts total more than $400 million. Spicer stepped down late last year as Aegis chairman, but remains CEO and owns 40 percent of the company.

There are 25,000 private security contractors involved in the Iraq occupation—the second-biggest contingent after the Americans. Many earn $1,000 a day: 341 have been killed. They operate under rules of engagement drafted by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in 2003. CPA “Order No. Seven” guarantees them immunity under Iraqi law.

US Brigadier-General Karl Horst told the Sunday Times last October: “These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There’s no authority over them…They shoot people and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place.”

Fatal incidents have been reported. In February, French agency AFP reported two unarmed Iraqis killed in a passing taxi by contractors guarding a US office in Kirkuk. No overall figures are available of casualties of PSC actions.

Last year’s UN contracts significantly boosted Aegis’s standing, and may have helped attract new board members announced in November. These include leading British figures Field Marshall Lord Inge, former Chief of the Defence Staff, who took over as chairman, Brigadier James Ellery, former UN administrator in Sierra Leone, Nicholas Soames MP, former Armed Forces Minister, General Sir Roger Wheeler, former Chief of the General Staff and Sir John Birch, former deputy UK ambassador to the UN. Robert McFarlane, national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, now advisor to the government of Vladimir Putin, also joined the Aegis board.

The “Route Irish” video can be viewed at www.patfinucanecentre.org: scroll to “Under the Aegis.”

Eamon McCann can be reached at Eamonderry@aol.com

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Eamonn McCann is an Irish journalist and political activist. He can be reached at Eamonderry@aol.com

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