The US Government has defended its decision to award a Â£293 million Iraq Security contract to British mercenary Tim Spicer, in reponse to concerns raised by the family of Belfast man Peter McBride, who was shot dead by Scots Guards soldiers under Spicer's command in 1992.
In a letter to the Pat Finucane Centre last month, Melissa Rider of the US Army Contracting Agency said the US had determined that Spicer and his company Aegis Defence Services "both possessed satisfactory records of integrity and business ethics and were responsible. The issue you have raised, though surrounded in political controversy, does not support any grounds for overturning the responsibility determination by our contracting officer. The actions you attribute to Mr Spicer do not appear to have resulted in any conviction for any illegal activity bearing on his integrity and business ethics. The fact that others could have reached a different conclusion does not mean that this determination was unreasonable."
Rider said that there was no legal basis to deny the contract to Aegis, adding "I now consider this matter closed."
Spicer's role in the McBride case and his chequered mercenary career have fuelled worldwide controversy since the US Army announced last June that it was awarding his company, Aegis Defence Services, the contract to co-ordinate the work of private security contractors in Iraq.
"As Commanding Officer of the Scots Guards he told a pack of lies about Peter's murder and dragged his name through the dirt," Peter McBride's mother Jean said when she learned of the deal. "God knows what his own private army will do in Iraq."
A campaign against the Aegis contract launched by Irish-American lobby group, the Irish National Caucus, has earned significant support in Washington. Senators including Ted Kennedy, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry wrote to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last August calling for an investigation.
In a reply to the Senators last November, the director of the US Army Contracting Agency Sandra Sieber, defended Spicer's role in supporting McBride's killers, Scots Guardsmen Mark Fisher and James Wright, who each served three years of a life sentence for murder before being released and returned to active duty, serving with their regiment in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
"It is significant that the British Ministry of Defence was apprised of our intention to award the contract to Aegis, and did not object to or advise against the action," Sieber said.
"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's 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 favour of the soldiers release. Recently, a British Army review board reinstated the soldiers into the British Army."
The Pat Finucane Centre responded in December with a submission on behalf of the McBride family, which described the Pentagon's conclusions as "factually inaccurate and flawed on a number of levels."
"The allegation against Mr Spicer is not that he advocated for the soldiers' release from prison. The issue is that he opposed their arrest and opposed their being charged with any offence whatsover. In a 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 defence offered by the soldiers, has been rejected by the courts and described as a 'concoction of lies' by the trial judge. The original judgement has been upheld in subsequent appeals."
The Pentagon responded to the Pat Finucane Centre's submission following a letter to the US Embassy in London in January from Brent East MP Sarah Teather.
Teather first became involved in the McBride case in 2003, when Kelly McBride stood in the Brent East by-election to highlight the British Army's retention of her brother's killers.
Teather defeated Labour's Robert Evans to take the North-West London seat, which has the largest Irish community of any British constituency, and pledged to raise the McBride case at Westminster.
In a parliamentary answer last month, Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell told Teather that the British Government was not a party to the Aegis contract.
The latest Pentagon response follows a further letter from the Pat Finucane Centre last month, which said that "various US government departments and bodies are passing the buck and refusing to face up to their obligation to ensure that contracts are not awarded to individuals whose respect for domestic and international human rights standards is questionable and whose record of integrity and business ethics is in doubt."
- 174 War & Disaster Profiteers Campaign