THE MOTHER of the Peter McBride, the Belfast teenager murdered by two Scots Guardsmen on 4 September 1992, has appealed to the Iraqi government to cancel the contracts of private security firm Aegis Defence Services and to expel it from the country.
Jean McBride’s appeal follows a decision in September by the Iraqi interior ministry to expel another leading private security contractor, Blackwater, after it was confirmed that the company’s personnel had opened fire on civilians in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour in western Baghdad, killing eight civilians and wounding a further 13.
Her family has waged a vigourous campaign on both sides of the Atlantic and won the support of a number of British and Irish MPs. Despite this, British government ministers and defence officials have consistently refused to back campaigners’ calls for Peter McBride’s killers to be thrown out of the army. At a time when it is still possible for serving soldiers to be cashiered for a string of relative minor offences, it’s
not difficult to see why the McBride family regard the decision to allow the two guardsmen, whose convictions for murder have not been quashed, to resume their army careers, as adding insult to injury.
In recent years, the McBride campaign has widened its scope by also focussing on the career of Aegis chief executive Tim Spicer, who was the British army officer in charge of the two guardsmen convicted of her son’s murder.
Spicer has always refused to accept that his soldiers did anything wrong in shooting an unarmed teenager in the back in broad daylight and is on public record as saying that they should not even have been charged, let alone brought to trial.
Since leaving the British army in 1995, Spicer has moved into the murky and highly lucrative world of private ‘security’ – that’s mercenary to you and me – provision, where the activities of his various companies have resulted in a string of investigations and official reprimands. Unfortunately, tacit British government approval has ensured that such misdemeanours have not restricted his business opportunities, especially in Iraq.
The McBride family and human rights campaigners have not been so forgiving. In the years since his son’s murder, Jean McBride has repeatedly told anyone who would listen that Tim Spicer is unfit to to be in charge of men in a conflict situation. She is now urging the Iraqi government to “show the door to Aegis” as they have done to Blackwater.
Speaking after the Iraqi government announced that it was expelling Blackwater and revoking the company’s license to work in the country, Jean McBride explained that she had written to the Ambassador to Britain and Ireland, Dr Salah Al-Shaikhl, pointing out that Aegis employees had been filmed firing at Iraqi civilians in 2005 and that neither the company nor the Pentagon had bothered to carry out a proper investigation.
Following representations from the McBride family, prominent US lawmakers, including Democratic presidential candidate hopeful, Barack Obama, have joined the call for an inquiry into the awarding, and re-awarding, of ‘security’ contracts in Iraq to Aegis.
The family has welcomed the recent announcement, made in the wake of the Blackwater revelations, that the oversight and government reform committee of the US Congress is to hold formal hearings on the use of private security companies in Iraq. It could be a small step on the road to justice.
Further details about the activities of Aegis, Tim Spicer and the McBride family campaign can be found on the website of the Pat Finucane Centre at www.patfinucanecentre.org
The above article originally appeared in the Morning Star on 01/10/07 (that’s 1st October…)
Category Archives: British army
From David McKittrick’s article in today’s Independent, “Staying on one side or the other makes life less complicated”:
Their widely differing takes on the Troubles were starkly illustrated by a poll that showed 86 per cent of Protestants approved of the police using plastic bullets while 87 per cent of Catholics disapproved.
The gulf in these mindsets is so wide that, apart from television and radio debates, it is extremely rare for committed unionists and committed nationalists to debate such things.
McKittrick doesn’t provide any explanation or attempt at a reason to explain this “gulf in mindsets”–and I’m already bored thinking about the reasoning behind this–but the facts are out there, and it bothers me to see an issue like this laid out there in the “we just see things differently” sort of way.
In 2000, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, now Director of the Tranisitional Justice Program at the University of Ulster, published a study called the Politics of Force: Conflict Management and State Violence in Northern Ireland that I am reading as background for my thesis. Her study shows notable patterns in the use of state force and the typology of victims–namely that an overwhelming number of victims (85%) of state violence were from the minority (Catholic) community, as opposed to 11% from the Protestant community (with 4% “other”). Kind of puts the poll in a different perspective now, doesn’t it?
“If we acknowledge that lethal force has, in fact, been a prevalent and widespread component of the minority community’s experience within the state,” writes Ní Aoláin, “then this acknowledgement, in turn, must validate and reinforce the minority’s perception of the states and its agents.”
An editorial from Father Des Wilson in the Andersonstown News:
The British government’s change of military tactics in Ireland has been hailed – unfortunately – as a withdrawal.
It is not a withdrawal, the British garrisons are still there to try to hold the northeast of Ireland militarily and economically. And they have been given new extra oppressive powers to do it.
In 1969 extra troops flooded in not to protect Catholics or Protestants but to uphold the Stormont regime which was toppling – it could not co-exist with justice. As time went on the reason for their coming was explained in different ways. First it was to protect Catholics, then to protect Protestants against republicans, then to save Britain from terrorism, then as a bulwark against international terrorism. One explanation followed another, all to convince the world that flooding Ireland with British troops was a good thing. The final claim about international terrorism was directed to the American administration which was not interested in protecting Catholics or Protestants or British people but was interested in developing a doctrine of international terrorism.
London’s strategy was to turn a peaceful civil rights campaign into an armed conflict, because it believed it could win an armed conflict whereas it could not win against a united people’s demands for fair government. It had then to make a choice, either attack the unionist establishment and its supporters or attack the Catholics. It made a deliberate decision to attack the Catholics. Its agents said that if ever Catholics and Protestant were fighting them on two sides they would have to withdraw. John McKeague was one of their friends who passed on the message. To prevent this, they attacked one side and armed the other.
They believed that in an armed conflict the London army must win. This went against many examples in the history of the dissolution of the London empire, the Irish example included; but militarist governments do not accept lessons, even to their own advantage. They needed to control the economy in Ireland and military bases. If anyone thinks the London administration spent generous amounts of money on Ireland’s northeast, they should consider how much they would have to spend, and did spend, maintaining military bases in other parts of the world. London got a military bargain in Ireland. They still owe us a lot of money and life. And they took as much care of us as they would of any military base, no more and no less. Nearly everybody in the northeast suffered as a result of such primitive caretaking – and still suffers.
A new campaign of recruitment to the London army in Ireland has already begun. Can we hope that no Irish body will support it? That no school will admit recruiters to seduce yet another generation of children?
Remembering that London sends teenagers to fight its wars for it, not only in Ireland but in many parts of the world, one wonders at the irresponsibility of anyone who admits the gun-toters and armed aeroplane leapers into their classrooms – no contraceptives, please, only rifles, we’re Christians.
Elected representatives have things to do. One is to tell the truth about continuing military occupation and what it is costing us. Another is to make sure recruiting cannon-fodder is ended. Another is to take all oppressive powers off soldiers. And to get rid of those garrisons, in the interests of Irish unionists, nationalists and republicans, and of peaceful people all over the world who should be sick to life of the culture of death with which London has burdened us all.
Time to disarm and go. For good and all.
“As the army left this week, with hardly a muffled drum to lead them out, the magnitude of the wastage of it all was overwhelming.” So writes Tom McGurk in today’s Sunday Business Post , reflecting on the legacy of the last 38 years in the north of Ireland. I’ve already posted about the army’s exit a few times, and I’m going to continue to do so–mostly because there is so much misinformation out there about the roots of the conflict and the “role of the British” in it all.
This article focuses on how things didn’t have to end up the way they did–that due to the political mistakes made by Westminster, the presence of the army actually escalated the emerging conflict in the north in the late ’60s/early ’70s, that their behavior became a recruiting agent for the IRA and so forth. No surprises there.
Whatever about the ideology of Republicanism, after their mother’s door was smashed in or they were batoned down the street, local youths began to drift into the IRA.
By the summer of 1970, only months after their deployment, the army was regularly using CS gas and rubber bullets.
Their political honeymoon was over and the essential elements and components in the guerrilla war that was soon to erupt with huge ferocity were already evolving.
Next came the infamous Falls Road curfew, when the army forced thousands indoors and drove unionist ministers and the press around in lorries to view what seemed like their ‘occupied town’.
The original fatal flaw as to who had direct responsibility for the army -Westminster or Stormont – was soon to culminate in the disaster of internment in 1971.Astonishingly, a mere 24months from arriving to cups of tea and a huge welcome from the Catholic population, the British army was now dragging the same people from their beds in the middle of the night and locking them up in prison camps without trial or habeas corpus.
Perhaps what then followed after internment – Bloody Sunday and the rest – had all that sense of historical inevitability about it, but in the months just after the army was first deployed in the North in August 1969, there was a unique opportunity, tragically not to be seen again for almost 40 years.
Few tears will be shed for Operation Banner, the British army’s 38-year involvement in the conflict here. Despite nostalgic footage of housewives treating squaddies to cups of tea, this military adventure should be remembered for some of the most destructive events of the Troubles. British military policy fanned the flames of communal strife and brought us to the brink many times.
Ostensibly sent over to help the police “keep the peace,” Britain’s army was soon immersed in a draconian onslaught against those who opposed or even questioned the state. It began with the Falls Road ‘Curfew’ and quickly moved to internment and Bloody Sunday. If anyone had illusions about the “peace” credentials of the troops who poured onto our streets in 1969, they were soon shattered in partisan application of military might.
…the entire military operation rested on the notion that Catholics and Protestants here somehow just fell out. Promulgated around the world, the carefully fostered pretext for thousands of troops even took root here. It meant brushing under the carpet not only decades of misrule in the North, but also Britain’s obdurate refusal to do anything before the dams burst in violent denial of civil rights.
The fact that the army’s initial welcome was short-lived bears out the fact that it was never here to bring peace.
Its role actually turned civil unrest into civil war.
Folk musician and singer Tommy Makem, best known as one of The Clancy Brothers, died of lung cancer today. The following is a great video from YouTube of Makem both at and being interviewed about Free Derry’s “Liberation Fleadh” in celebration of the nationalist community’s self-declared autonomous zone. A “fleadh” is a music festival. This video contains some really great footage.