And in a letter to New York’s Sen. Charles Schumer, a top Pentagon official said that the U.S. Department of Defense was “disturbed” by the scenes in the video.
Renewed controversy has swirled around the role of Aegis in Iraq after the
video, posted on a Web site put together by former Aegis employees, showed gunfire being directed at Iraqi civilians driving on Baghdad area highways.
Aegis is run by former British army officer Tim Spicer who separately remains a controversial figure in Northern Ireland as a result of his defending the actions of men under his command who fatally shot Belfast teenager Peter McBride in 1992.
Aegis, a private security company, operates in Iraq under contract to the U.S. Department of Defense. The Iraqi mission is being funded to the tune of $293 million, a sum awarded by the Pentagon in May 2004.
In a letter late last year to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Schumer urged the Department of Defense to direct Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, “to conduct a thorough investigation of these troubling new allegations concerning Aegis.”
Schumer wrote Rumsfeld that while Aegis had initiated an internal investigation into the shootings, this was “plainly insufficient.”
It was self evident, Schumer stated, that a contractor with so much to lose should not investigate itself.
The video shows four separate clips in which automatic fire is directed from the rear of an SUV.
In one of the clips, a Mercedes car traveling behind the SUV is hit and rams into another car stopped on the road. People are seen running from the car struck by the Mercedes – but nobody gets out of the Mercedes itself.
Another clip shows fire being directed, seemingly at random, at the street surface and then directed at a car again driving behind the SUV. The car pulls in to the side of the road and this time a man gets out.
Yet another clip clearly shows bullets striking the hood of a car and it lurching to halt. Nobody is seen getting out.
At one point a spent bullet round appears in the video camera lens inside the SUV. Voices speaking English are also heard inside the SUV.
The four clips are accompanied by a soundtrack of the Elvis Presley song “Mystery Train.”
In his letter, Schumer stated that Aegis’s conduct, both before and after receiving its Pentagon contract, had been questionable.
“As you know,” Schumer wrote Rumsfeld, “I weighed in with four U.S. senators against awarding this security contract to Aegis because I believe that the firm’s checkered history and the dubious human rights position of its founder and chief executive, Tim Spicer, make them unsuitable to receive massive sums from the American taxpayers.
“The new allegations, along with already existing concerns about the integrity of Aegis, make me once again question whether the decision to award a multi-million dollar contract to this firm was appropriate.”
The four senators referred to by Schumer are Hillary Clinton, Edward Kennedy, Chris Dodd and John Kerry.
Schumer pointed in the letter to the shooting of Peter McBride and the fact that two members of the Scots Guards regiment, commanded at the time by the then active Lt. Col. Spicer, were subsequently convicted of murder.
“Yet Mr. Spicer has repeatedly defended the actions of the two soldiers…and argued for their release [which later occurred]. Moreover, the Boston Globe reported that Mr. Spicer was involved in illicit arms deals in Sierra Leone after retiring from the British military,” Schumer wrote.
“The combination of these activities leads me to conclude that the government’s awarding of a massive security contract to an individual and a firm with a history of supporting excessive force against civilians is extremely troubling,” he stated.
Schumer concluded by saying that he was looking forward to the “commencement of the Special Inspector General’s investigation.”
That investigation is now underway but is instead being carried out by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, or CID.
The response to Schumer, dated Feb. 16 and signed by Bernard P. Ingold, deputy Chief Legislative Counsel at the Department of the Army’s Investigative and Legislative Division, thanks Schumer for his letter to Secretary Rumsfeld “regarding the recent video purporting to show Aegis Defense Services LTD (Aegis) employees shooting at Iraqi civilians without provocation.”
Ingold writes: “Let me assure you that we are as disturbed as you at the content of the video. Aegis was hired to protect U.S. personnel working on the reconstruction of Iraq and no U.S. personnel have been injured or killed under security provided by Aegis. However, the protection they afford should not come at the expense of Iraqi civilians.”
The letter added that CID was reviewing the “tapes of the incident” and also an internal investigation by Aegis “in order to determine if there is potential criminality that falls within their investigative purview.”
The letter stated that the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction did hot have jurisdiction to investigate “violent criminal activities by armed security contractor personnel in theater” – hence the CID role.
The letter to Schumer further stated: “We also understand your concern regarding the overall suitability of Aegis to receive government contracts, particularly with regard to allegations surrounding British Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.) Tim Spicer, president of Aegis. We have received many letters from Irish Americans stating that his support of the two British soldiers who killed an unarmed Irish civilian while under his command should disqualify him from receiving government contracts.
“However,” the letter continued, “Lt. Col. Spicer had not been convicted of any crimes, nor have the allegations of illicit arms deals with Sierra Leone ever been proven or resulted in any indictments. In addition, neither Lt. Col. Spicer nor Aegis is included on the list of parties excluded from federal procurement.
“Therefore, the army presently has no basis under which to bar or suspend them from receiving contracts in Iraq or elsewhere.”
The letter additionally pointed to other areas in which Aegis was either up to, or close to, Defense Department requirements for contractors. It stated agreement with Schumer’s contention that it was “essential that private security personnel working under U.S. government contracts conform to and respect the rule of law.”
And Ingold concluded: “We appreciate your interest in the Aegis contract and the army’s reconstruction mission in Iraq. We will keep you informed regarding the results if the CID investigation once it is complete.”
A spokesman for Schumer told the Echo that the senator had taken positive note of the tone and content of the letter.
It had not been “perfunctory,” the spokesman said.
He said that Schumer was now keenly anticipating the results of the CID investigation.