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In June, the Pentagon's Program Management Office in Iraq awarded a $293 million contract to coordinate security operations among thousands of private contractors to Aegis, a UK firm whose founder was once investigated for illegal arms smuggling.
An inquiry by the British parliament into Sandline, Aegis head Tim Spicer's former firm, determined that the company had shipped guns to Sierra Leone in 1998 in violation of a UN arms embargo. Sandline's position was that it had approval from the British government, although British ministers were cleared by the inquiry. Spicer resigned from Sandline in 2000 and incorporated Aegis in 2002.
The Aegis contract has stirred up considerable controversy, even in the shadowy world of private military contractors. A protest by rival bidder Dyncorp - whose bid was deemed unacceptable by the Army - was dismissed by the General Accountability Offfice, which concluded that Dyncorp "lacked standing to challenge the integrity of the awardee (Aegis)." Spicer's defendants point out that there is no provision in contract law to deny a contract based on a bidder's "colorful" past.
Critics say that's just the problem. U.S. and international law have failed to address the role of PMCs in Iraq, resulting in a near-total lack of accountability that epitomizes what's wrong with the corporate takeover of Iraq.
"Who gives the orders? Where do contractors fit in the chain of command? Who is responsible if things go wrong?" Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) asks.
Not only do PMCs fall outside the Military Code of Justice but, thanks to another order passed by Paul Bremer (CPA order #17), it's not clear that they could be prosecuted under Iraq's own laws. That's because the order grants foreign contractors, including private security firms, full immunity from Iraq's laws, even if they injure or kill an innocent party.
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