[JURIST] An Iraqi court on Monday sentenced former British solider Danny Fitzsimons to 20 years in prison for the shooting deaths of two of his colleagues in August 2009. Fitzsimons, who was working as a contractor for the UK security firm, ArmorGroup, now a part of G4S [corporate website], escaped the death penalty [Guardian report] but received the jail sentence for the murders of fellow contractors, Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare, following an argument between the three men. In addition to the murders, Fitzsimons was also accused of wounding an Iraqi security guard while attempting to leave the scene of the crime. At trial, Fitzsimons admitted that he shot the two men but argued that he did so in self-defense. He also claimed to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), stemming from his previous military experiences abroad, which the court considered in handing down a lighter sentence. In a press conference, Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve [advocacy website], a legal action charity working to enforce the human rights of prisoners, stated [text]:
If G4S had done the proper checks and risk assessments when Danny applied to work with them, they would have quickly seen that he was suffering from serious PTSD, a consequence of loyally serving his country. Instead they conducted minimal checks and sent him off to Iraq. Now Danny could spend the rest of his life in a hostile prison hundreds of miles from home, when he should be receiving psychiatric treatment.
Fitzsimons’ lawyer plans to appeal and hopes to lessen the sentence by another five years. In the meantime, he will likely be transferred from Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the shootings took place, to the Rusafa prison, which is located in another part of the city. Fitzsimons is the first Westerner to be convicted in Iraq since it was invaded in 2003.
Behavior of military contractors has been an ongoing issue abroad. In September, a report presented by the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries [official website] urged the US [JURIST report] to increase regulation of military contractors [text, PDF] employed worldwide, citing alleged human rights abuses and the contractors’ lack of transparency and accountability. The UN Working Group met with US officials last summer to discuss the actions of US private military and security companies (PMSCs) and to make recommendations on its findings. The report proposed that the US amend the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act [text] to extend the country’s criminal jurisdiction to PMSCs abroad, eliminate judicial immunity for PMSCs, pursue investigations into possible human rights abuses and enact the Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act [materials] currently before Congress, which would gradually discontinue the use of PMSCs. According to the report, the predominately American PMSC industry generates up to $100 billion per year, constitutes about half of the US military forces sent to Iraq and Afghanistan and needs continued reform.