Pending Blackwater (in)justice

On Sunday, September 16, 2007, a Blackwater protective service detail (PSD), Raven 4, was assigned to a diplomatic protection mission at the Izdihar compound near Nisour Square in Baghdad.

The Blackwater teams always cleared alternate routes for a convoy or detail in advance, preparing for traffic, an ambush, or any other emergency.  Consequently, it had already been reported to the tactical operations center by a low profile (i.e. undercover) team that there was an unusual, heavy presence of Iraqi police and/or military in the square on this day.  The square was also near an Iraqi Army base and police station.

About one mile north of the square, A USAID (United States Agency for International Development) worker was in a meeting at the Izdihar compound when a very large bomb blast rocked the area nearby.  The bomb blast was so strong she was blown off her chair.  Smoke from the massive explosion of the vehicle borne IED (improvised explosive device) could be seen on satellite imagery.  The deafening blast was easily heard in the Green Zone, driving tactical support teams (TST), including Raven 23, quickly into action to respond the emergency.

Former Blackwater vice president and chief operating officer, Bill Matthews says, “Many of the attacks that our guys were killed in were multi-staged, multi-phased ambushes, which are often initiated with an IED and then followed up with small arms fire or more IED’s.  Very infrequently was it a single strike.  There’s usually a coordinated effort, so when you are responding to a distress signal, you are expecting a second attack of some type.”

In the weeks prior to the Nisour Square incident, the PSDs and TSTs had been briefed on an IED threats, including a white Kia sedan.  When Raven 23 entered the Square, a white sedan approached their convoy, ignoring multiple and various signals to stop.  The vehicle was engaged, and the occupants were killed in the process.  The convoy was also receiving small arms fire from within the square.

The media has most often reported this incident as a massacre.  Yet, there is video footage from a nearby tower of the immediate aftermath that tells a different story.

screen grab via YouTube

In a video still from the “crime scene,” there is not only absence of first responders, but more importantly, an absence of bodies.  If the Iraqi government and the FBI claim there were numerous Iraqis slaughtered in the square on this regretful day, where are the bodies?  Where are the first responders?  Frankly, where is the evidence of a massacre?

Tragically, members of Raven 23 (Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Paul Slough, and Nicholas Slatten) were charged with a number of very serious crimes as a result of the deaths that did occur, a number that has varied wildly as the investigation and prosecution progressed.  When all the facts are considered, only the unjust imprisonment of these four men exemplifies the fallout of this event.  Has the case been jaundiced against this Blackwater team from the very beginning?  After the case was initially -- and harshly -- dismissed by Judge Ricardo Urbina, it was returned on appeal for clarification.  By that time, Judge Urbina had retired and the case was assigned to another judge.  On the same day, the docket reflects that the case was directly reassigned to the judge that has it now, Judge Royce Lamberth.

There appear to have been a number of blatantly obvious mistakes associated with the case.  The case was moved to one of the most liberal circuits in the country -- the DC circuit.  A valid defense motion concerning the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) was ignored, allowing jurisdiction where it did not apply.  A 30-year mandatory minimum sentence statute historically applied to drug traffickers and gangbangers in possession of automatic weapons was misapplied to the defendants after President Obama took office.  Photographic evidence was withheld from the defense for seven years, in clear violation of the ruling of Brady v. Maryland.  In addition, a witness’s statement produced on the eve of trial completely contradicted his four days of trial testimony, yet the judge refused to postpone sentencing, which would have allowed the perjury to be explored.

In spite of the sentences against Heard, Liberty, and Slough being ruled “cruel and unusual punishment,” Slatten’s conviction of murder being vacated, and all the obvious errors of the case, four men remain in prison, today.  Is there something more inflammatory still to be found below the surface?  There is a statement from Andrew McCabe suggesting the Blackwater convictions were not happening fast enough with the case.  Wikileaks also exposed that one of Hillary Clinton’s main concerns was to find a way to placate the Iraqis -- financially, of course.

The defendants have not received a fair trial. Rather, they continue to appear to be scapegoats to diplomacy trumping the rule of law.  The Blackwater case gives some weight to the notion that the Obama DOJ, FBI, and folks like Hillary Clinton and Andrew McCabe may have been "meddling" with cases for quite a while.


J.M. Phelps is a Christian activist and journalist based in the Southeastern U.S.

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