The Incident - Nisur Square, Baghdad 2007, During the Surge
For years, members of the Free Raven 23 families have been speaking to anyone who would listen about the unjust and wrongful convictions of four decorated combat veterans stemming from an incident in war torn Iraq in September 2007.
In short, these four men (Nick Slatten, Evan Liberty, Paul Slough & Dustin Heard) were in a large convoy that responded to the calls of a US diplomat who had been bombed while in Baghdad. In order to ensure safe re-entry into the “Green Zone” team Raven 23 went out for a routine mission to stop the traffic in a nearby traffic circle so the diplomats convoy could pass through safely.
What happened next appeared to be a text book secondary attack - after all the vehicles in the square had stopped, a white Kia (fitting the description of a vehicle they had been briefed on earlier that was likely carrying a car bomb), jumped out from behind stopped traffic and began approaching. At the same time, the team started taking incoming small arms fire. This was a hallmark tactic of the insurgency at the time - a primary attack (the diplomat) and a planned secondary attack (where they knew the response teams would be).
Multiple team members gave eye witness testimony that they perceived the white Kia was aiming to kill them. Several said they thought they were going to die that day. The white Kia was in the sector of Paul Slough, who was a turret gunner on the command vehicle. Following escalation procedures one by one, the vehicle was waved/yelled off - but it did not stop. A shot was fired into the hood of the car - but it did not stop. A shot was fired at the driver of the KIa, but the passenger leaned over and the Kia kept on advancing. The passenger was shot - again it did not stop. And finally, a M240 grenade was shot at the front axle of the vehicle to force the vehicle to stop. Inches matter when you believe bomb is headed your way.
Almost simultaneously, the team started taking incoming small arms fire. In an environment where you could buy police uniforms on the street and the only difference between a civilian and an enemy was if they were pointing a gun at you, a firefight ensued. During the firefight, the command vehicle was pock marked with bullets and disabled by gunfire, then had to be towed from the square. During the melee, sadly, a number of individuals were injured or killed. Contrary to what politically motivated prosecutors have proposed, it is unclear who was a civilian vs who was part of the insurgency, and who was a casualty of the team’s shots vs shots fired by enemy combatants.
The Investigation - Led by an Iraqi Police Colonel Tied to the Insurgency
The political situation between the government of the United States and the Iraqi government was tense. Many political factions sought to cause strife between the governments of the United States and Iraq and weaken the positions of those currently in power in Iraq.
An Iraqi Police Colonel, whom the government has known all along had ties to TWO terrorist organizations, was on the scene and led the “investigation” against these decorated US combat veterans. Eye witnesses say Iraqi Police uniforms were tossed over embankments and pillow case sized bags of enemy bullet casings were removed as the scene was cleansed of the attack on the convoy to make it appear that the team had attacked unprovoked. This same corrupted Iraqi official coordinated all of the Iraqi witness, documented the casualties (which changed day by day) and collected all of their statements, which over time changed and came to have verbatim statements copied and pasted from one to the other.
This investigation was then brought to the United States of America, and presented in our court system as a valid and truthful investigation, and put forth as fact to the mainstream media who was all too willing to share.
The First Case - Dismissed for Egregious Rights Violations
Under pressure from the Iraqi government, the United States built a case against some of the members of Raven 23 using the tainted investigation manufactured by the Iraqi Police Colonel. During the building of this case, the prosecutors engaged in massive misconduct by using compelled statements of the team members to build their case. As with law enforcement officers these men were required to give “after action reports” and these reports are specifically prohibited from being used in criminal proceedings. Even knowing this, they used the statements in almost every facet of their case formation. Not only that, but some excerpts and some statements in whole were leaked to the media and viewed by witnesses which in turn changed their testimony.
In a scathing 90 page opinion Federal Judge Ricardo Urbina lambasted the government’s use of the statements and stated that an appeal was almost impossible because in essence in you simply can’t unmix Kool-Aid - meaning you can’t erase the exposure of the statements to the witnesses, prosecutors and investigators. Allow us to pose you this question - if the government had a case without the protected statements, why would they knowingly jeopardize their case by using them? The answer is - they wouldn’t.
Bowing Down to Iraqi Political Pressure
In January 2010, after the scathing dismissal by the Federal Judge, then Vice President Joe Biden went to Iraq for a diplomatic visit. At the time, parliamentary elections were taking place and government officials expressed that the dismissal of the case against these four men weakened their position. As a response to political pressure, Joe Biden made a public statement that the case would be pursued again and essentially promised justice to the Iraqi people. This prosecution had nothing to do with individual accountability and everything to do with appeasing political factions within the Iraqi government.
The government appealed the initial courts ruling multiple times and were finally granted the ability to try the case again by an Obama appointed judge.
The First Trial - 2014 - Seven Years After the Incident
Between the four men, there were murder, manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and even federal weapons charges - totaling over 30 counts for the jury to decide. The federal weapons charges, designed to punish gang crimes using military grade weapons, were applied to punish the defendants after they rightfully refused to accept plea deals for crimes they were not guilty of.
Imagine a civilian jury, with no combat experience, in Washington DC being presented a case by the United States government that had been conducted by an Iraqi Colonel with ties to the insurgency SEVEN years after the actual event took place in a war zone. Imagine they have no idea the lead investigator was tied to the insurgency, imagine that they were presented witnesses by the government that the government knew were lying, exculpatory evidence being hidden from them and “experts” being paid by our government to explain away clear bullet strikes.
Rife with prosecutorial misconduct, the prosecution fought with every dirty trick they had while our defense fought with both hands tied behind their backs. After an eight week jury deliberation, which is pretty much unheard of, the jury finally returned guilty verdicts for all four men.
Convictions & Sentences Vacated for Rights Violations
Nearly a year and a half later, our appeals were finally heard again in Washington DC. While the outcome was nowhere near what it should have been (the convictions should have been vacated against all four defendants without a doubt), the conviction was vacated against Nick Slatten alone and the sentences were vacated against Evan Liberty, Dustin Heard and Paul Slough because the 30 year sentences were deemed cruel and unusual.
For Nick Slatten, his case has taken a twisted and horrible turn. Nick Slatten’s case was originally dismissed by the government many years ago when they admitted they did not have enough evidence to charge him. In 2014 when they brought the case back (after political pressure from the Iraqi government) they decided to bring him back into the case, likely so that he could not testify on behalf of his teammates. However, when they tried to do so, they found out that they had missed the statute of limitations, ostensibly having forgotten they had let their own case against Nick go before the judge dismissed the case against the other three.
The government, with no new evidence from the time they dismissed their own case for a lack of evidence, gave Nick a sick ultimatum - either wave your rights to the statute of limitations and we will charge you with manslaughter, or we will charge your with first degree pre-meditated murder with a mandatory life sentence because it has no statute of limitations. Due to Nick’s complete innocence, he chose not to wave his rights, trusting the jury to weigh the facts correctly in his favor. Unfortunately that is not what happened.
The most twisted part of Nick’s conviction is the crime he was accused of - first degree pre-meditated murder of the driver of the white Kia. First of all, none of this series of events was pre-meditated and second of all, everyone, including the government, knew only the turret gunners could have made the fatal shots that killed the driver of the white Kia, and that two turret gunners had made multiple admissions that they had fired into the white Kia. Setting aside the fact that the shots were in self defense of a reasonable perceived threat, it was physically impossible that Nick committed that crime, there is no physical evidence linking him to the victim, and not a single eye witness that saw him shoot at the driver of the white Kia.
Because one of the turret gunners, Paul Slough, who acknowledged firing into the white Kia in self defense was a co-defendant in the original trial, his statements were inadmissible, making it impossible for Nick to defend himself effectively in the trial. The judge was asked to sever his case, but refused, even knowing it was denying Nick his right to a fair trial. The appellate court disagreed heartily with the trial courts opinion, vacated his conviction, and ordered him to be tried again.
Where We Are Today
To come up to speed on Nick’s subsequent second and third trials, see the most recent blog entries. His second trial ended in a hung jury, and his third trial ended in another conviction, due wholly to the prosecutorial misconduct and suppression of evidence the entire case history is rife with. He currently awaits his sentencing, a mandatory life sentence, for a crime it was impossible for him to commit.
Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty & Paul Slough currently sit in federal prisons with no sentences - and have not had sentences since they were vacated in January of 2017. They continue to languish, treated as felons instead of the decorated combat veterans they are.
How You Can Help
At this point, the judicial system has had every chance to work and it has not. We are well beyond the judicial system being able to overcome the corruption and misconduct displayed by the FBI and the DOJ in bringing and prosecuting these cases and now it is has come time to the executive to come in and right the wrongs - we need the President of the United States to defend those who defended us and say that is NOT right that decorated veterans should be made scapegoats for the sake of political appeasement.
Please join us by writing your congresspersons and senators to support the President in pardoning these men, reach out to them and President in social media, and be sure to share our story far and wide. There is power in numbers, there is power in the people, and we believe the people deserve to be heard!