The Investigation: Spearheaded by an Iraqi Colonel that U.S. Intelligence Shows has Suspected Ties to Insurgent Groups
Directly after the event the Iraqi Police flooded the scene, reportedly performing an investigation, but according to an Iraqi witness, also removing "pillow case sized bags" of bullet casings. According to the FBI, no such bags were ever received.
It was not, and is still not, uncommon for the insurgents to quickly remove any weapons, shell casings and their fallen from the scene of an attack. Oddly, a U.S. Army Colonel in charge of that area, testified to the opposite (see Timeline 9/16/07 page.) This is a sophisticated enemy that knows our armed forces can as easily be destroyed by perception as it can be by weapons. To compound this, this enemy consistently hides behind civilians (including and especially women and children) in order to protect themselves, and even more sinister, in order to ensure the worst possible public perception of the coalition forces. They stage an attack, they cause as many civilian casualties as possible, and then they flee, returning to clean up the scene as soon after the event as they can.
Three days later, the Department of State conducted an investigation and concluded that Raven 23 had taken enemy fire, and had responded. This would typically be the end of the matter, however political factors were in play far beyond anything happening in Baghdad on that day.
Amid pressure from the Iraqi government, the FBI showed up three weeks after the incident to conduct their own investigation along with a contingent of twenty five security vehicles because they feared for their safety. They did not arrive there in order to determine the truth... they arrived there in order to create a conviction in U.S. courts in order to appease the hostile and unstable Iraqi government. The FBI arrived to scenes that had been cleansed, evidence that was entirely gone, and witnesses that had received coaching and improper information from Iraqi investigators, especially lead investigator Colonel Faris Karim.
Colonel Karim was on scene while Raven 23 was in the Square, and he spearheaded the investigation. Photos were taken that show him on scene, and he told the FBI during an interview in 2012 that he saw "all the gunners on top of the armored vehicles shooting at one time or another during the incident," and that "[h]e saw and heard gunfire from the helicopters and saw smoke from the rifles in the helicopter[s]." Given his obvious influence over Iraqi witnesses, Col. Karim's statement regarding gunfire from helicopters (which the government ultimately conceded never happened) may be the reason why so many Iraqi witnesses incorrectly testified that helicopters were firing that day. Col. Karim became the linchpin in the investigation and created the first "diagrams" of locations of cars and "victims". These diagrams became an accepted part of both the Iraqi and FBI investigations.
The FBI, of course, then created their own, official diagrams. Discovery received by the defense counsel over the 7 years of pretrial show DRASTICALLY different diagrams, as witness testimony shifted. The varying diagrams did not become part of the trial evidence, as the Government -- despite flying Col. Karim to DC to testify, and providing accommodations and sundries while he stayed (likely for more than one week) -- decided not to call him at trial. Knowing the defense has no subpoena power to compel Col. Karim to testify, evidence relating to his misdeeds was lost.
In a trial such as this, years and years of pre-trial arguing, wrangling and negotiation goes on between the prosecutors and the defense, as to what evidence can ...and more importantly cannot... be shown to the jury. Our defense team was severely restricted in the evidence it was allowed to introduce.
One such major category of evidence was the alleged "victim cars". As the weeks passed after Sept. 16, damaged cars began arriving and each was duly purchased by the FBI. The cars were never covered, secured or preserved for evidential purposes. (See more on this topic, below.)
Shortly after the incident, Iraqi TV carried a commercial sponsored by the Iraqi Police. The trial testimony, below, is from a man who claimed his 9-year old son was killed during the incident. This witness, who now lives in the United States, initially claimed that "soldiers" in "uniform" had killed his son, and said as much in the boy's obituary. But when Blackwater was identified as being involved in the incident, this witness became something of a "poster boy" (sadly, because of the death of his son under some tragic condition). This part of the story is extremely odd, because Iraqis knew the difference between soldiers and contractors, and they also knew that claims were to be made through the US Embassy. One must ask, why would this man wait until he saw a television commercial before making a claim?
One witnesses even said that Col. Karim (who is referred to as "Col. Faris" in the trial transcript) told him, essentially, I control the witnesses, "if I tell them to go left, they will go left. If I tell them to go right, they will go right." Under cross examination, the witness, possibly remembering that Col. Karim would likely learn of this testimony, quickly backed away from his moments-earlier testimony, saying Col. Karim was surely joking.
Not only did the above-mentioned witness give insight into Col. Karim's improper influence and provide evidence of witness tampering, other Iraqi witnesses easily testified that they responded to numerous requests from Col. Karim to gather in groups at various offices, lunches, etc., where the witnesses easily commingled and freely discussed where each had been and what had happened to them.
Finally, even the prosecutors flew groups of Iraqi witnesses to the US in GROUPS, MULTIPLE times during pretrial hearings and for trial.
Sadly, even the government's own FBI witnesses said that, in 2014, Col. Karim was still an integral part of the process, although the Iraqi witnesses, clearly coached, all used the same lame term for him...simply a "coordinator". Mere facilitator.
Despite all of that, the FBI chose to proceed with the investigation with a specific purpose to establish guilt. Since then, it has only gotten worse. Through years of litigation, and the case being entirely dismissed once in a scathing opinion by Judge Urbina, four of the nineteen men were convicted of murder or manslaughter/attempted manslaughter after a sham of a trial. An additional man, the fifth man, pled guilty to one count of manslaughter and one count of attempted manslaughter in exchange for testifying against his former teammates. Although Nick Slatten's murder conviction has been overturned and one of Evan Liberty's convictions has been overturned, so far, only Nick has been granted any significant relief. In 2017, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that Nick be retried after concluding that evidence of Nick's innocence (which could not be introduced during a joint trial) was wrongly kept from the jury.
But evidence of Nick's innocence is not the only thing the government has hidden. On June 14, 2018, in connection with Nick Slatten's retrial, the government FINALLY disclosed what it had known all along: U.S. intelligence shows that Col. Karim has suspected ties to insurgent groups. The fight for additional disclosures are still ongoing, as the summaries of the classified information--while critical to showing that the government purposely misrepresented that there were no insurgents or terrorists in Nisur Square--are legally insufficient to protect Nick's constitutional rights. Additionally, the critical rights violation caused by the government's failure to timely disclose this information to all four members of Raven 23 is likely to have impacts beyond Nick's case. You can read two critical motions that Nick filed relating to classified information linking alleged victims or Iraqi officers to insurgent or terrorist groups HERE and HERE.
The FBI made 2 trips to Iraq, over 2 years, to conduct trajectory analysis and evidence recovery on the cars. Some of the vehicles they "analyzed" had remained in the possession of the Iraqis and had been altered. All of the vehicles were PURCHASED by the US Government as evidence.
When the defense attempted (between 2008 and 2009) to travel to Iraq to view the cars, they were unable. Contracting companies were hesitant (understandably!) to risk their lives and the lives of the defense, if word were to get out which side of this investigation they were on and why they were present in Baghdad. Thus, their quoted estimates far exceeded the defense budget. The defense asked that the Government provide security for the defense from the military, but they were denied. Then, the case was dismissed.
It wasn't until late 2012, after many, many requests for extensions of time by the government, when the judge finally set a hard deadline - either re-indict, or don't. They did. Then began the long fight over Nick Slatten, and other legal efforts to get the case dismissed.
When it became clear, in the 2014 trial, that not only was the government planning on making extensive use of the FBI investigation and materials of these cars, but also creating a demonstrative, interactive exhibit using information gleaned from these materials, the defense again requested that the government produce the evidence here in the US (the law provides that evidence must be made available to the defense), or at least, that the cars be moved to a third country (maybe Turkey) where they could be examined.
Not only was the defense denied - due to the government citing unacceptable cost - but was chastised for not making the request sooner. It was then "suddenly" learned that the cars had been moved and some had been destroyed. The defense was told that they and their experts, if they could find a credible one, would have to refute the government's evidence...by using the government's evidence - the same photos taken by the FBI. Experts contacted by the defense said no reasonable conclusions could be ascertained simply from photos.
Thus, even the cars which we did not dispute had been in Nisur Square could not be examined to refute the claims of the Iraqis as to the direction of fire they received. Many of them claimed that they were shot from the rear as they turned around in the avenue to escape. Here's the thing... A 7.62 round leaves the same diameter hole, whether it's fired from an American or a Russian weapon. There was NO way to tell which side impacted the vehicle. Thus, trajectory rods and witness testimony became critical.
Even if the defense had been allowed to examine the cars, the evidence was tainted. The State Dept. wound up getting blamed for not "preserving" the evidence that this DOJ needed. Oddly, all other physical evidence was in DC, at the FBI WFO (Washington Field Office).
With deteriorating and disappearing evidence, FBI photos and their own expert and witness testimonies, the prosecutors' evidence as to the cars went nearly unrefuted. The best the defense could do was to cross examine the witnesses and show the jury how their testimonies had been influenced and had changed over the years.