The Trial of Raven 23
The Evidence presented at Trial
- Multiple accounts from credible Americans that they took enemy fire
- Eyewitness account from a helicopter of men dropping weapons and IP uniforms behind embankments
- Pictures of a vehicle pocked with bullet holes
- Pictures of the shot out radiator
- Parades of Iraqis who testified to everything from being shot at from the sky (did not happen) to defendants driving around in a blue Mercedes shooting people at point blank range (ridiculous)
- An Iraqi witness who testified to at least two pillow case sized bags half full of bullets which were never given to the FBI
- An Iraqi witness that said it was ok to lie as long as it was justified
- An Iraqi witness that admitted Colonel Farris (head of the Iraqi Police Department and lead investigator) interfered in the investigation, and strong evidence he coached/influenced witnesses
- Statements from Iraqis that were identical in areas, which they confessed had been written by others and then had been given to them to sign
- An alleged victim that was more than a thirty minute walk away at the time the event took place
- Testimony from a nearby weapons expert and government operative unrelated to Blackwater's mission who testified to having AK47 shells fall on his location, and a clear, audible, two way fire fight
- Charts and graphs showing MANY bullets and casings found on the scene consistent with insurgent weapons, even though the scene could reasonably assumed to have been cleansed
- Clear, almost indisputable evidence that the team was taking fire from the south based on shells present at the scene, pictures of scene and eye witness testimony
- A weapons expert that testified that even though the bullets he was given to analyze were consistent with the weapons issued to Blackwater guards, NONE of them matched specifically to the weapons that were used by the defendants that day.
- Questionable death certificates which were revised and some marked prior to the incident even taking place
Evidence that was NOT presented at Trial
- Pictures of many of the alleged victims at the scene, hospital or morgue
- Clear evidence that the many of the alleged victims were even at the scene that day, other than the testimony of family members who were not
- Colonel Faris, the lead Iraqi investigator, even though he was in the U.S. at the time of the trial
- Forensic evidence linking the defendant's weapons to any alleged victim or vehicle
Lost or Stolen Evidence
One of the many points of contention during the trial was the bus stop to the south of the circle. Several non-defendant witnesses testified that the bus stop was the direction that they perceived the fire to be coming from. The bus stop was a large concrete structure perfect for providing cover for insurgent fire.
Although some bullet casings were found in the vicinity of the bus stop, none were found by Dept of State or FBI directly behind the bus stop, where one would expect casings to be. Much to everyone's surprise, about halfway through the trial, seven years after the event took place, previously unseen photographs appeared that showed bullet casings on the ground right behind the bus stop. These missing pictures were taken on the day of the event by a U.S. Army Captain who was sent to informally gather information on what had occurred. His batch of photographs included the one showing the casings directly by the bus stop, and later pictures that showed the same area free of casings. The Army Captain maintains that he provided ALL of the pictures to the FBI, but that they had not provided all of them to the defense. The FBI and DOJ contend that it was an innocent oversight that only a portion of the pictures were provided to the defense.
These pictures are important for three reasons:
- They show compelling evidence that insurgents were firing from behind the bus stop that day and that the defendants fired in self defense.
- They show compelling evidence that the scene was cleansed on the same day the event took place; days before the Dept. of State investigation and WEEKS before the FBI.
- They are evidence of something very sinister and underhanded happening with either the FBI, DOJ or both.
Ok, How Were These Men Convicted?!
Great question - and one we ask ourselves every day. We believe that a review of the evidence shows pretty clearly that:
- The team responded to the white Kia with escalating force and it was reasonable to assume it was threat
- The team began receiving small arms fire minimally from the area near the bus stop, and that the defendants responded to the threat
- The Fifth Man clearly acted in bad faith, likely as a result of his diagnosed PTSD, and at some point fired uncontrollably to the south, then the west, then the north of the square
- The scene was cleansed and evidence of the insurgency was removed on the day of the event
- The allegations of involved victims were greatly exaggerated and fabricated by the Iraqis, not to mention how many of their statements changed DRASTICALLY between the time of the event and the trial (not being in the square to being in the square?)
- The Department of State investigation wasn't conducted until three days after the event, and the scene was not secured
- The FBI did not arrive (with a 25 vehicle security contingent no less) until three weeks after the event
- That political factors have driven the DOJ to aggressively pursue convictions against four men that they know are innocent, while allowing a plea deal with a confessed murderer
- That the Iraqi Police and their lead investigator interfered with both the scene and the Iraqi witnesses on the day and in the following weeks, months and years during the investigation and trial
In order to get a conviction on the charges, one should normally have to prove without a reasonable doubt that the defendant did in fact kill or injure the victim, the victim exists, and that they could not have been acting in self defense. The evidence more than creates reasonable doubt. However, this is where legal gymnastics come into play. In order to get a conviction, the prosecutors used the legal framework pertaining to "aiding and abetting." Aiding and abetting is often used in cases where a crime is committed by a group of individuals acting in concert with one another. Take a bank robbery for example... If a group of people agree to commit a robbery and someone shoots the guard, everyone who agreed to commit the robbery is accountable for the guard.
Before the Raven 23 case went to trial, the government consistently acknowledged—for years—that it could not tie any alleged victim to any specific defendant. Because, by its own admission, the government could not prove who shot whom in Nisur Square, it charged the case under an aiding and abetting theory—essentially arguing that anyone who fired his weapon during the engagement committed a crime because there was no justification for shooting. However, when Nick Slatten successfully asserted his right not to be prosecuted under this theory, he was charged with murder (see our Murder? page for more information on Nick’s case). As a result, the government had to prove two separate cases in a single case. First, the government had to prove Nick murdered the driver of the white Kia with the first shot fired in Nisur Square (which there is no evidence that he fired that shot, and others admitted to firing on the Kia in self-defense). Second, because the aiding and abetting theory no longer applied to Nick as a matter of law, the government had to prove that after Nick’s alleged crime was complete, additional crimes were committed in Nisur Square, and Paul, Evan, and Dustin aided and abetted those crimes—meaning, they knew crimes were being committed and deliberately participated in them as opposed to taking necessary and justified actions to defend themselves and their team. However, in closing statements, the prosecutors muddled the law, contending that if the jury felt that ANYONE that day had committed a crime, even someone who was not on trial (alluding to the Fifth Man), and the defendants fired their weapons, they were responsible for all of the alleged victims.
The jury deliberated on the outcome for seven weeks - almost as long as the trial - and more than likely we will never know what happened in that room. All we know is that the evidence in this case more than satisfied the concept of reasonable doubt, but that all four defendants were found guilty of many heinous crimes which they did not commit. As a result of this outcome, these decorated and innocent veterans will be sentenced to minimally 30 years in prison each, except for Nick who has a mandatory life sentence.
Rule 29 of the legal code states that if the government substantially fails to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, that the judge is to dismiss the case prior to sending it to the jury. This is to prevent the jurors from the opportunity of making a human error and falsely convicting defendants for which the government has substantially failed to make their case. While rarely leveraged, this rule was relevant in this case and should have been applied by the judge - however he declined the motion. Below are each of the counts of the charge and their corresponding arguments for dismissal under Rule 29.