Imprisoned members of Blackwater's Raven 23 who risked their lives to protect U.S. assets are home again, thanks to the prayerful support of others and the bold action of President Donald Trump. It's a story of joy, faith, and forgiveness.
Last month, President Trump granted full pardons to four unjustly imprisoned, decorated veterans – Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten, and Paul Slough. While criticism remains high among some news outlets, the men's journey from Baghdad's Nisour Square to the concrete walls of prison has garnered the support of thousands, including members of national news media and Congress.
While these combat veterans were blacklisted and betrayed by a previous administration, Trump chose not to play the game of political favorites. Instead, he did what is right and just in the eyes of many.
In an exclusive interview with One News Now, three of the men – Heard, Slatten, and Slough – express their delight to have the opportunity to separate themselves from an unfortunate incident in Iraq in 2007. Each of them is exceptionally thankful to President Trump.
Heard, a Marine Corps veteran, considers the president "a gracious man who had the fortitude to go against what nearly everyone was thinking and do what was right after reading the facts of the case." And because Trump turned this wrong into a right, he says he is eternally grateful to be reunited with his loved ones, his children, and his friends.
"God is good," Slatten attests. "[With] faith in Jesus, anything is possible." He, too, greatly appreciates all President Trump did for him, his family, and his "brothers," capping his statement with "it's amazing to be a free man again."
Slough is thankful his president listened to "the promptings and urgings of God Almighty." Paraphrasing Proverbs 21:1, he makes the point that "the heart of a ruler is in the hand of the Lord."
The president, the Army veteran continues, "helped those of us who were basically forgotten, used and abused for political ends." And as a result, he adds, the president was able to look past the "chaos, clutter, and noise [to] discern in his own heart that [four men were unjustly imprisoned], making what was wrong into what was right."
All three men – former members of Blackwater Worldwide, an American private military company founded by Erik Prince in 1997 – also express tremendous gratitude for their legal teams. Without a wealth of benevolence and concern, the military contractors do not believe they would be where they are today. Heard points out that the efforts of every legal team have been instrumental – without which he and the others wouldn't be free today.
God's gifts: Faith … and prayer
To the members of Raven 23, the support has been overwhelming. "Many people have poured out their heart, kindness and generosity," says Heard, "and there just isn't enough time to thank everyone from the deepest bottom of my heart."
Slatten agrees, sharing his love for his family and supporters. According to the Army veteran, prayer was the answer to his survival – and hearing that children were also praying has stirred his heart beyond description. While he has learned that God doesn't answer prayers immediately, the period of waiting – however long it may be – grows one's faith. Trusting in Jesus and having a resolute prayer life, Slatten shares, is "a win in the spiritual realm – [and sometimes] it manifests itself in the physical realm."
Most importantly, he says, "God gives you exactly what you need when you need it."
Likewise, Slough believes countless prayers from family and friends contributed to his ability to rely on the strength and power of God to get through the ordeal. Referring to 2 Corinthians 1:9-11, he shares:
"I felt as though we had been given the sentence of death. To the folks willing to put their necks on the line to help us, support us, and pray for us, there aren't enough thank-you's to go around."
All in all, Heard says, he and the others have "a new lease on life" – and the prospects of moving forward successfully are promising and hopeful. Toward that end, Slatten admits they must keep their eyes on Jesus, submitting every day to God – and forgiving those who have wronged them.
"Even those who put me away for life have been forgiven," Slatten adds. And that's despite the government's nondisclosure of exculpatory evidence that should have set them free prior to a pardon.
"God showed me that if I got out of the way, he would fight for me," Slatten concludes.
Photo credit: Associated Press Photo/File - Heard (2009), Slough (2008), Liberty (2014), Slatten (2014).