Political motivation clearly tainted the Blackwater case, poisoning it with several violations of the rule of law – including the disregarding of evidence that could very well clear one man who's serving a life sentence.
It takes a matter of few seconds to offer malicious remarks on social media about the men of Blackwater and the incident in Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. This day started with a massive explosion. A diplomatic team was attacked while at a venue, and Raven 23 was deployed from the nearby green zone to assist in providing a safe route back.
They responded as they had been trained. When a distress call comes over the radio, one can imagine the time it takes to make the split-second decision of whether or not to pull the trigger on a vehicle considered a possible IED (improvised explosive device) threat – one that's closing in the diplomatic convoy you've been assigned to protect.
It is utterly shameful to degrade men like Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Paul Slough, and Nicholas Slatten, who were willing to risk their lives and make instant decisions which had always resulted in saving the lives of others, having never lost anyone under their protection. Iraq was the most dangerous country in the world at the time of the Nisour Square incident, and the assaults on diplomatic convoys protected by Blackwater teams were commonplace.
In mainstream media, the Blackwater story continues to be divisive and misleading, a story that has sparked the sharing of misinformation and prompted countless disparaging insults to be hurled at those involved in the firefight. Facts should bring us to a unified conclusion, putting us all on the same page of the issue while closing any matter of civil debate. In his book, The New Terrorism, Van Hipp says it best:
"In order to maintain unity, we must remember that we can only keep a civil debate if we never let a debate about justifying certain tactics take away from the fact that we all agree that any conflict against jihadi terror is just."
Similar situations to the Blackwater incident are mentioned many times in war studies, particularly Just War Theory. "Just war," we can validate. But a "just trial" – the powers-that-be have failed to deliver. After the first case was brought before Judge Ricardo Urbina and dismissed in very harsh language, diplomatic furor ensued. Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the U.S. ambassador were pressured by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and they caved to continue the case.
Apparently our government was more concerned about the diplomatic relationship with Iraqis than it was about the lives of the men of Blackwater and their families. As a result, the Obama administration's Department of Justice (DOJ) appointed another prosecution team to commence a new case against the members of Raven 23. There are a number of blatantly obvious errors (highlighted below) associated with the new prosecution team.
Black's Law Dictionary defines "forum shopping" as a litigant's attempt "to have his action tried in a particular court of jurisdiction where he feels he will receive the most favorable judgment or verdict." In the second filing of the Blackwater case, all those involved self-surrendered in Utah. However, a witness, Jeremy Ridgeway, was flown to the District of Columbia for a plea deal, which established the DC jurisdiction and venue. The DC circuit is known for being one of the most liberal circuits in the country – so was this a calculated effort to aid the prosecution?
There's also the peculiar background of Judge Royce Lamberth, who has the case now. He once served as a prosecuting attorney against soldiers accused in the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. It's incredibly unusual the case was originally assigned to someone else but quickly re-assigned to Judge Lamberth. Is he the right judge for this case, unbiased and objective, or was he hand-picked for more insidious political motivation?
Bill Mathews, former Blackwater vice president and chief operating officer, says "the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) is written specifically for people that are serving the Department of Defense (DoD). One could conclude that if you're not working directly for the DoD, the MEJA doesn't apply. In the Blackwater case, none of the teams were working for the Department of Defense. They were working for the Department of State, thus the MEJA by its own terms should not have applied." Though a motion was filed by the defense that the MEJA doesn't apply, the judge didn't rule on the motion. He ignored it and went to trial. Since the defense cannot appeal until there is a ruling from the court, did the judge ignore the motion to prevent the appeal?
In further conversation with Mathews, I discovered 18 U.S. Code § 924 is a statute written to apply specifically to the criminal element of gangbangers and drug traffickers. When these people get their hands on a fully automatic weapon, for example, the penalty is inflated, and a mandatory minimum 30-year sentence is the result. Members of Raven 23 were in possession of fully automatic weapons, but they are obviously not gangbangers or drug traffickers. They were working for the Department of State, who provided the fully automatic weapons. The DC Circuit Court even found the mandatory minimum 30-year sentences were cruel and unusual punishment. Congress has also acknowledged that it's inappropriate for law enforcement officers to fall under this statute. So, can anyone explain why the convictions under this statute were not vacated?
As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, it can be concluded that the prosecution is required to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense as soon as they have it. In the Blackwater case, the FBI didn't show up to the "crime" scene until several weeks after the incident. Photographic evidence showed spent AK-47 rounds on the ground in a pile in approximately in the area the Raven team said they were taking fire. The photograph remained in government custody and was never turned over to the defense for seven years. Brought at the very end of the trial, there was no opportunity to build any sort of defense or to use the photograph to corroborate other witness statements. In a clear Brady violation, was this a strategic delay to minimize the impact for the defense?
Interestingly, Mathews tells me an individual arguing the case for the government in front of the Court of Appeals admitted shots were being fired at the convoy by the enemy prior to any shots being fired by the Blackwater teams. This contradicts an earlier allegation that Raven 23 fired first. If Raven 23 did not fire first, Nicholas Slatten would not have been convicted of murder. If he is no longer guilty of murder, the entire prosecutorial theory crumbles.
The U.S. Supreme Court case Giglio v. United States states the government is required to note and point out where fact witnesses contradict each other or perjure themselves. In the Blackwater case, the original witness statement taken from one of the government's witnesses directly contradicts his testimony at trial and his subsequent testimony. His trial testimony did not match his original witness statement – and though he had perjured himself, it was not referenced or acknowledged to the defense.
The current DOJ should be encouraged to make a just decision. Former political motivation has clearly tainted this case, poisoning it with a number of violations of the rule of law, including evidence which even exculpates Nicholas Slatten. Regardless of what Blackwater stirs inside, it should be every American's duty to uphold the Constitution and demand just decisions to be made in all circumstances.
J.M. Phelps is a Christian activist and journalist based in the Southeastern U.S.
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