The story of Raven 23 ties together rural America, Blackwater Worldwide, and an alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. It is the story of how the U.S. government created a false narrative, subverted its own justice system, and conducted a show trial to put four honorable and innocent soldiers-turned-Blackwater contractors in prison to appease Iraqi fury over civilian killings by Coalition forces. It is a story about the pain of the families of four young men from small towns who enlisted with the sole aim of protecting this country and ended up in a nightmare.
Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten, and Paul Slough are the Blackwater contractors who were convicted of killing and wounding 37 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad on Sept. 16, 2007, during a routine mission to rescue an American diplomat from a car bomb. Their principal returned home safely; they wound up in federal prisons in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
According to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, this case featured stunning misconduct by the U.S. Justice Department that was aided by a “vindictive” presiding judge. Prosecutors hid, manufactured, and destroyed evidence, and retaliated against the defendants when they refused to plead guilty; Iraqi witnesses who testified at trial were coached and threatened by Iraqi police; the judge ignored legal precedent to move the trial from Utah to Washington D.C. where the national press could more easily cover the proceedings.
The case was thrown out by the first federal judge to hear it - for lack of evidence and prosecutorial misconduct but was resurrected in 2010 by then-Vice President Joseph Biden and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton whose hacked email server showed that the Obama Administration was desperate to obtain convictions to appease Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
After three trials and an appeal – all of which were tainted by the same misconduct - a push to free them took root in their communities and grew to include Fox News host Pete Hegseth, political commentator and Iraq veteran David French and other powerful allies from both sides of the aisle. On Dec. 22, 2020, President Donald Trump granted Heard, Liberty, Slatten, and Slough full and unconditional pardons.