Editor's note: The Lebanon Voice earlier this year did a five-part series and other stories regarding the wrongful incarceration of Evan Liberty of Rochester. Links to those stories are listed below.
MINERSVILLE, Pa. - For Evan Shawn Liberty the vicissitudes of any given day are exactly the same as the day after and day after that.
Locked up until 2040 at a federal prison in Pennsylvania for his part in the Nisur Square massacre in Iraq in 2007, the former Marine, Rochester native and Spaulding graduate spends his days working out, reading voraciously, watching sports on TV and maintaining a positive attitude that his father calls key to his survival.
After a stint with the Marines, mostly as an Embassy Guard, Liberty became a security specialist with Blackwater, a top provider of security for the protection of various diplomats visiting the war-torn country formerly ruled by Saddam Hussein.
|The entrance to FCI Schuykill in Minersville, Pa. (Courtesy photo)|
It was around noon on Sept. 16, 2007, that Liberty's squad at Blackwater, named Raven 23, got a call to assist with security for diplomatic personnel near the Green Zone of Baghdad.
A huge car bomb had ignited in the Nisur Square, and a separate Blackwater team escorting the diplomats had to get out as fast as it could. Liberty's tactical support team went off to block off a traffic circle to keep traffic back (during the first team's escape).
As what appears to be civilian traffic mostly either slowed or turned back, a white Kia driving on the wrong side of the road approached the roadblock where Raven 23 was securing the circle.
When the white Kia continued to drive erratically toward the Raven 23 positons, the vehicle's occupants were warned verbally then with warning shots before someone from the team killed the driver with a single bullet.
Brian Liberty, Evan's father, said that's when what appeared to be Iraqi police began firing at Raven 23, initiating a furious exchange that federal prosecutors later said left at least 14 Iraqi civilians dead and many more wounded.
|A Facebook birthday card showing Evan Liberty in happier times published last month on the Raven 23 Facebook Page|
Brian Liberty said his son was defending himself and his team that was under attack, most likely by insurgents dressed as Iraqi police officers.
Now Liberty, 34, is imprisoned at FCI Schuylkill in Minersville, Pa., a medium security federal prison, saddled with a 30-year mandatory sentence for using an automatic weapon, a weapon issued by the Dept. of Justice for whom he worked.The U.S. government, however, disagreed. Pressured by Iraqi politicians and local police, they began what many have characterized as a vindictive prosecution to punish Raven 23 for what they called indiscriminate use of deadly force that killed at least 14 civilians.
Time may be standing still for Evan Liberty, but the dates that resonate are all around him. It's been a little more than nine years since that fateful day in Nisur Square. Liberty has been in prison for almost two years now, spending his second birthday in captivity at FCI Schuykill on Aug. 3.
And it's been six months since amicus briefs and defense filings for oral arguments for an appeal to overturn his conviction have been submitted to the court, which as of this month still hadn't offered a date to hear those filings.
According to the prison's website, his release date is Dec. 9, 2040, but Brian Liberty, his father, said when he visits his son it's almost like he's across from him at the kitchen table.
"From a mental aspect talking to him is no different than if he were sitting across from you," said Brian Liberty who last visited his son last Thursday. "He is very strong minded and he stays positive. You wouldn't notice any difference if you met him."
From what Brian Liberty has observed during his many visits, FCI Schuykill is the "prison of all prisons," fully regimented with prisoners every movement choreographed and cataloged.
He said Evan Liberty's small cell is atypical, with a bunkbed for him and his cellmate, a chair and a toilet.
He said he gets up every day around 6 when the cell door opens, puts on his workout clothes and gets ready to go outside to an exercise area, the locked door to which opens around 6:30 a.m.
"If you're not ready to move outside when the door opens, you've missed your chance," Brian Liberty says. "It closes immediately and might not open again for another half hour.
It's the same thing when he wants to go to breakfast. The door might open back up at 7:30, but if he's not ready, it'll close and he'll have to wait another hour to get back inside toe eat."
Brian Liberty said after his son eats breakfast he typically goes back to his cell and cleans, a lot, even hand washing his own sheets and clothes rather than taking them to the prison laundry.
Then he reads till lunch, followed by another workout and then maybe some more reading or TV time watching sports, including some of the Boston sports teams.
Brian Liberty said his son tries not to steep himself in the goings-on of his case by reading case history or other documents, instead reading health, food and cookbooks to keep his mind occupied.
"You can't dwell on 'poor me,'" said Brian Liberty who tries to visit his son at least every two weeks.
When he does it's a 16-hour drive on back to back days, but Brian Liberty said it's worth it.
"Getting visitors is all he has to break up the time," he said, adding other family members try to coordinate visits so Evan gets at least one a week.
And when they do visit, security is just as tight as the most secure facility.
First off, he said his son is thoroughly searched before and after every visit.
And while they're visiting in a kind of casual cafeteria-like setting, their every movement is watched.
"If I go to a vending machine and buy a bag of chips, I have to open the bag and dump it on a paper plate before I bring it back to Evan," said Brian Liberty, adding only he can go to the machines, not Evan.
And when they greet each other and again when they part, they are allowed to hug, but it's got to be brief, Brian Liberty adds.
Meanwhile, one ray of hope Raven 23 supporters can take stock in is a bill introduced in the House last month that might invalidate future prosecutions of certain uses of automatic weapons like what the government dubiously used on the three of the four Blackwater guards now imprisoned.