While both of New Hampshire's senators remain tight-lipped regarding the nearly five-year imprisonment of a Rochester native wrongfully jailed in the so-called Nisur Square massacre in Iraq in 2007, a new podcast, "Guilty Until Proven Innocent," promises a deep dive into the government's deeply flawed and politically motivated prosecution of the case.
For 36-year-old Evan Liberty, who grew up in Rochester and joined the Marines his senior year at Spaulding, the case against him and two others involved in the incident was so weak their sentences were vacated in January 2017 yet the three still remain behind bars today.
Ever since it was rumored in several national publications on Memorial Day weekend that President Trump may be considering a pardon for Liberty and three others also imprisoned in the so-called massacre, The Rochester Voice has been trying to contact Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan to hear what their positions were on Liberty's plight.
Also sought for comment was U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, who represents Rochester as part of the state's 1st District.
On June 5 The Rochester Voice sent the following email to Susan Curran, Ricki Eshman and Ryan Nickel, press liaisons for Pappas, Hassan and Shaheen, respectively:
Hi, I am trying to do a story on N.H. Congresspeople and their position on the plight of Evan Liberty of Rochester, who is imprisoned in Pennsylvania in connection with the Nisur Square massacre in Iraq in 2007 when he worked for Blackwater.
Since then his conviction on a gun charge was tossed and he is awaiting resentencing which should have occurred last year.
Evan's parents live in Rochester and they are heartbroken that their son languishes in jail.
The prosecution in the case has been shown to have been prejudicial even not allowing exculpatory evidence to be presented at various trials connected with the case.
My concern, most of all, is Evan.
I would appreciate the chance to speak with (-----) regarding (their) take on the matter."
Signed, Harrison Thorp, editor of The Rochester Voice.
As of today, two weeks later, and despite several phone call reminders of the email sent June 5, none of the three officeholders have returned calls or emails.
Coincidentally, while Shaheen, Hassan and Pappas - all Democrats - refuse to even comment on Liberty, former U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta, a Republican, spoke to The Rochester Voice many times about this travesty of justice.
If any Rochester Voice readers would like to call their representatives and ask them why they allow this deplorable treatment of an American hero, their numbers are below.
U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas Phone: (202) 225-5456
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's: (202) 224-2841.
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan: (202) 224-3324.
Meanwhile the upcoming podcast is being produced by longtime journalist Gina Keating, a former reporter for Reuters and UPI and will be available on I-tunes, Spotify and other podcast platforms.
In explaining the overarching theme, the trailer notes, "How did four highly decorated American soldiers become prisoners of war in their own country? This series re-examines the US Department of Justice's controversial prosecution following a controversial battle in Baghdad. Why did the DOJ hold multiple trials for over a decade? Was the DOJ seeking justice? Or playing politics?"
Much of the trailer involves an interview with Kelly Heard, the wife of one of the men imprisoned.
During the narration it is noted that the day in 2014 when the four were convicted "of ambushing" and killing a dozen Iraqis in cold blood was a day both "Iraq and the United States suffered one of the great casualties of war: the truth."
During the trailer it is also noted that Keating has interviewed Liberty as well as the other two in the case charged with weapons crimes: Paul Alvin Slough, of Keller, Texas, Dustin Laurent Heard, of Maryville, Tenn., and a fourth, Nicholas Abram Slatten, of Sparta, Tenn., who was sentenced to life in prison for murder after two previous manslaughter trials failed to convict him.
Liberty and the other three were accused in the massacre while working for Blackwater, a security firm that in 2007 protected U.S. contractors and diplomats in Iraq at the height of the war.
Liberty's now-tossed conviction was for using an automatic weapon, a law that was originally crafted to convict bank robbers back in the 1930s. The irony was that the Dept. of Justice, itself, permitted Liberty to use the guns to protect the diplomats and himself.
Now it's been two and a half years since that wrongfully applied charge was vacated yet Liberty remains behind bars at FCI Schuykill in Minersville, Pa., where he's been incarcerated almost four and a half years.
The Nisur Square incident occurred in the early days of the U.S.-led Iraq war that toppled Saddam Hussein. But shortly after the euphoria of ridding the country of the hated despot, anti-American Iraqi factions used guerrilla tactics, IEDS, car bombs and woman- and child-toting explosive devices to kill American servicemen and contractors looking to help the country develop its fledgling democracy.
The events leading to the incident began the afternoon of Sept. 16, 2007, when a powerful bomb went off outside the Green (U.S. Safe Zone) Zone and a Blackwater team escorting a diplomat had to get back as fast as it could. Liberty's tactical support team - Raven 23 - went off to block off a traffic circle to keep traffic back (during the first team's escape)."
As Raven 23 stood guard what appeared to be civilian traffic mostly either slowed or turned back, but a white Kia driving on the wrong side of the road approached the roadblock they were securing.
Earlier in the day a morning briefing had warned Blackwater teams about a white Kia suspected of being loaded with explosives driving around looking for targets, so when the car 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.
Liberty and three others charged in the attack then say 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.
During the appeals process the government's prosecution of the case has been shown to be blatantly prejudicial, even withholding exculpatory evidence in several instances.
Last summer during Slatten's retrial the government for the first time noted that enemy combatants opened fire on the Blackwater units first after arguing that Blackwater guards fired first during the original trial.
Slatten's defense lawyers said he was picked out for prosecution to protect then Vice President and current presidential hopeful Joe Biden who'd promised Iraq in 2010 that Americans would be held accountable for the massacre.
More recently the government has admitted that the Iraqi colonel who oversaw the original investigation and coordinated contact between Iraqi "eyewitnesses" and American prosecutors had ties to Iraq insurgents.
To hear a preview of the podcast and find out how to view the eight episodes when they air click here.
To read a collection of stories produced by The Rochester Voice regarding the wrongful prosecution of Raven 23 check out the links below.