America should have hanged its collective head in collective shame when four of her fine and brave citizens were sentenced to lengthy prison terms by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for using deadly force in Iraq against a real and determined enemy. Late [Tuesday], 22 December 2020, President Trump pardoned these men. Many in academia, the media and elsewhere will harp about this without the slightest inkling of what actually happened in Baghdad back in September 2007. As one of the defense’s initial use of force experts, I had access to grand jury testimony and physical evidence. What I saw made me lose a lot of faith in the U.S. Department of Justice, the District Court for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Army.

The government’s case against Nicholas A. Slatten, of Sparta, Tenn. (who received a sentence of life imprisonment); Paul A. Slough, of Keller, Tex.; Evan S. Liberty, of Rochester, N.H.; and Dustin L. Heard, of Maryville, Tenn. (each receiving 30-year sentences) was largely predicated on the allegedly large number of rounds these individuals fired in self-defense. Such a number is misleading for many reasons, not the least of which is when contrasted to the 183 rounds the FBI once fired at four bank robbers in New Jersey … hitting one suspect 65 times … and our Federal judiciary subsequently determined that shooting to be reasonable. The government afforded no such latitude to these four members of Blackwater Team Raven 23, who were serving on a Personal Security Detachment (PSD) for the Department of State in a hotly contested war zone in September 2007.

On reading this article, it will become obvious the degree to which I rely on the scholarship and writings of two retired Supervisory Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation: Urey Patrick and John Hall. Their seminal book – In Defense of Self and Others: Issues, Facts & Fallacies – The Realities if Law Enforcement’s Use of Deadly Force – should be mandatory reading for any person purporting to be either an expert or investigator of a deadly force encounter. Beautifully written, it accurately sets for the law and tactical dynamics of use of force encounters and dispels many of the myths extant in so-called “expert’s reports” and charging documents. It is obvious that neither the prosecutors nor the trial judge availed themselves of such readily available scholarship in reaching their respective decisions to prosecute and sentence the four defendants. The jury itself, except for one brave woman who hung it for eight weeks last Fall, chose to decide the case as one of “four white men shooting people of color.” This is exactly why the government chose to try the case in the District of Columbia instead of Northern Virginia, where the defendants could have received a fair trial.

In 1994, as a young Trial Defense Counsel in the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, I was detailed by the Regional Defense Counsel to represent an Army CID Special Agent, who the Army had charged with Attempted Murder as the result of his use of deadly for in the line-of-duty. The Army’s decision in that case, too, was predicated on the seemingly excessive number of rounds fired.