Defense lawyers for five former Blackwater contractors who allegedly shot into a crowd during an incident in Baghdad’s Al Nisur Square in 2007 want the press and the public excluded from oral arguments next month, Politico reports. The former contractors with the controversial firm are fighting to uphold a judge’s dismissal of the case against them related to the attack, which left 14 Iraqis dead. The judge ruled the case should be thrown out because of missteps by prosecutors.
Federal prosecutors had charged that some of the former contractors had a pattern of abusive words or actions towards Iraqis, justifying the manslaughter charges that were dismissed by the trial judge. Prosecutors had originally wanted the appeals court session — scheduled for Feb. 8 — to be partially public and partially behind closed doors. But last week, they called that procedure unworkable and asked for the entire thing to be sealed.
The defendants said that they “agree with the Government that the courtroom should be closed for any argument that touches directly or derivatively on the substance of their compelled statements or on the still-sealed grand jury proceedings.”
“With sealed material pervading every aspect of this appeal, it is simply impractical, indeed impossible, to conduct oral argument of any part of the case without risking disclosure of sealed information,” five lawyers for the defendants write.
“Any attempt to argue around the sealed information would result in a stilted argument that would be unhelpful to the Court, and would risk further disclosure of sealed information,” they wrote. “Defendants believe the more prudent course would be to conduct the entire argument in a closed courtroom, and then to release a redacted transcript promptly.”
Federal prosecutor Demetra Lambros had written that the United States “requests that the courtroom be closed when the oral argument turns to matters under seal,” on Jan. 17, according to court documents.
The company changed its name to Xe Services after the 2007 shooting incident. Separately, the former president of Blackwater was indicted on federal weapons charges in March.