A federal judge in Washington is planning to release hundreds of pages of transcripts from sealed hearings in the government’s prosecution of five former Blackwater Worldwide security guards, saying there is no justification for keeping the information secret indefinitely.
Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in a ruling Jan. 7 that the transcripts, from three weeks of closed-door hearings in October, will be released to the public Feb. 2—the day after the deadline for the Justice Department to file an appeal in the case to challenge the dismissal of charges.
The Justice Department could ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to stay the release of the transcripts in the event the government does file an appeal.
Last month, Urbina dismissed charges after finding prosecutors misused immunized statements the guards made during the investigation of the September 2007 fatal shooting in Nisour Square in Iraq that was the centerpiece of the criminal case against the defendants. Twenty-five witnesses testified at the sealed hearings in October. There were hundreds of exhibits presented into evidence.
Urbina said at a court hearing in October, according to a transcript, that the hearing was sealed to protect the rights of the defendants. The hearings relied on grand jury minutes and immunized statements by the guards. The danger presented by media coverage, Urbina said, “is far more specific than the generalized risk of jury taint.”
The prosecutors and lawyers for the defendants were given a deadline of noon today to file redacted versions of their pre- and post-trial court papers with the expectation that those documents would be “disclosed promptly,” according to Urbina’s ruling.