A federal appeals court in Washington this afternoon temporarily stayed the release of sealed court papers in the government's prosecution of a group of Blackwater security guards, giving the court more time to examine the dispute.
Judges Douglas Ginsburg, Karen LeCraft Henderson and Judith Rogers of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a per curiam order that serves as an administrative stay blocking the planned Feb. 2 release of the sealed court papers.
Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the release of three weeks’ worth of transcripts in the case following his dismissal of the indictment against the defendants—five former guards who are charged with killing 17 Iraqi civilians during a shootout in Baghdad in September 2007.
The transcripts are from closed-door hearings that examined the extent to which prosecutors misused protected statements made by the guards following the fatal shooting. The hearings, which included testimony from the prosecution team, formed the basis for the dismissal of charges.
Justice lawyer Demetra Lambros of the Criminal Division, appellate section, said in court papers today in the D.C. Circuit that releasing the transcripts could cause irreparable injury.
“So long as the prospects of a trial remain real, the dissemination of the information pits the fairness and integrity of the trial greatly at risk—and in fact jeopardizes the very feasibility of any such trial,” Lambros said. “This is simply not the sort of cat that can be put back into the bag.”
A lawyer for The Washington Post and the Associated Press said in appellate court papers today that the government's motion for a stay of Urbina's order to release the records should be denied.
The government has only offered speculation about the risk of tainting potential jurors and witnesses, said David Schulz, a partner in the New York office of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz.
"Any desire the government may have to keep information concerning its own shortcomings from the public provides no proper basis for continued secrecy," Schulz said in court papers.
The criminal defense lawyers for the five guards were not opposed to holding back on the release of the transcripts.