Federal prosecutors in Washington are moving forward with a new criminal case against a group of former Blackwater security guards whose first prosecution on manslaughter charges collapsed amid allegations of government misconduct.
A federal trial judge in Washington threw out the case against the guards after concluding that prosecutors unfairly used protected statements that the guards made following a fatal shooting of more than a dozen civilians in Iraq in 2007.
The government's trial team, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina said in his ruling, "repeatedly disregarded the warnings of experienced, senior prosecutors" that seeking out those protected statements threatened the viability of the case. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit revived the prosecution, saying Urbina misapplied the law when he dismissed the case.
Now, prosecutors say, the government has "developed a thorough, careful filter process" to ensure that prosecutors and grand jurors will not be exposed to the tainted information that doomed the earlier case. "By adhering to this filter process, the defendants’ Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination will be scrupulously protected," prosecutors Gregg Maisel, John Crabb Jr. and David Mudd said in a court filing Wednesday.
Maisel is the chief of the national security section of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. He is supervising the filter team that's reviewing the evidence against the guards. Crabb and Mudd comprise the filter team itself. A new trial team of assistant U.S. attorneys was assigned following the collapse the case.
The new trial team "may have had some passing familiarity with the case," prosecutors said in the latest court filing, but "none of them had any specific recollection or knowledge of any statements, immunized or otherwise, made by any of the defendants."
The filter lawyers who filed the court document Wednesday explain in detail how the government is trying its best to keep the trial lawyers away from any protected information.
"The trial team never has access to any case material until after this process has been completed," the prosecutors said in an italicized line in the court filing. The government’s legal team called the filter review a “stringent” process.
The filter team has looked at and provided to prosecutors a "voluminous amount of material," including witness interview summaries, videotapes, photographs, diagrams and court papers. The lawyers on the filter team have conducted 40 witness interviews, including talks with Iraqi nationals who met with prosecutors in Baghdad this summer.
Lawyers for the guards said they want to meet with prosecutors before any final charging decisions are made. Assuming a new indictment is returned, the government said, there's a "great likelihood" the defense attorneys will challenge the prosecution's use of statements the Blackwater guards provided to investigators.
The government expects the filter process to last until early next year.