The defense lawyers representing five Blackwater security guards on manslaughter charges are not entitled to a government security escort to travel in and around Iraq to investigate the criminal allegations, a federal judge in Washington ruled Monday.
The lawyers, including Steptoe & Johnson partner Mark Hulkower, were unwilling to rely on private companies for the escort, arguing that the attorneys should be given the same level of security given to the FBI and federal prosecutors. The defense lawyers, who asked for a military escort, said a private contractor would not receive cooperation from the government. The lawyers said the defense would pay for government security.
Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia called the concerns of the defense lawyers speculative. "Here, the defendants have made no showing that the government's unwillingness to provide security to the defense team would effectively deny them access to witnesses and evidence in Iraq," Urbina wrote in an opinion published Monday evening.
Urbina said he "fully expects" that a licensed private security company will receive the full cooperation of the federal government "in conducting threat assessments, coordinating the defense team's movements, locating a safe location to conduct witness interviews and otherwise ensuring the safety of the defense team during its pretrial investigation."
The judge declined to speculate on whether there may come a time when "fundamental fairness and due process require the government to take a more direct role in providing security measures to defense counsel conducting a pretrial investigation in a hostile foreign war zone." Justice Department lawyers urged Urbina to reject the defense request. Government attorneys said Urbina had no authority to compel the military to provide a security detail for civilian attorneys traveling in Iraq.
In a win for the defense, Urbina ordered the government to turn over updated contact information for the more than 100 Iraqi witnesses to the September 2007 shooting in Nisour Square that is the centerpiece of the criminal prosecution of the five guards. Prosecutors allege the men were unprovoked when they opened fire, killing 17 unarmed civilians.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.