The Justice Department wants to bar the public from a court hearing Jan. 7 in the Blackwater criminal case in federal district court in Washington, D.C., saying that the proceeding may result in the disclosure of classified information.
The government filed a motion Dec. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia so that the court can determine the use, relevance and admissibility of classified information in the prosecution of five Blackwater security guards, who are charged in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians.
Much of the Blackwater litigation has been conducted under seal and in closed courtrooms. Earlier this month, Judge Ricardo Urbina said the hearing will be held in camera if Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. certified to the court that the proceeding may result in the disclosure of classified information.
David Kris, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's National Security Division, said in an affidavit that the Jan. 7 hearing should be held in camera. Kris was acting on behalf of Holder pursuant to the Classified Information Procedures Act. Kris said his request is based on his knowledge of the evidence and based on discussions he has had with other Justice officials. (Click here for Kris' affidavit.)
Lawyers for the Blackwater guards did not immediately file a response to the government’s request that the hearing be held in camera. Urbina did not immediately rule on the government’s motion.
In October, Washington Post associate counsel James McLaughlin requested in a letter to the court that Urbina keep open a hearing in the Blackwater case. Urbina rejected the request. Also, a lawyer for one of the guards asked Urbina to hold a status conference in open court to discuss the government’s motion to dismiss charges without prejudice. Urbina denied the request.
First reported in The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.