Defense lawyers for a former Blackwater private security guard who was once charged with manslaughter in Washington, D.C., are fighting the government's assertion that he is still a defendant in the now-revived case.
Nicholas Slatten was one of five Blackwater guards charged with manslaughter in 2008 in Washington's federal trial court following a shooting in Baghdad that left more than a dozen civilians dead. Lawyers for the guards, who were assigned to protect a U.S. State Department official, contend they acted in self-defense.
Prosecutors in 2009 asked a judge to dismiss Slatten from the case. That decision happened before a judge dismissed charges entirely against the other guards -- and well before a federal appeals court, in 2011, revived the controversial prosecution. The federal trial judge, Ricardo Urbina, concluded the government presented to a grand jury sensitive information that was off-limits.
Prosecutors said last month that Slatten remains a defendant, arguing that the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reinstated the case against all five defendants. Not so fast, according to Slatten's lawyers. They claim in a December 28 court filing that the government has "invented" a position to get around the fact the statute of limitations has run against Slatten.
"To permit the government to change its position now would pave the way for egregious manipulation of the judicial process," Slatten's attorneys at the Washington firm Wiltshire & Grannis said in the court filing.
The government's reason for dismissing the case against Slatten is redacted from the court papers his lawyers filed last week. The attorneys, Thomas Connolly and Steven Fredley, said in their submission that prosecutors moved to dismiss the indictment "as a consequence of the limited evidence against Slatten, and the undeniable fact that the evidence was incurably tainted."
In the eyes of Slatten's attorneys, the D.C. Circuit decision in 2011 didn't bring Slatten back into the fold. The appeals court, reversing Urbina's decision to throw out the case, said in its opinion that it was sending the case back to the trial level "as to four of the defendants."
"That fact is unmistakably clear," Slatten's attorneys said in court papers.
The dispute between prosecutors and Slatten's defense lawyers centers in part on what the government considers a conflict between the D.C. Circuit judgment and the court's opinion.
The judgment doesn't mention anything about four defendants. It says, plainly, that Urbina's ruling is vacated "in accordance with the opinion of the court."