By PETE YOST
WASHINGTON -- Defense lawyers are alleging misconduct by Justice Department prosecutors in the case against one of five Blackwater security guards accused in the killings of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad.
Recent pretrial proceedings that took place behind closed doors led the Justice Department to seek dismissal of charges against Nicholas Slatten of Sparta, Tenn., one of the five guards accused in the shootings in busy Nisoor Square in September 2007.
In a one-paragraph filing a week ago, the department disclosed that it wants to preserve the possibility of filing a new set of charges against Slatten.
On Wednesday, Slatten's lawyers said in court papers they want to stop the Justice Department from doing so and that the issue should be aired in a public court hearing.
The recent secret hearings focused on whether statements some of the guards gave to the State Department after the killings in Baghdad under a grant of immunity tainted the government's subsequent criminal case. U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina has yet to rule.
In its court filing Wednesday, Slatten's defense team called the U.S. government's handling of the charges against Slatten "a disturbing case of prosecutorial misconduct, undermining the integrity of the judicial process."
The case against Slatten became untenable, not merely because of a fundamental lack of evidence against him, but also because the trial team repeatedly mischaracterized the testimony of witnesses and excluded evidence that ran in Slatten's favor from the grand jury that indicted him, Slatten's lawyers wrote in asking for a public hearing before the judge.
"The collapse of the government's case against Mr. Slatten should be as public as the baseless allegations against him," Slatten's lawyers added.
In a court filing late Wednesday, the Justice Department declined to comment on the substance of the defense allegations.