WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday shut down public access to pretrial hearings in the prosecution of five Blackwater security guards for allegedly killing Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
The hearings will delve into whether government investigators were tainted by statements the guards gave shortly after the shootings on Sept. 16, 2007, that killed 14 unarmed civilians.
The guards gave the statements during a preliminary State Department inquiry, under a limited grant of immunity from prosecution, meaning the statements could not be used in the subsequent investigation that resulted in criminal charges.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina said he wants to shield witnesses and potential jurors from pretrial publicity.
In court on Wednesday, Urbina rejected a request by The Washington Post to open the proceedings, saying the rights of the five guards to a fair trial outweighed the public's interest in attending the proceedings.
According to a Post account of the brief session Wednesday, the judge also said he was concerned because the hearings will involve grand jury information, which is secret. The hearings are expected to last through Oct. 16.