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Judge Unseals Redacted Blackwater Case Records

(CN) - A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the released of redacted documents from last year's hearing examining whether the government illegally used the immunized statements of five former Blackwater guards indicted in the 2007 Nisoor Square shooting.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina's order follows his decision on Dec. 31 to drop the indictment against the five former Blackwater guards, who were accused of opening fire on Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square in 2007.

On Oct. 14 of last year, the court held a hearing to decide if the government had used shielded statements in its case against the guards. All records related to the hearing, including the testimony of 25 witnesses, were sealed to prevent jurors and witnesses from being exposed to guard testimony outside the courtroom, Urbina said.

Days after Urbina dismissed the charges against the former security contractors, the Washington Post and The Associated Press requested the sealed material. They argued that Urbina's Dec. 31 decision had disclosed most of the information from the hearing, anyway.

But the government and the ex-guards urged the court to keep the records sealed until the government has had the chance to appeal the Dec. 31 order, in order to avoid tainting possible jurors and witnesses if the case goes to trial again.

In an attempt to balance the media's First Amendment rights with the defendants' right to a fair trial, Urbina ordered the government and the Blackwater defendants to submit redacted versions of the pre- and post-hearing documents.

Urbina acknowledged that his earlier decision revealed some of the sealed material, but said that disclosing the entire hearing record would release "significantly more information" about the guards' compelled statements.

As a compromise, Urbina gave the government and the Blackwater defendants until Jan. 11 to "redact all references to tainted information."

He said the redacted records would be released on Feb. 2.

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