A federal judge Wednesday rejected claims by a division of Teledyne Inc. that its role in the sale of 24,000 cluster bombs to Iraq was legal because the transactions were part of a secret U.S. policy to arm Iraq before the Persian Gulf War.
In response to a government motion to keep classified information secret, U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith in Miami said that the claim by the Los Angeles-based defense company “does not constitute any legally cognizable defense.”
Highsmith agreed with prosecutors that CIA reports and similar material should not be disclosed because the material is irrelevant to the case and because releasing it would “seriously damage national security.”
The decision is potentially a severe blow to Teledyne’s Wah Chang division in Albany, Ore. The company faces charges that it violated U.S. export laws by selling 130 tons of zirconium to Chilean arms manufacturer Carlos Cardoen in the 1980s.
William Joseph Linklater, Teledyne’s chief lawyer, declined to comment on the ruling and attempts to reach prosecutors were unsuccessful.
Prosecutors contend that Teledyne obtained export licenses for the zirconium by falsely claiming the material was for commercial explosives. In turn, Teledyne claims that it did not know Cardoen was using the material to build cluster bombs that he sold to Iraq, but that the U.S. government knew what Cardoen was doing.
In a lengthy motion filed with the court Monday, the company sought classified material that it said supports the claim that the sales were permitted to further a clandestine U.S. effort to help Iraq in its long war with Iran.
Highsmith’s ruling made no mention of Monday’s motion. The judge said he relied on a version of Teledyne’s defense contained in three letters that company lawyers sent to prosecutors earlier this year. In the letters, the lawyers sought to avoid indictment by saying that U.S. officials knew of Cardoen’s arms sales to Iraq.
The ruling was made without a hearing at which Teledyne could present its case, although regulations governing the disclosure of classified information provide for such a hearing.
Highsmith’s decision appears to represent the second criminal case in which a federal judge has sharply restricted attempts by defense lawyers to raise issues related to U.S. policy toward Iraq in the years before the Persian Gulf War.
In the upcoming trial of the former manager of an Italian bank branch in Atlanta, a federal judge has refused to allow testimony about U.S. foreign policy. The former manager is accused of loaning Iraq $5 billion for its military buildup.