FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday tossed out all charges against six defendants accused of cheating the government by supplying unqualified linguists to serve in Afghanistan, ruling that the government waited too long to bring the case to trial.
Prosecutors obtained a grand jury indictment against the six defendants in April for conduct that occurred in 2011 and 2012. Prosecutors say the defendants arranged for unqualified candidates to be hired as linguists in Dari and Pashto, the primary languages in Afghanistan, in part by having more proficient speakers take tests over the phone on their behalf. The linguists hired under the contract would support Army soldiers in communicating with Afghan civilians and military officials.
The defendants asked the judge to dismiss the case, saying their ability to defend themselves was prejudiced by the 10-year delay in bringing charges. They said one key witness had died, another went missing, and others were suffering memory impairment caused by medical conditions and the passage of time. They also said key evidence was never preserved.
Prosecutors said the case should proceed to trial. In court papers, they noted that a federal law, the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act, explicitly extends the statute of limitations for crimes in war zones until five years after the termination of hostilities.
Defense lawyers said prosecutors sought to use the delays to their advantage, trying to extract pre-indictment pleas from the defendants.
At a court hearing Wednesday in Alexandria, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema sided with the defendants and dropped all charges.
Prosecutors did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.