A Marine Corps staff sergeant who led the squad accused of killing two dozen civilians in Haditha, Iraq, will file a lawsuit today in federal court in Washington claiming that Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) defamed him when the congressman made public comments about the incident earlier this year.
Attorneys for Frank D. Wuterich, 26, argue in court papers that Murtha tarnished the Marine's reputation by telling news organizations in May that the Marine unit cracked after a roadside bomb killed one of its members and that the troops "killed innocent civilians in cold blood." Murtha also said repeatedly that the incident was covered up.
Murtha argued that the questionable deaths of 24 civilians were indicative of the difficulties and overpowering stress that U.S. troops are facing. The congressman, a former Marine, has been a leading advocate for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq.
In the court filing, obtained by The Washington Post, the lawyers say that Murtha made the comments after being briefed by Defense Department officials who "deliberately provided him with inaccurate and false information." Neal A. Puckett and Mark S. Zaid, suing for libel and invasion of privacy, also wrote that Murtha made the comments outside of his official scope as a congressman.[…]Zaid said the filing is designed partly to force Murtha to disclose what information he received from the Defense Department and the Marine Corps commandant to form his opinion, essentially trying to speed up the discovery process in a potential criminal trial.
"This case is not about money; it's about clearing Frank Wuterich's name, and part of that is to identify where these leaks are coming from," Zaid said in an interview. "Congressman Murtha has created this atmosphere that has already concluded guilt. He's created this environment that really smells, and he's the only one who has done that."[…]Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the University of Richmond Law School and a libel expert, said yesterday that Wuterich would have the burden of proving that he is innocent and that Murtha's statements were false, but he added that the quotations appear to be actionable in court. He said the suit shows that Wuterich probably thinks he did nothing wrong.
"Part of the subtext of this is it's a showing of confidence and a preemptive strike of sorts," Smolla said. "The congressman's statement does not sound as if it is merely hyperbole or opinion or name-calling. Instead, it conveys the idea that the Marines violated professional standards and perhaps the law."
Recall some of the statements made by Murtha like:
- the Marines had “killed innocent civilians in cold blood”
- "It’s much worse than was reported in Time magazine”
- “One man was killed with an [improvised explosive device] and after that they actually went into the houses and killed women and children.”
- "There has to have been a coverup of this thing"
- "I will not excuse murder, and this is what has happened, no question in my mind about it."
- "This is worse than Abu Ghraib"
And you will understand where this Marine is coming from. Murtha smeared him along with the Marines all to get his name in the headlines. I hope he pays, and pays big.
UPDATE 08/02/06 0900hrs PST
Over the night many blogs have picked up on the story but so far the best analysis has been done by AcademicElephant at RedState:
The court filing apparently claims that Mr. Murtha may have been fed false information by the Department of Defense in classified briefings. This is certainly an explosive allegation, and the Post provides no details about why the DoD might have mislead Mr. Murtha. The paper does note that this might be part of an effort by Staff Sergeant Wuterich to accelerate his trial–and so, his opportunity to prove his innocence.
The filing also claims that Mr. Murtha, who made his comments to the press, was acting outside his role as a congressman. It's an important point, because "statements made by members of Congress generally are protected under the "speech or debate" clause in Article I, Section 6, of the Constitution." But the Post quotes "legal experts" who say that "the clause grants immunity only for what lawmakers say in legislative proceedings and does not apply to news releases, speeches and other public comments." I'm sure the opinion of the Post's experts will not stop Mr. Murtha from invoking the "speech or debate" clause in court, and this case may well prove, like the recent William Jefferson ruling, a referendum on Congressional privileges.
For ultimately, this case is about establishing if Mr. Murtha has to take responsibility for his politically-motivated and incendiary words that have been so damaging to the Marines involved in this case. They, too, after all, enjoy Constitutional protection in the form of the Fifth Amendment, under which they have the right to the presumption of innocence and to due process under the law. In the words of Staff Sergeant Wuterich's attorney Mark Zaid, "Congressman Murtha has created this atmosphere that has already concluded guilt. He's created this environment that really smells, and he's the only one who has done that."
I don't agree with the false information part since if indeed he was fed this information this does not make him guilty of anything. The information was false and would allow this case to be thrown out pretty damn fast. But the fact that he went to the airwaves over and over proclaiming these guys guilty from day one IS the crux of this case, and one that can be won I believe.
On the other hand, if this case is only about getting their hands on the information he was fed, then it may prove quite embarrasing to Murtha because I'm betting he took the little information he got and twisted it to fit his mindset and the mindset of our MSM. That our Marines are committing crimes in Iraq.
If the Marine Corps Commandant is the source for this information, god help him. If the leader of my Marine Corps betrays the very Marines he leads then he should be strung up beside Murtha.
UPDATE II 0910hrs PST
Funny how the news of this lawsuit emerges last night and the next day the MSM is in full spin mode, now reporting a source that NCIC believes the Marines murdered these people.
Allah at Hot Air said it best:
An unnamed Pentagon official told the AP this morning that NCIS thinks the killings were deliberate. Is Wuterich's lawsuit a way to distract attention from that? Or is the leak a way to distract attention from Wuterich's lawsuit?
I don't want to draw rolled eyes. But think about it.
- All Things Beautiful
- Blue Crab Boulevard
- Murtha Must Go
- Gateway Pundit
- It Shines For All
- Iowa Voice
- Sister Toldjah
- Old War Dogs
Recall some of the statements made by Murtha like:
* the Marines had “killed innocent civilians in cold blood”
* “It’s much worse than was reported in Time magazine”