Fourth Circuit dismisses Abu Ghraib contractor defamation suit

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that a radio talk-show host's inflammatory remarks about a company which conducted interrogations for the US military at Abu Ghraib prison [JURIST news archive] were protected under the First Amendment. In 2005, CACI International [corporate website] filed a defamation suit in federal district court against Randi Rhodes and her radio station, Air America Radio [official websites], for comments that Rhodes made on the air accusing CACI of "among other things, torture, rape, murder, and misrepresenting its authority. . . at Abu Ghraib" and likening CACI and other independent contractors operating in Iraq to those "that operated in apartheid South Africa." In affirming the lower court's grant of summary judgment to Rhodes and Air America, the Fourth Circuit court explained that:

The conduct of the military and its designated civilian surrogates during wartime is a matter of the highest public concern, and speech critical of those responsible for military operations is well within the constitutionally protected area of free discussion. ...Such a commentator must simply maintain a standard of care such as to avoid knowing falsehood or reckless disregard of the truth.
The court declined to find that the comments were made with actual malice because Rhodes relied on a number of sources, including the Taguba and Fay Jones [texts, PDF] reports, which provided evidence to support her allegations and prevented CACI from proving that the statements were made with reckless disregard for the truth. The court also dismissed CACI's defamation claims concerning a number of Rhodes' comments, including the reference to apartheid, on the grounds that they did not assert actual facts against the contractor and as such allowed for "rhetorical hyperbole and other types of imaginative or exaggerated expression." AP has more.

In July, four former Abu Ghraib detainees filed lawsuits [CCR materials; JURIST report] against CACI and another private contractor, L-3 Communications [corporate website], alleging torture, war crimes and civil conspiracy. The actions followed a similar suit [JURIST report] filed in May by an ex-detainee who alleged that the contractors engaged in torture and conspiracy at the prison. Last year, US District Judge James Robertson refused to dismiss [order, PDF; JURIST report] a class action lawsuit [CCR materials] against CACI in which an amended complaint [text, PDF; JURIST report] alleged that CACI was responsible for the torture of more than 250 former detainees held in Iraqi prisons.


 

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