A federal judge refused Friday to dismiss a defamation case against Rep. John P. Murtha and ordered the Pennsylvania Democrat to give a sworn deposition about his comments alleging "cold-blooded murder and war crimes" by unnamed soldiers in connection with Iraqi civilian deaths.
A Marine Corps sergeant is suing the 18-term congressman for making the charge, which the soldier claims is false. Murtha, who opposes the Iraq war, made the comment during a May, 2006 Capitol Hill news conference in which he predicted that a Pentagon war crimes investigation will show Marines killed dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005.
At that point, it won't matter if he's made daily trips to Walter Reed. It won't matter if he's helped win billions of dollars of funding for the troops. His railroading these Marines will be his legacy. PERIOD.
That's why I'm betting that Murtha will do everything in his power to quash this judge's order to have him give a deposition. The judge in this lawsuit is Rosemary Collyer, a Bush appointee. Here's what she said:
U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer said the congressman might be right, but said she won't know for sure unless Murtha explains himself. She did not set a date for Murtha's testimony but said she would also require him to turn over documents related to his comments.
"You're writing a very wide road for members of Congress to go to their home districts and say anything they choose about private persons and be able to do so without any liability. Are you sure you want to do that?" Collyer said, adding later, "How far can a congressman go and still be protected?"
Collyer said she was troubled by the idea the lawmakers are immune from lawsuits regardless of what they say to advance their political careers.
When Rep. Murtha declared that the Haditha Marines had "killed innocent civilians in cold blood", (Remember that he hadn't been briefed and the investigation hadn't been finished) he essentially said that Frank Wuterich didn't have any constitutional protections.
Furthermore, it's worth questioning at what point Rep. Murtha isn't protected by the Constitution's Speech and Debate Clause. Should legislators be covered 24/7? Should they be covered when they're holding press availabilities? Should they be able to viciously slander someone, whether they're on the House floor or at a press galley, with full immunity? I'm certain that the Founding Fathers didn't intend on providing that type of protection when they wrote the Speech and Debate Clause into the Constitution.
I'd argue that the Founding Fathers wrote the speech and Debate Clause into the Constitution to protect them from lawsuits pertaining to their official duties. I'd be hard pressed to think that it was meant to protect congressmen when they defame a private citizen, especially without justification.
I'd further argue that this judge's ordering Murtha's testimony and deposition puts the House leadership on notice that they can't excuse Murtha's corruption and unethical behavior. Thus far, the House Democratic leadership has fallen far short of their promise to be the most ethical congress in history. In fact, it isn't difficult to make the case that they're the most unethical congress since the 1994 bloodletting.
Let's further stipulate that letting Murtha slide without starting an ethics investigation into his malicious attacks on the Haditha Marines would tell the world that the Democrats' culture of corruption runs deeper than did the Republicans'. I say that because they didn't try protecting Randy Cunningham and Bob Ney from prosecution. Will Democrats try protecting their 'cash cow'? I'd argue that they already did when Ms. Pelosi endorsed Murtha in his quest to be House Majority Leader.
Here's what's posted on CBS' website:
From the AP: 'You're writing a very wide road for members of Congress to go to their home districts and say anything they choose about private persons and be able to do so without any liability. Are you sure you want to do that?" Collyer said, adding later, "How far can a congressman go and still be protected?"
Frankly, I don't understand this ruling at all, and I wouldn't be surprised if it is appealed by the Justice Dept. and House general counsel's office on behalf of Murtha. Murtha, who can say some inappropriate things once in a while, was clearly acting in his capacity as a lawmaker when he made the comments and is thus protected by the Speech or Debate Clause from any type of prosecution for official acts.
Finally, I'd challenge Mr. Bresnahan 's statement that Murtha was "clearly acting in his capacity as a lawmaker when he made the comments." When did it become part of a lawmaker's job to wrongly accuse genuine war heroes of cold-blooded murder before the NCIS had finished its investigation? I'm curious why Mr. Bresnahan thinks that that's "clearly part" of Murtha's job.
In fact, I'd challenge Mr. Bresnahan to publicly justify that particular statement. I wouldn't bet much that he could.
Let's stipulate that other constitutional privileges have exceptions, too. We hold the attorney/client privilege dear but that privilege isn't absolute. It can't protect a lawyer who willfully assists his client commit a crime. Lynne Stewart was convicted for assisting the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, in carrying out other crimes.
We hold the priest/penitent privilege dear, too, but that has exceptions, too. Even the First Amendment's protections aren't absolute. Should we then accept as absolute that the people's representatives protections be absolute? I think not.
For me, the bottom line is that Rep. Murtha shouldn't be allowed to make such statements with total immunity. This case screams out that either the courts or the House of Representatives deliver justice to Sgt. Wuterich, LCpl. Sharratt, Capt. Stone, Lt. Col. Chessani and all the Marines that Rep. Murtha defamed with his unsubstantiated and repeated statements.
Technorati: John Murtha, Elitist, Speech and Debate Clause, Nancy Pelosi, Ethics Complaint, 110th Congress, Haditha Marines, Frank Wuterich, Justin Sharratt, Randy Stone, Jerff Chessani, Constitution, Rosemary Collyer
Cross-posted at LetFreedomRingBlog