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Murtha Can’t Be Sued Over Iraq Comments

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) cannot be sued for his comments about a 2005 incident in Haditha, Iraq, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled Tuesday.

The decision upends a 2007 order by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that would have permitted the senior Democrat to be deposed and allowed attorneys for Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich to seek out documents and other evidence.

Wuterich filed a lawsuit against Murtha in August 2006 for libel, defamation and invasion of privacy, alleging the Democrat “publicly and falsely accused— the Marines of “cold-blooded murder and war crimes— in the deaths of two dozen Iraqis without facts to support that claim.

The Justice Department, which is representing Murtha in the case, had argued the House Democrat was protected by the Westfall Act, which guards federal employees from prosecution for statements made within the scope of their employment.

The three-judge panel agreed with the Justice Department in its 19-page decision.

“[I]t is clear that Wuterich has not alleged any facts that even remotely suggest that Congressman Murtha was acting outside the scope of his employment when he spoke about the Haditha incident,— Senior Circuit Judge Harry Edwards wrote along with Circuit judges Karen LeCraft Henderson and Judith Rogers.

“As in [Council on American-Islamic Relations v.] Ballenger, the underlying conduct — interviews with the media about the pressures on American troops in the ongoing Iraq war — is unquestionably of the kind that Congressman Murtha was employed to perform as a Member of Congress,— the decision continued. “This is especially true in the case of Congressman Murtha, who was the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense and had introduced legislation to withdraw American troops from Iraq.—

The three-judge panel remanded the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and ordered that the U.S. government be substituted as the defendant in Murtha’s place, effectively rendering the case moot.

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