Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fourth Circuit affirms grant of summary judgment in Abu Ghraib defamation case

In CACI PREMIER TECHNOLOGY v. RHODES, a military contractor sued a radio talk show host for allegedly defamatory statements. CACI interrogated Iraqi detainees at the notorious U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. In her radio program, Rhodes made a number of criticisms about CACI role in the torture and abuse of Iraqis. CACI sued for defamation, but the district court granted summary judgment for Rhodes. The district court concluded that Rhodes's statements were protected by the First Amendment, either because they were not made with actual malice or because they did not state actual facts about CACI. The Fourth Circuit affirmed:

We have made a thorough and independent examination of the whole record, and we are satisfied that each of Rhodes’s statements that CACI challenges as defamatory is protected by the First Amendment:either it was not made with reckless disregard for the truth or it did not state actual facts about CACI (it was rhetorical hyperbole,for example). This case reminds us that "[i]t is a prized American privilege to speak one’s mind, although not always with perfect good taste, on all public [issues], and this opportunity is to be afforded for vigorous advocacy" that may be caustic and even exaggerated. New York Times, 376 U.S. at 269 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). This essential privilege minimizes the danger of selfcensorshipon the part of those who would criticize, thus allowing robust debate about the actions of public officials and public figures (including military contractors such as CACI) who are conducting the country's business.

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