Marine Can't Sue Murtha for Defamation

A Connecticut Marine cannot sue Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha for defamation after the congressman accused his squad of war crimes and murdering Iraqi women and children, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich of Meriden, claimed Murtha damaged his reputation by saying the squad he was leading killed women and children "in cold blood" in Haditha, Iraq, on Nov. 19, 2005.

Wuterich is charged with nine counts of voluntary manslaughter and other allegations for the attack.

Murtha and the Justice Department argued the congressman has immunity from the lawsuit because he was acting in his official role as a lawmaker when he made the comments to reporters. A three-judge panel on U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed.

Military prosecutors have said two dozen Iraqis, including women and children, were killed in Haditha after one Marine died and two others were wounded by a roadside bomb.

At a Capitol Hill news conference in May 2006, Murtha predicted that a Pentagon war crimes investigation will show the Marines killed dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians in Haditha. He did not mention Wuterich or any other Marines by name.

Murtha said he made the comments to draw attention to the pressure put on troops in Iraq and efforts to cover up the incident.
In 2006, Wuterich filed the lawsuit, saying Murtha had inaccurate information about the fight. He is the only person still facing charges in the Haditha deaths. A second Marine also has sued in Pennsylvania over Murtha's remarks.

Four enlisted Marines were charged for their roles in the killings and four officers were charged in connection to the investigation. One officer was acquitted and charges have since been dropped against everyone else except Wuterich.

Wuterich, who pleaded not guilty, is accused of ordering his men to clear several houses with grenades and gunfire, leading to the deaths of women and children.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer refused to dismiss the suit last September and ordered Murtha to give a sworn deposition about his comments. The appeals court overturned that order and said the case must be dismissed.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us