Murtha will have to testify in defamation case

He’ll have to submit a deposition. Hopefully he’ll be more forthcoming this time than his office was when I called them up last month. Perhaps by the time he testifies, he’ll actually know what’s going on in the trials. Not that not having all the facts slowed him down from pronouncing the Marines guilty of murder “in cold blood” starting last year.

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 in the case.

A Marine Corps sergeant is suing the 16-term congressman for alleging “cold-blooded murder and war crimes” by unnamed soldiers in connection with the deaths of Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha.

The deaths became known in May 2006 when Murtha, who opposes the Iraq war, said at a Capitol Hill news conference that a Pentagon war crimes investigation will show Marines killed dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians in the town in 2005.

Murtha’s office declined to comment on the ruling. He has said his intention was to draw attention to the pressure put on troops in Iraq and to cover-up the incident.

The Justice Department wanted the case dismissed because Murtha was acting in his official role as a lawmaker. Assistant U.S. Attorney John F. Henault said the comments were made as part of the debate over the war in Iraq.

This is one of the many areas where I’ll depart from the Bush administration, which is in charge of the Justice Department. Murtha slandered those troops and his repeated slanders of them echoed throughout the entire world. Murtha damaged our cause in the war. A civil slander suit is the least of the legal problems he ought to face for that.

And as the judge points out, giving Murtha a pass here might set dangerous precedent.

“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.

If average Americans can’t get away with slander, why should Murtha?