U.S. military contractor can’t sue Air America for defamation

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court says a radio talk-show host's criticism of a U.S. government contractor at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was protected by the First Amendment.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected CACI International's defamation lawsuit against the talk-radio network Air America and one of its hosts, Randi Rhodes.

CACI sued for $11 million after Rhodes accused company employees of raping and murdering Iraqi civilians at Abu Ghraib. The company interrogated Iraqi detainees for the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib.

A federal judge in Alexandria dismissed the lawsuit. The appeals court upheld that decision yesterday, saying in CACI Premier Technology, Inc. v. Rhodes that the company failed to prove the statements were made with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth.

The appeals court characterized statements such as Rhodes’ Aug. 26, 2005, comment: “Yeah, don’t call them contractors, call them what they are, they’re hired killers, they’re mercenaries” as hyperbole and exaggeration.

“In several statements Rhodes, with free use of hyperbole and exaggeration, criticized the extensive use of U.S. military contractors in Iraq, saying that their employees could kill without being held to account,” the appeals court wrote.

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