The courthouse door slammed shut on information technology contractor CACI International, Inc. this week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the dismissal of CACI's defamation lawsuit against liberal talk radio network Air America and one of its former hosts, Randi Rhodes.
CACI filed the $11 million defamation suit after Rhodes, in several August 2005 broadcasts, blamed CACI in part for the abuses that occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. CACI provided civilian interrogators for the U.S. Army's military intelligence brigade assigned to the prison. The Court ruled that Rhode's "scalding accusations against CACI" were protected by the First Amendment. The Court concluded that "Rhodes relied on a number of reputable sources, including two U.S. Army reports and the statements of an army brigadier general who was once the head of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq." (For what it's worth, Rhodes herself once served in the U.S. Air Force.)
While the Court did not delve into the veracity of Rhodes' specific claims, this ruling doesn't augur well for CACI, which is itself the target of several pending Abu Ghraib-related lawsuits (see also here and here).
POGO feels compelled to bring this case to the public's attention not just because it involves one of the contractors in our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, but also because of the underlying constitutional principles at stake. As the Court bluntly reminds us, the right to speak freely about matters affecting the public's interest is an "essential privilege...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."
-- Neil Gordon