Wuterich Continues Murtha Lawsuit Despite Manslaughter Charges

Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich is continuing his libel lawsuit against Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), even after Wuterich was charged last week by military officials with nine counts of voluntary manslaughter for allegedly improperly attacking Iraqi civilians in Haditha following a Nov. 19, 2005 ambush. 24 Iraqi civlians died during the incident, which followed the earlier death of a U.S. Marine in an IED attack.

Mark Zaid, Wuterich's lawyer, said that the manslaughter charges against his client actually strengthen Wuterich's arguement that Murtha libeled him when the veteran Democratic lawmaker - himself a former Marine - publicly claimed in May 2006 that Wuterich and other Marines "killed innocent civilian in cold blood" and Marine Corps officials were  trying to"cover it up."

"The new criminal charges filed against SSGt. Wuterich fully exonerate him from the spurious factual allegations publicly disseminated by Congressman Murtha," Zaid said in a statement. "There was no 'cold-blooded' murder or massacre committed by the Marines - plain and simple - and the Congressman should apologize as he was originally asked to do when the lawsuit was filed."

Wuterich sued Murtha last August in federal court for libel and invasion of privacy. The Justice Department, which is representing Murtha in this case, claimed Murtha was covered under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which protects government officials from legal actions for official duties. Under FTCA, the United States would be substituted for Murtha as the defendant in the case, thereby ending since the government has sovereign immunity.

Wuterich's legal team argued that Murtha was not acting in an official role when he made his statements about Wuterich and other Marines involved in the Haditha incident.

A federal judge initially ruled against Murtha  and DOJ, clearing the way for Wuterich's lawyers to depose Murtha. DOJ has appealed that ruling.

Zaid said the "legal appeal that the government is now pursuing does not turn on the substantive facts of the case whether immunity should automatically attach whenever a congressional representative speaks to a member of the media without regard to where, when or the involved topic."