A federal judge has ordered Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) to testify in a defamation case related to the deaths of Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha in 2005, according to the Associated Press.
Murtha, a former Marine. accused Marines involved in the "cold-blooded murder and war crimes'' during the Haditha incident. Fran Wuterich, a Marine sergeant involved in the icident, has sued Murtha for defamation over his comments.
According to AP, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer wants Murtha to explain why he made this statement and any documents he has related to the incident.
From the AP: '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?"
Frankly, I don't understand this ruling at all, and I wouldn't be surprised if it is appealed by the Justice Dept. and House general counsel's office on behalf of Murtha. Murtha, who can say some inappropriate things once in a while, was clearly acting in his capacity as a lawmaker when he made the comments and is thus protected by the Speech or Debate Clause from any type of prosecution for official acts.
Therefore, this case should have been dismissed, and I hope it will be. It's not that I agree with what Murtha said. I don't know enough about the incident to have an opinion whether Wuterich or the other Marines did anything improper or illegal. But Murtha has a right to say what he did under the Speech or Debate Clause, even if he was wrong about what happened. When we start restricting what members and senators can say in the performance of their jobs, then we are really in trouble as a country.