When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has expressed doubt over the official account of the 911 attacks and accused the U.S. government, he has been condemned by other leaders and countries. However, it turns out that the most aggrieved party may be . . . al Qaeda and its allies and sympathizers. Inspire Magazine, a publication founded by Anwar al-Awlaki and often tied by the U.S. to Al Qaeda figures, has come out with a cover story attacking Ahmadinejad for suggesting that al Qaeda was not responsible or someone used in the attacks by U.S. intelligence. It appears that al Qaeda views this “truther” account as nothing short of defamation or at least product disparagement.
The magazine writes: “The Iranian government has professed on the tongue of its president Ahmadinejad that it does not believe that al Qaeda was behind 9/11 but rather, the U.S. government. So we may ask the question: why would Iran ascribe to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence?”
The writer then questions the bona fides of the Iranian leader: “If Iran was genuine in its animosity towards the U.S., it would be pleased to see another entity striking a blow at the Great Satan but that’s not the case. For Iran, anti-Americanism is merely a game of politics. Iran and the Shi’a in general do not want to give al Qaeda credit for the greatest and biggest operation ever committed against America because this would expose their lip-service jihad against the Great Satan.”
That leads to my question on any actionable claims for al Qaeda. Under defamation, some parties are viewed as judgment proof or libel proof. But here the damaging alleged falsehood is to say that al Qaeda is less lethal and murderous than they make out as an organization. They would be essentially arguing that you are giving us a better reputation. Moreover, as to Bin Laden, the U.S. may have undermined the common law case when they moved him into the deceased category. Under the common law, you cannot defame the dead (or, in other words, you can but no one can sue).
You are left with group defamation which is always difficult with large groups, let alone groups with members who generally hide their identity (and are thus less injured by defamation). Al Qaeda would have to pin its hopes on gay salesmen in Texas. In the United States, it is extremely difficult to maintain a “group libel” case even when there is jurisdiction. One of the leading cases occurred in 1952 in a New York lawsuit. In Neiman-Marcus v. Lait, 13 FRD 311 (SDNY 1952), employees of that high-end store sued the author of a book titled “U.S.A. Confidential.” The book claimed that some of the models at the story and all of the saleswomen in the Dallas store were “call girls.” It further stated that most of the salesmen in the men’s department were “faggots.” The issue came down to the size of the group. With 382 saleswomen and models, the court found that the group was too large. However, with the 25 salesmen, the court found that an action could be maintained.
Then there is product disparagement if you can treat exporting terror as a product. However, this is a product that most countries want to bar as an import.
Of course, they could argue “false light” but it was the U.S. government that was putting them in a false light according to conspiracy theories — and in their view a better light. They cannot maintain a copyright or trademark claim given the lack of registration and recording of the claim.
If they were willing to sue the U.S., there is always the possibility of an action for appropriation of name or likeness.
652C Appropriation of Name or Likeness
One who appropriates to his own use or benefit the name or likeness of another is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy.
a. The interest protected by the rule stated in this Section is the interest of the individual in the exclusive use of his own identity, in so far as it is represented by his name or likeness, and in so far as the use may be of benefit to him or to others. Although the protection of his personal feelings against mental distress is an important factor leading to a recognition of the rule, the right created by it is in the nature of a property right, for the exercise of which an exclusive license may be given to a third person, which will entitle the licensee to maintain an action to protect it.
b. How invaded. The common form of invasion of privacy under the rule here stated is the appropriation and use of the plaintiff’s name or likeness to advertise the defendant’s business or product, or for some similar commercial purpose. Apart from statute, however, the rule stated is not limited to commercial appropriation. It applies also when the defendant makes use of the plaintiff’s name or likeness for his own purposes and benefit, even though the use is not a commercial one, and even though the benefit sought to be obtained is not a pecuniary one. Statutes in some states have, however, limited the liability to commercial uses of the name or likeness.
According to Ahmadinejad, the U.S. used their name to rally the country in a war against terror. However, they are arguing that it was truth and again they like the image — as shown by Bin Laden bragging about his role in planning the attacks.
Their brief appears against Ahmadinejad and not the U.S. in casting doubt on their villainy. Any desire to sue for denying the true perpetrators of the “The Greatest Special Operation of All Time,” may be a case without a legal claim. Of course, that is not the first time that al Qaeda has found itself outside of any recognized legal structure. Besides the first motion to sever is likely to empty the courtroom.
8 thoughts on “Does Al Qaeda Have A Case For Defamation Against Ahmadinejad?”
I would just like to note that The Onion reported on this three years ago:
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Question: Is that reasoning based on international law? Surely Al Qaeda would not sue in the US. What law would they be using? Would the plaintiff choose a country in which to start the procedure, which would then follow the laws of that country?
Hard cases make bad law.
I think exporting terror would be more of a service and not a product. 🙂
This is a legitimate story…Right? This sounds a little frivolous….
Masterfully done Professor. Bravo.
(Just a question maybe someone can answer – Every email post from here comes up blank when I open the eamil (and only from here). Do you know if that is a problem my mail is having with setttings from this blog?) Thanks
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