Libel Law Expert: Liz Cheney is Still Wrong About Libel

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Liz Cheney has already gotten some flak from this blog for claiming on live television that calling waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” torture is “frankly libelous.” Now Mother Jones‘ own legal adviser, James Chadwick, has decided to drop some knowledge. Here’s what he says:

Liz Cheney’s been reading too much George Orwell and not enough first amendment. You can’t libel the government, and statements of opinion can’t be libelous. I think Liz Cheney would be particularly interested in defending the idea that what constitutes torture is a matter of opinion because if not, her father might be in a lot of trouble. She’s not talking about specific allegations about specific people. She’s talking about people saying what the US government did… was torture.

One of the reasons the founding fathers established the first amendment was to do away with the idea of seditious libel – libeling the king. You cannot be sued for saying bad things about the government, period.

If you do talk about specific individuals sanctioning torture, then all those individuals are unquestionably public figures, which requires the highest standard of proof that there is in civil law. “Clear and convincing evidence of actual knowledge of falsity, a reckless disregard of the truth.” I don’t think anyone can say it’s actionable to call waterboarding torture.

Bottom line: Liz Cheney doesn’t know what the heck she’s talking about.

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It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

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