US Court rejects Greek magnate’s defamation case against anti-nuclear Iran NGO

Decision comes after US gov't injects state secrets privilege.

March 24, 2015 19:44
3 minute read.
Gary Samore

Former Obama administration official Gary Samore, a member of the NGO, United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI). (photo credit: REUTERS)

New York federal Judge Edgardo Ramos late Monday dismissed Greek shipping magnate Victor Restis’s defamation case against an anti-nuclear-Iran NGO, accepting an intervening request by the US government that the case could not move forward because it would expose state secrets.

The decision means that the case will not go to trial and that Restis’s side will not learn why the US government wanted the case blocked and which state secrets were being guarded, and will not even learn which US agency requested the case be blocked.

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The US government has not publicly commented, but Lee Wolosky, the lawyer for the NGO, United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), said, “We welcome today’s federal court decision dismissing Mr. Restis’s lawsuit in its entirety. Since its filing we have consistently maintained that Mr. Restis’s suit was meritless.”

Restis alleged that UANI seeks to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and engages in private sanctions campaign focused on ending corporate support for the Iranian regime.

Also, Restis said that UANI initiated a “name and shame” campaign against him in May 2013 by sending a public letter to him regarding his purported involvement in the illegal exploitation of Iranian oil in violation of international sanctions.

UANI includes a wide range of former US CIA, White House and diplomatic officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations, including the former top Obama administration official on arms control, Gary Samore.

Restis’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said “We are mystified that the US government has such a stake in this case that it would take such extraordinary steps to prevent full disclosure of the secret interest it has with UANI or others.”

He added that Restis has not decided his next legal step – whereas lawyers looking to continue to fight often vow to appeal on the spot.

Responding to statements made by Restis’s representatives about the court decision, UANI lawyers said, “We noted with surprise Mr. Restis’s claims today seeking to turn defeat into victory. Contrary to the wishful thinking of Mr. Restis’s counsel, UANI’s statements about Mr. Restis...have not been ‘proven’ to be ‘false and defamatory.’” They added, “As hard as it appears for him to accept, Mr. Restis lost today – notwithstanding the vast resources he threw at a small not for profit organization.”

In a September press release, Wolosky had said on UANI’s behalf, “In order to deflect attention from his numerous criminal and civil problems, Victor Restis last year filed a meritless complaint in the United States against UANI.

His complaint falsely stated that he did no business in Iran. Mr. Restis then declined to come to the United States to testify under oath about his dealings in Iran.”

Wolosky had added, “Without hesitation UANI will continue to speak out against those who undermine the security of the United States, our friends and allies by doing business in Iran.”

Many civil rights groups had criticized the US government’s intervention as over-expanding the concept of national security to improperly block transparency.

But Ramos explained his decision to dismiss Restis’s defamation claim on the grounds that even allowing pretrial discovery, or allowing Restis to investigate UANI evidence on the issue, would violate US national security.

He wrote, “the court recognizes that dismissal is a harsh sanction,” adding “it is particularly so in this case because plaintiffs not only do not get their day in court, but cannot be told why.”

Ramos explained that he believed the test was met for applying the state secrets privilege to block a case from going forward, “that there is a reasonable danger that compulsion of the evidence will expose military matters” which should not be divulged in the “interest of national security.”

The court cited a list of supportive rulings, particularly in the post-September 11, 2001, context when US courts have deferred more to the government in the balance between national security concerns and transparency.

It cited the cases of Zuckerbaum (1991), Bareford (1992), Mohamed (2010) and Fitzgerald (1985) as examples where the state claimed the privilege on behalf of a private party such as UANI, and not just on its own behalf.

Moreover, the court said that while Restis’s lawyers correctly explained the differences among the cases, the distinctions “neither compel the disclosure of additional information relating to the assertion of the privilege, nor save” the case from being dismissed.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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