Panamanian lawyer Juan Carlos Noriega has brought a defamation suit in the District of Columbia against the Huffington Post for falsely attributing to him an “offensive” article he claims he had nothing to do with. The article, entitled “The Primacy of the Rule of Law,” (which has since been removed from the site) concerned a “fake vaccination program” that the Central Intelligence Agency ran in order to gather information on Osama Bin Laden. The CIA relied on Dr. Shakeel Afridi to run the vaccination program, and when he was arrested, the United States government called for his release.
The article claimed that the United States’ outrage over Dr. Afridi’s arrest was inconsistent with every nation’s basic commitment to the rule of law, and that the United States’ demand that Afridi be released showed a disregard for Pakistan’s democracy and jurisprudence. The article suggested that Afridi had violated the Hippocratic Oath and that, because of the fake campaign, Pakistani parents had become skeptical of vaccinations and were refusing to immunize their children. The article asserted that thousands of innocent Pakistani children may be crippled for life with polio or die from hepatitis because of the vaccination scheme. A link to the article revealed a short biography and picture of Noriega and listed him as one of “HuffPost’s signature line up of contributors.”
Noriega claims he has never written anything for the Huffington Post. He says he’s never even submitted a comment on the site or created an account. According to the complaint, The Huffington Post did not contact Noriega before publishing the article, and when Noriega’s counsel informed the Huffington Post that he had been a victim of identity theft and asked it to remove the article, the Huffington Post did not respond. Noriega asserts that the Huffington Post maliciously and negligently published the article and attributed to him “highly offensive and defamatory beliefs” concerning terrorism, Pakistan, bin Laden, the U.S. government and the CIA that he does not hold.
Noriega contends that the article has damaged his personal and business reputation, has caused him serious emotional distress, embarrassment and personal humiliation and has jeopardized his immigration status. The complaint asks for $3 million in damages, a retraction, and an investigation into the identity theft. The court is going to have to decide whether falsely attributing certain controversial beliefs to a person can be considered defamatory as a matter of law.