It would be stupid, albeit hilarious to see Gen. John Sheehan, the former NATO commander, sued under defamation laws for his remarks about how the gays led to a massacre.
In the United States, Sheehan’s comments before the Senate Armed Services Committee are protected under general defamation immunity offered to anyone testifying in an official capacity. (That’s why courtroom witnesses cannot be charged with slander, even if they accuse a defendant of being a crack-smoking child molester, and the defendant is not.) It’s an effort to encourage witnesses to speak freely and honestly without fear for later being prosecuted just for speaking openly, particularly when that testimony is forced, via subpoena.
And yet Peter Schouten, described as a “Dutch communications expert,” thinks he’s got the upper hand. He’s founded something called Pink Army, and is on the hunt for nine gay Dutch soldiers to act as plaintiffs in a class action suit, to be filed in a California federal court, charging Sheehan with slander.
The charges would be slander and defamation, and the demands are simple: a full-page retraction and apology in major US and Dutch newspapers; a press conference offering the same; mandatory sensitivity training, and compensation of legal costs.
Mr Schouten says it is too soon to say how the case will be argued, but given [Dutch army commander Henk van den Breemen, who Sheehan cited] public denial that he made the alleged initial remarks, it’s clear Mr Sheehan lied.
Which, if true, means Sheehan lied under oath. That is a charge of perjury, a criminal and not a civil allegation, and thus up to an office like the United States District Attorney to deal with. But he cannot be accused of slandering anyone, because of where his remarks took place.