Impudence Par Excellence!
by Hamid Yazdanpanah
The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has long been accused of acting as the Iranian regime's lobby in the US. Putting aside the ample evidence which has been uncovered in this regard, one needs look no further than NIAC's conduct to see the true nature of the organization.
The most telling example of this conduct comes from the lawsuit which NIAC filed and subsequently lost against Iranian journalist Hassan Daioleslam. The suit culminates a four-year legal battle which not only revealed the depths of NIAC's duplicity and deception, but demonstrated the complete lack of foundation for the suit in the first place.
True to form - NIAC has continued its policy of distortion and downright dishonesty.
NIAC unabashedly mischaracterizes the entire nature of the legal proceeding in a manner not unlike that of the regime in Tehran - smearing their opponents in ad hominem attacks, while distorting the facts.
In its latest press release NIAC conveniently leaves out the fact that they were sanctioned to the tune of $183,000 plus interest for their conduct during the course of litigation. This conduct included numerous instances of concealing or tampering with evidence.
NIAC then continues its relentless assassination of Hassan Daioleslam's character, towing the Tehran's classic anti-Semitic line by charging that Daioleslam had a multi-million dollar Jewish legal team. What difference does the composition of Daioleslam's legal team have to do with the substance of the court ruling? Zero!
This is a hallmark of the Iranian regime. To label its adversaries as foreign agents, and construct conspiracy theories in order to distract from the real issue at hand.
A recent example was the UN Arms Treaty - passed almost unanimously by the UN General Assembly and hailed internationally as a breakthrough on the arms trade - with Iran, North Korea and Syria being the lone dissenters. The regime's propaganda outlets characterized it as "UN missed chance on strong arms control" resorting to the same empty anti-imperialist hyperbole that it has always used.
The NIAC ruling was an embarrassment for the organization and a victory for Iranians fighting to expose apologists for the Iranian regime in the United States. Its conduct during the course of trial not only caused them to be sanctioned by the judge, but demonstrates their deceptive nature as an organization.
NIAC attempts to distort the ruling as a victory
By law, NIAC needed to show that Daioleslam acted with malice in regards to the accusations. Having failed to meet this requirement, the suit was dismissed.
NIAC, true to their Orwellian habits of turning the truth on its head attempted to cast the dismissal of the suit as a legal victory. In a press release it claimed that it had achieved its major goal in the suit, which was to prove the falsity of Daioleslam's claims, stating:
"On this crucial issue, NIAC prevailed. Once in front of the court, Daioleslam had the opportunity to make his case for the truth. Instead, he changed his tune and did not seek to argue that his accusations were correct and truthful."
Either NIAC or its attorneys are truly ignorant of the law (a real possibility evidenced by their sloppy legal work) or this is a bold faced distortion of the legal opinion. NIAC tries to back up this assertion with the following quote from the opinion:
"Nothing in this opinion should be construed as a finding that defendant's articles were true. Defendant did not move for summary judgment on that ground."
This quote comes from a footnote in the opinion, and is not a legal finding, but what is commonly referred to as "dicta", which is a statement of opinion or belief, but not a legal conclusion or ruling. More importantly, the statement was meant as a disclaimer stating that the court did not make a judgment as to the claims being either true or false. This was merely a clarification by the Judge in regards to the scope of the opinion, not a legal conclusion in favor of NIAC, despite their desperate attempts to cast it as such.
NIAC continues baseless threats against Daioleslam
In another blatant distortion NIAC claims that Daioleslam's motion for summary judgment somehow conceded that Daioleslam's accusations were false. First of all, Daioleslam's legal team was not required to establish the truthfulness of his accusations. The burden was on NIAC as a matter of law to demonstrate actual malice, a burden which they failed to meet. Daioleslam neither initiated this legal claim, nor did he go to court hoping to obtain a ruling as to whether his articles are in fact truthful or not. As a journalist his work speaks for itself, and meets both editorial and scholarly standards, a fact noted by the court in their opinion. Secondly, and most importantly, Daioleslam explicitly maintains that he has not changed his views in regards to NIAC;
"The Defendant properly pled and supported his allegation that he believes that his analysis of the Plaintiffs' position is accurate. See Def. Motion to Dismiss, pp. 19-27; Afft. of Defendant at 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 13"
In an absurd attempt to continue to censor Daioleslam NIAC goes so far as to claim that Daioleslam is now "on notice" that what he has been saying is false, and as such would be found to be acting "with malice" if he continues to make said accusations. Once again, NIAC is either completely ignorant of both the law and the facts, or is shamelessly attempting to distort both the court's ruling and the current law in order to intimidate Daioleslam. In a statement on his website Daioleslam reaffirmed his belief that NIAC and its President, Trita Parsi, lobby for the regime, and remains undaunted by NIAC's empty words.
Summary of the Opinion
What follows is a quick summary of some of the most interesting parts of the decision. I encourage all who are interested to read the full summary of the motion for summary judgment here.
To begin Judge Bates started his analysis with the following observation.
"One preliminary problem is that plaintiffs have failed to define the universe of allegedly defamatory statements."
NIAC's team failed the most elementary requirement for bringing a defamation claim, failing to cite specific examples of defamatory statements. NIAC also failed to present all relevant evidence to the court in a timely manner. Judge Bates notes NIAC's failure to meet this standard as being a fatal flaw in their case;
"...plaintiffs' choice to withhold articles or evidence of actual malice was made at their own peril. Even a cursory review of defamation case law in the Supreme Court and this Circuit shows that such cases are often resolved on a defendant's motion for summary judgment, and that the resolution usually involves an extremely detailed analysis of specific defamatory statements and the support for those statements."
"Only in one instance have plaintiffs offered the kind of granular analysis that is normally necessary to prevail in this type of action."
The single specific instance offered by NIAC, an article Daioleslam wrote in 2008, is subjected to an embarrassing dismissal by Judge Bates. The Judge points out the sloppy legal work by NIAC, noting among other mistakes that they fail to cite the correct end notes when reviewing Daioleslam's work. The ruling also serves as an elementary lesson on the use of sources, as Judge Bates lampoons contentions made by NIAC that Daioleslam needed to provide a hyperlink to sources which were not on the internet, translate primary sources from Farsi to English, and the strange argument that references to other articles written by Daioleslam were somehow not valid.
NIAC put forward an affidavit by Parsi, in order to show that Parsi had in fact made statements which were supposedly "anti-regime" but were ignored by Daioleslam. This argument falls flat on its face, both substantively and as a matter of law. The court pointed out that not only was Daioleslam not aware of most of these statements:
"Moreover, many of the statements listed in Parsi's affidavit are not strongly anti-regime."
In what is arguably the highlight of the entire opinion, Judge Bates uses pointed language to give credence to the reasonable conclusion that Parsi could in fact be acting on behalf of the regime.
"That Parsi occasionally made statements reflecting a balanced, shared blame approach is not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime. Given the other evidence defendant amassed to support his views, the Court sees no "actual malice" in defendant's decision to disregard occasional contrary statements and assume that they were made largely to burnish Parsi and NIAC's image in the United States. After all, any moderately intelligent agent for the Iranian regime would not want to be seen as unremittingly pro-regime, given the regime's reputation in the United States."
Judge Bates goes on to criticize another example offered by NIAC, in reference to Parsi's stance on Iranian human rights.
"Similarly, plaintiffs protest that defendant accused NIAC and Parsi of refusing to speak up on human rights abuses in Iran despite evidence that plaintiffs had in fact done so. The Court disagrees. While Parsi does criticize Iran's human rights record in the underlying article, his criticisms are tepid. A representative example is the following statement: "Even in long isolated Iran, a country known for its less than flattering Human Rights record, there is a trend toward the improvement of the human rights situation, although it remains far from being satisfactory." "
Judge Bates also points out how tentative Parsi is in actually discussing the human rights situation in Iran, referencing an article in which he comes to the defense of Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi after being met by protesting students at UCLA.
"In this article Parsi does not come close to specifically condemning –or even mentioning – the 'torture, mass executions, rapes of women in prison, and stoning' that defendant accuses him of ignoring. Moreover, the vast majority of the article is devoted to Parsi expressing his disappointment with the UCLA students who protested Kharrazi's speech, not to discussing the regime's abuses. Hence, while defendant's article is certainly a strongly-worded and one-sided take on Parsi's underlying publication, it is not a distortion of the underlying publication that amounts to willful blindness or actual malice."
The opinion also examines whether or not Daioleslam displayed any subjective doubts as to the truthfulness of the material he was writing about. In a careful review of his discussion with his editors, as well as Daioleslam's deposition, the court clearly concluded that Daioleslam objectively believed in the truthfulness of what he was writing. Interestingly enough, Judge Bates actually uses one of NIAC's arguments against them, demonstrating how Daioleslam's actions were the opposite of actual malice.
"First, failure to contact one of the subjects of an article does not establish actual malice. Secord, 747 F. Supp. at 788....Moreover, defendant actually sent Mostashari a lengthy, point-by-point response to one of his emails, and he published both Mostashari's email and his own response on his website. Def.'s Reply, Exs. O, P. This is the opposite of evidence of actual malice."
The court went on to dismiss weak arguments relating to the ideological motivation behind Daioleslam's criticism, as well as NIAC's desperate attempts to link him with the PMOI (Peoples Mojahedin of Iran). The court deemed these arguments irrelevant, and having nothing to do with either the truthfulness of Paris's claims, or as a demonstration of malice.
For all intents and purposes, the lawsuit brought by NIAC was a legal disaster, failing to meet the most basic elements of defamation as a matter of law Judge Bates concludes;
"Because plaintiffs have mustered no evidence that defendant actually harbored any doubts about the correctness of his writings, or willfully blinded himself to the truth, their defamation claim must fail."
NIAC sanctioned for withholding and distorting evidence
In their press release following the decision NIAC claimed that one of their objectives in initiating the lawsuit was to move "towards a more open and truthful discourse" in Iranian political affairs. Yet one need look no further than NIAC's conduct during the discovery phase of litigation to see the extent to which they went to hide the truth, such that they were subject to sanctions by Judge Bates. Legal sanctions are penalties imposed by the court on a party or attorney for violations of the courts rules and procedures. Daioleslam sought sanctions based on eight separate areas of discovery; and won in seven of those areas. The following is a brief breakdown of some of NIAC's conduct which resulted in financial sanctions being levied by Judge Bates. Read the full decision here.
Judge Bates went on to further chastise NIAC for withholding emails in a dishonest manner: "Most disturbingly, plaintiffs apparently gathered emails for their experts that they failed to produce to defendant, which clearly shows that plaintiffs' statement at the motions hearing that "[t]here may be technical explanations" for the failure to produce these documents is untrue."
A dubious claim that Parsi "lost" a laptop he was using between 2009 and 2010 after it was stolen in Norway, without ever having backup data stored elsewhere. Clear deception and consist deception in regards to the desktop computer NIAC claimed Parsi was using in 2009.
The Judge concluded that these actions warranted sanctions, stating:
"Because it seems quite clear that Parsi's interrogatory responses misrepresented when he had used the desktop – and because Parsi has never managed to explain what computer he was using during that time – some sanction is warranted."
So much for encouraging a culture of openness!
Ironically, NIAC mentions Daioleslam's motions in their press release, once again completely distorting the truth in order to hide their own wrongdoing.
"But precisely because he didn't have truth on his side, Daioleslam tried to shift the focus of the court away from the central charge and instead overwhelm NIAC with legal expenses by filing an endless stream of motions."
Perhaps this endless stream of motions could have been avoided had NIAC complied with the rules of discovery. No mention was made of the financial burden NIAC faces due to its sanctionable behavior and attempts to withhold evidence. The quote also attempts to cast NIAC as the victim of powerful litigant, when the reality is that NIAC initiated the suit knowing full well the costs of litigation. Furthermore, NIAC is an organization with its own ample budget while Daioleslam is a lone individual, yet NIAC attempts to cast him as a powerful litigant against a helpless organization. NIAC's stance mirrors a schoolyard bully who after underestimating an opponent begins to scream foul and plays the victim once they are exposed.
Apart from the general sloppy nature of NIAC's legal work, their actions are indicative of the nature of this suit. It becomes clear that NIAC did not intend to go through with litigation, as evidenced by their inability to meet the most basic requirements under the law, and their anxiety towards meeting discovery requests. Instead it is evident the suit was initiated simply as a tool to try to intimidate Daioleslam and stop his work, a tacit which backfired.
The lawsuit serves to show the true nature of NIAC as an organization rife with misconduct, secrets, and dirty tactics. More disturbing than the revelations uncovered through the litigation process is the continued belligerence of NIAC. Despite losing their case in an embarrassing manner, they continue to distort the law, threaten Daioleslam, and claim the moral high ground after being sanctioned by the court.
Hamid Yazdanpanah is a San Francisco-based attorney, freelance writer and human rights activist
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