The U.S. government won the dismissal of a private defamation suit against an anti-Iran advocacy group called United Against Nuclear Iran on March 23. The case had been brought to court by Greek shipping mogul and billionaire Victor Restis, who claimed that the group falsely accused him and his enterprises of violating trade sanctions with Iran.

Right — so far, nothing too out of the ordinary.

But as it turns out, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in Manhattan sided with the Department of Justice in his decision to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that going forward with it could compromise state secrets and thus pose a threat to national security.

It was the first time the government has intervened in a private case that did not involve a government agency or a defense contractor. The New Zealand Herald studied the case this week, taking stock of its implications:

Even if Restis could prove his case without the excluded evidence, the court said, it was “convinced that further litigation of this action would impose an unjustifiable risk of disclosing state secrets.”

That is, even if the court were to block discovery of any actual state secret, the mere fact of the lawsuit would have a tendency to endanger national security – even if the trial took place entirely in secret.

The court thus came perilously close to saying that the case should be dismissed because it might be embarrassing to the Government.

The trial judge, Edgardo Ramos, admitted that the outcome was “harsh.”

As he put it, “plaintiffs not only do not get their day in court, but cannot be told why”.

The story goes on to say:

Dismissing a lawsuit between private parties without giving a reason is the very opposite of the judicial function, which relies fundamentally on reason-giving.

Where no reasons are given, we aren’t in the realm of legal decision-making.

We’re in the universe of absolutism or autocracy.

What makes matters worse is the lingering possibility, indeed probability, that what the Government fears is not a true threat to national security, but a severe case of embarrassment.

It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that United Against is a front organization for U.S. intelligence, possibly acting in conjunction with other foreign intelligence services.

The allegation that Restis was doing business in Iran seems almost certain to have come from one of these intelligence services.

— Posted by Donald Kaufman.

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