Sacha Baron Cohen, who was repeatedly sued by people who were unhappy with the way he depicted them in "Borat" (a group that includes most people who were depicted in "Borat"), has now been sued by someone unhappy with his depiction in the followup, "Brüno." In a lawsuit filed on December 2, Ayman Abu Aita alleges that the film defamed him by claiming he is a terrorist.
In the film, as part of Brüno's quest to become famous he goes to the Middle East (he calls it "Middle Earth") to try to either make peace or get taken hostage. He arranges to talk with Abu Aita, whose name appears onscreen along with the label "terrorist group leader[,] al-aqsa martyrs brigade." Brüno tells Abu Aita that he wants to be kidnapped by "the best," and gives some fashion advice, suggesting that "you guys" should "lose the beards" because, for example, "your King Osama looks kind of like a dirty wizard or homeless Santa." Abu Aita still seems confused about that part, but he knows he isn't happy about having been called a terrorist.
Not only is he not a Muslim terrorist group leader, he claims, he's a Greek Orthodox grocery store owner who is a board member of the "Holy Land Trust," a "charitable organization committed to promoting peace and reconciliation." I wasn't able to find any independent information on the Trust, but news reports on this story have not yet raised any questions about it, at least, and this one in the Jerusalem Post does refer to Abu Aita as a "well-known peace activist." Maybe so.
He also doesn't have a beard, as the clip shows:
The lawsuit also names (among other defendants) David Letterman and NBC. Letterman is involved because of Aita's allegations he was further defamed when Baron Cohen appeared on The Late Show to promote the movie. In that interview, he claimed that he had set up the interview by going through a "CIA contact" to find a town that had a terrorist in it, and then asking around. He said the interview had been set up at a secret location and that he could not find bodyguards willing to guarantee his safety there. According to this TIME.com report, though, the "secret location" is a popular tourist spot 50 meters from an Israeli checkpoint in Bethlehem, and was rented in advance by the film crew.
On December 7, Abu Aita's attorneys, including Joseph Peter Drennan, held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. Abu Aita was also there, which will be a little embarrassing for Homeland Security if he does turn out to be a terrorist. Drennan said in his statement that the fact his client had gotten a visa to come to the U.S. was "proof positive" that he could not be a terrorist. That does seem like pretty good evidence, but since we're talking about Homeland Security here I would bring some other evidence along too. Drennan also repeatedly used words like "malign" and "calumnious," which makes me pretty confident he drafted the complaint, which begins like this:
COMES NOW, before this Honorable Court, your plaintiff in the above-encaptioned cause, AYMAN ABU AITA, by and through his undersigned attorneys and counsellors, viz., Joseph Peter Drennan and Sam W. Burgan, respectfully, to lodge his Complaint for Damages and for Injunctive relief, by showing unto this Honorable Court as follows, viz.:
Like the use of all caps, this introductory language is something you just can't get lawyers to stop doing, though I've never seen it this bad. Why don't people just write, "Ayman Abu Aita alleges as follows," or better yet, just start alleging things? What do they think will happen if they don't include this stuff? It's like "Abracadabra" for lawyers -- it doesn't actually have any effect, and it makes your whole performance seem kind of cheeseball.
"Perhaps unlike many of those who were maligned by Mr. Sacha Baron Cohen," Drennan said in his statement, "Mr. Ayman Abu Aita is fighting back." Actually, Baron Cohen was sued over a dozen times for "Borat" and most of those cases were ultimately dismissed. He might have some more trouble with this one, though -- if Abu Aita is who he says he is, calling him a terrorist actually might hurt his reputation, even in the West Bank. Drennan, not surprisingly, seems confident he has a case, and is ready to fight for justice with all the stentorious verbiage he can muster. "Ladies and gentlemen," he concluded, "let the battle be joined."