Published December 09, 2009
A Palestinian grocer labeled as a "terrorist group leader" in the movie "Bruno" has filed a $110 million lawsuit, saying the film ruined his life.
Ayman Abu Aita says in a Dec. 2 complaint that he has suffered "extensive damage and loss" as result of his appearance in "Bruno" and from British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's promotion of the film on CBS's Late Show With David Letterman.
Cohen, who plays the gay Austrian TV host Bruno in the film, told Letterman in a July 7 appearance that he interviewed a "terrorist from a pretty nasty group called the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade -- the number one suicide bombers out there" at a "secret location" with a security guard.
The film, released three days later, went on to identify Aita with a banner under his face that sported his full name and the label "terrorist group leader al-aqsa martyrs brigade."
The lawsuit, brought against Cohen, Letterman, NBC Universal, CBS Broadcasting, Worldwide Pants, Gannet Company, and the director of Bruno, Larry Charles Wengrod, claims that Aita is a "peace activist, family man and prominent businessman" who never had any dealing with al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade or "any other terrorist activity or cause."
According to World Net Daily, which interviewed him, Aita served in the Brigade from 2000 until 2003, then spent two years in an Israeli prison for allegedly being involved in shootings against Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem. But during his time with the Brigade he also helped return two Israeli soldiers who got lost in Bethlehem, Israeli security sources told the Web site.
Aita said he now is a representative of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, and he is a board member of the Holy Land Trust, a nongovernmental organization promoting Palestinian community-building.
"My file is clear with the Americans. I was in the states twice and I travel all the time," he told the Guardian in July.
"I am a non-violent activist and I am not ashamed of that," he said.
Aita told the Guardian that the "security guard" shown in his interview with "Bruno" was actually another member of the Holy Land Trust. And he said the movie interview did not take place in a secret location, as Cohen claimed, but at a restaurant and hotel selected by the film's crew in an Israeli-controlled district of the West Bank. He said he could not possibly have been armed, as Cohen suggested in the Letterman appearance, because Palestinians are not allowed to carry weapons at that location.
Asked why he did the interview with Cohen, Aita told WND, "There was nothing special. He said he is a German actor making documentaries watched by young people. ... He wanted to make a story to mobilize the young people to help us (Palestinians). ... I didn't have any impression he would use my interview in a bad way."
He said he and Cohen discussed the Palestinian situation for over two hours, and at the very end of the interview Cohen asked some out-of-place questions about Al Qaeda and Usama Bin Laden and then finally requested to be kidnapped in a bid to get famous -- because Palestinian terrorists were the "best guys" for the job, and "Al Qaeda are so 2001."
That clip of the interview was show in the movie, but Aita told the Guardian his response was not.
"I was angered by the question. I said, first of all I'm not a terrorist. Second, you are a guest here, so I must take care of you until you leave my country," he said.
The complaint claims that the "slander" has brought Aita "death threats; shame; loss of reputation; loss of effectiveness as a community organizer and conciliator; depression and anxiety; loss of business to his family market; and fear for the well-being and safety of his wife, children, and his relatives, both on the West Bank and in the United States," along with "considerable attorney's fees and travel expenses."
Reps for Cohen, Letterman, Worldwide Pants and NBC Universal told FoxNews.com they had no comment on the lawsuit.
Aita is seeking $10 million for compensatory damages, $100 million for exemplary damages, "reasonable attorney's fees, & costs to follow," and that "Bruno" be withdrawn from commercial distribution "by whatever means."