March 12, 2015

Follow-ups on Niels Harrit courtroom drama in 9/11 'crackpot' libel case - The court will rule in four weeks time - March 12, 2015

Story behind the case:

Niels Harrit, former associate professor of chemistry at UCPH in front of the Eastern High Court courthouse. Is it OK to call him a 'crackpot'?

Dust from Ground Zero, a video of a collapsing building on repeat, and scientists discussing Galilei's theory of free fall. Copenhagen's 9/11 libel case court drama had it all. Decision due in four weeks time
The journalist Søren K. Villemoes seemed confident coming out of the courtroom. But his counterpart, the University of Copenhagen's former associate professor Niels Harrit, though expressing optimism to the University Post, seemed unhappy with the performance of his star witness.
This is the short conclusion after a four-hour long court drama in the Eastern High Court (Østre Landsret) in Copenhagen. The issue? Whether it was in the realm of press freedoms of speech for journalist Søren K. Villemoes from Weekendavisen to call Niels Harrit, associate professor, a ‘crackpot’ [in Danish, 'tosse', ed.] in an opinion piece. The wider issue is whether the World Trade Center building collapsed from fire, or by a controlled demolition, as Niels Harrit has argued.
Søren Villemoes was not surprised about what went on in the courtroom. "I would be surprised if this higher court does not confirm the lower court's ruling after today," he said to the University Post subsequent to the proceedings.

Physicist testimony ambiguous

Niels Harrit had otherwise called in a man who used to be one of his starkest opponents, professor of theoretical physics Per Hedegård from the University of Copenhagen's Niels Bohr Institute as a witness on his own behalf. But his testimony ended in a debate over whether the court could understand a deeper debate about the definition of free fall. Per Hedegård's testimony appeared not to support Niels Harrit's claim that WTC7 could not have been a free fall but a controlled explosion.
He even seemed to imply that the speed of the building's collapse could theoretically be above free fall due to the complex nature of the energy waves, undermining the clear-cut nature of Niels Harrit's argument. All in all, his testimony did not appear to support Niels Harrit.
To the University Post subsequent to the stand-off in court Niels Harrit said that his old opponent, then witness on his behalf, in effect had "run away, scared". Niels Harrit confirmed that he had not discussed what he would testify beforehand with Per Hedegård.

Harrit his own advocate

A better witness from Niels Harrit's point of view was architect Jan Utzon who told the court that all of these types of buildings such as WTC 7 that had been through fires, had always burnt out without collapsing.
The actual issue at stake was whether the Weekendavisen journalist's statement that lumps Niels Harrit together with creationists and holocaust deniers was libellous.
Here Niels Harrit, brought in extra evidence in the form of a Søren K. Villemoes own Facebook page subsequent to the trial in the lower court. Here Søren K. Villemoes wrote that he regretted attacking "an outcast", meaning Niels Harrit.

Regret, or just pity?

Niels Harrit, who was his own advocate in court, aggressively cross-examined him as a witness, prompting at one point the presiding judge to butt in, and exhort Niels Harrit to uphold a "positive and respectful tone."
Niels Harrit asked him in court whether this Facebook statement was indirectly admitting that he regretted the opinion piece. That he regretted calling him a 'crackpot'.
Søren K. Villemoes maintained that his use of 'Crackpot' was not against him as a person, but against his ideas, and his Facebook page did nothing to change that.
"Why an outcast," prodded Niels Harrit
"To be honest? Because I had pity on you," Søren K. Villemoes retorted.
The court will rule in four weeks time.
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