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Libel suit over charity's ties to terrorism dismissed

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Libel suit over charity’s ties to terrorism dismissed

  • A federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of an Islamic charity’s libel lawsuit against six media companies because their reports about a federal investigation of the charity were substantially true.

Dec. 7, 2004 — The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago (7th Cir.) last week affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a libel lawsuit by an Islamic charity against six media organizations and eight reporters. The court found that the media organizations’ news stories about the government investigating the Global Relief Foundation for possible ties to terrorism were substantially true.

Shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, ABC News, the Associated Press, The Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle ran articles about federal government investigations into Global Relief and other Islamic charitable organizations suspected of channeling funds to terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida.

The government had been investigating Global Relief since 1997, and in September 2001 President Bush signed an executive order freezing the assets of Global Relief and other charities suspected of supporting or having ties to terrorism.

Global Relief denies that it funds terrorism, claiming that it supports humanitarian causes, and in November 2001 sued the media organizations and their reporters for libel in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Global Relief is challenging the government’s actions in a separate lawsuit.

In February 2000, the district court dismissed the media lawsuit, finding true the “gist” or “sting” of the articles. Global Relief appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed Dec. 1.

“Ultimately, all of the reports were either true or substantially true recitations of the government’s suspicions about and actions against GRF,” Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote for the three-judge panel. “We will thus ignore inaccuracies that do no more harm to GRF than do the true statements in the articles.”

The court also rejected Global Relief’s argument that the defendants must be able to prove that the government’s underlying claims were true.

“Whether the government was justified in its probe is irrelevant to the defamation claims when these media defendants accurately reported on the investigation itself,” Rovner wrote.

The New York Times is also fighting a subpoena related to the government’s investigation of Global Relief. Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald subpoenaed the telephone records of Times reporters Judith Miller and Philip Shenon to determine if Shenon tipped Global Relief to a planned FBI raid when he called for comment. The Times filed suit to block the subpoenas in U.S. District Court in New York, and prosecutors have agreed not to seek the records until the court rules.

(Global Relief Foundation v. New York Times; Media Counsel: Michael M. Conway, Foley & Lardner, Chicago; David P. Sanders, Jenner & Block, Chicago; Sarah R. Wolff, Sachnoff & Waever, Chicago) GP

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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