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News Reporter Steve McGonigle's Fighting a Federal Government Subpoena

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And in other Belo-related news: Dallas Morning News reporter Steve McGonigle is trying like hell to keep from becoming a government witness in its case against the Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation. The trial against seven former Holy Land Foundation and Development officials, charged with funding Hamas-supported terrorist activities prior to September 11, 2001, is scheduled to begin in Dallas in July, and the U.S. wants to call on its behalf McGonigle, who, eight years ago, interviewed the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin.

In court documents, the entirety of which can be read here, Jackson Walker attorney Paul Watler is fighting the government's subpoena, which McGonigle received on April 3. Among the reasons for trying to quash the subpoena: Watler say that forcing his client to testify against the Holy Land Foundation will endanger his safety.

Yassin, who co-founded Hamas in 1987 and who was killed three years ago in an Israeli air strike, told McGonigle in 1999 there was no connection between Hamas and Holy Land. But in two Dallas Morning News articles published in 2000 under the headline "Fostering Unrest or Helping the Poor?," McGonigle "reported that records showed that the foundation sometimes singled out the families of Hamas 'martyrs' for assistance," as The New York Sun puts it this morning.

Watler writes that McGonigle shouldn't be compelled to testify for a number of reasons -- chief among them, the writer won't talk about anything other than what Yassin told him eight years ago, which is already on the record. Watler's also using the First Amendment defense, which doesn't seem to be sticking these days. But Watler's most compelling reason? He thinks testifying will put McGonigle at great risk:

"Western journalists have become increasingly identified with their governments and their militaries by militants in this post-9/11 world. Terrorists who view reporters as agents of a government or as potential prosecution witnesses post a threat to the safety of those reporters. A journalist who is perceived to have acted as an agent for the U.S. Government will almost inevitably be placed at a substantially greater risk when on assignment in the Middle East. This problem is particularly acute after a journalist has testified on behalf of the government -- even under subpoena -- because such testimony is easily construed as support for the Government's policies. Finally, to avoid this increased risk to McGonigle, news organizations such as the News may decide not to send him on future assignments to the Middle East, which may result in less news being available to report to U.S. readers. In sum, requiring McGonigle's testimony will necessarily increase the risk to his personal safety and result in less news being available to report to U.S. readers."

Late last week, the motion to quash was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Paul D. Stickney for a hearing, and, if necessary, and a determination. --Robert Wilonsky

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