Monday, September 29, 2008

Unusual press freedom victory in Panama

A Panama City judge today dismissed a case of criminal defamation brought against Eric Jackson, publisher of The Panama News and based on a complaint filed by one Mark Boswell.

Boswell, who is also known as "Rex Freeman" filed his complaint for "crimes against the honor" after Jackson had published an article about him calling him an "offshore hustler" and a "scammer" who was running unlicensed and probably fraudulent banking and High Yield Investment schemes in Panama after having fled creditors in Costa Rica.

Jackson also exposed Boswell's past as a member and talkradio wombat of the ultra right-wing patriot militia movement:

Remember the US "patriot" militia movement from which Oklahoma City federal building bomber Timothy McVeigh came? That confluence of racist, neo-fascist, survivalist, tax resistance, weapons obsessed, "Christian identity" and apocalyptic strains was shoved farther out into the margins of the political wilderness when McVeigh lived out one of their favorite fantasies and then the Bush administration carried out some of their other ones. 

But for the most part, the people involved didn't just go away. Some of them are grabbing headlines today in the guise of anti-immigrant militias.

However, for some people the patriot movement was good business. Take one Mark Boswell, for example. A law school dropout, he formed the "American Law Club" and hosted Denver meetings at which followers of the right-wing militia movement were instructed that they could become rich by filing "non-commercial judicial liens" against their least-favorite prosecutors, judges, elected officials or companies. In addition to a series of pricey "law seminars," Boswell would sell his "Civil Rights Task Force" jackets, deliberately made to look like the FBI and ATF apparel, and genuine-looking fake law enforcement badges. Boswell urged his customers to buy the things, wear them to court when their favorite tax resister or weapons law violator was in the defendant's dock, and warn judges and prosecutors that they were being watched.

Boswell filed a criminal "calumnia y injuria" complaint and could almost immediately count on the unconditional support of another member of the extreme right within the expatriate American community in Panama: Donald Kent Winner, a retired member of US air force intelligence who now runs the website Panama Guide. In between ripped content from legitimate news outlets, Winner promotes the often shady schemes of his "sponsors". Years ago, he went through great lengths supporting one Tom McMurrain, another American con man who ran a land, teak and noni investment fraud and was eventually arrested and extradited to Atlanta, Georgia, where he now resides in jail. That case bears many similarities to the current Boswell affair; in both cases the Panamanian authorities didn't act against the fraud but instantly moved upon criminal libel complaints filed against the journalists who exposed them, which in both cases were eventually dismissed. McMurrain was a wanted man in the US, and Boswell has a warrant for his arrest outstanding against him in Costa Rica.

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