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Jon Christian Ryter
Copyright 2002 - All Rights Reserved
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President George W. Bushs recent visit to Peru it was only natural
that the subject of political prisoner Lori Berenson would
come up in Bushs discussions with the Peruvian government. Bush
admitted that Berenson came up, but added that he did not ask for clemency
for the MIT graduate who has now been convicted twice of aiding Peruvian
Clearly, Bushwho has insisted that
the world needs to wage war against terrorism wherever itis
found and by whomever such acts are committedwas between the rock
and the hard place on this issue since Lori Berenson, who has insisted
she is innocent of any wrongdoing, was proven to be guilty of aiding and
abetting the Cuban Marxist Tupac Amanu Revolutionary Movement [MRTA] not
once but twice. For Bush to go to bat for Berenson, he would
then have to question under what humane grounds the United States could
continue with the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was to be the
fifth terrorist on Flight 93, but missed the flight because he had already
Moussaoui was not charged with committing
a terrorist act since, clearly, when his fellow terrorists died crashing
into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and, when
Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, there were only four terrorists on
board instead of five because Moussaoui was safely locked up in jail after
being arrested by the FBI on suspicion of being a terrorist. The American
Airlines flight school he was enrolled in became suspicious of Moussaoui
and reported him to the FBI after he tried to get a discount on his tuition
because he only wanted to learn how to pilot a jumbo jet in flight and
not learn how to take off or land.
Moussaoui was charged with complicity to
commit a terrorist act.
So was Berenson.
Moussaoui is a terrorist.
So was Berenson.
What makes them terrorists is the fact that
each participated in a scheme to perform a terrorist act. If one is guilty,
so is the other. If Berenson, who acted as the intelligence agent of the
MRTA, is innocent, then so is Moussaoui. Neither was successful, but it
doesnt change that fact that both were willing participants to a
plot to kill, maim and terrorize innocent victims.
It is that simple.
The fact that Berenson, a Marxist zealot,
is an American citizen who failed to kill anyone does not mitigate her
guilt; nor does the fact that Moussaoui is a Muslim extremist who was
in an American jail when his partners killed somewhere between
3,000 and 4,500 innocent Americans, mitigate his guilt. Neither was charged
with the actual commission of the terrorist act. Both were charged with
the advocacy of terrorism and their complicity in the planned participation
of such acts. Yet on Thursday, March 28, 2002under protest from
the French government (Moussaoui is a French citizen)U.S. Attorney
General John Ashcroft announced that the United States would seek
the death penalty for Moussaoui. Because Moussaoui was involved in a conspiracy
to kill American citizens, the United States was indifferent to pleas
from the French governmentwhich does not utilize the death penaltynot
to seek a penalty that could not be levied in France.
Ashcroft made it clear that the Bush Administration
decided to ask for the death penalty for Moussaoui because the American
people expect it. The United States, Ashcroft indicated, has both a legal
right and an obligation to seek a full measure of justice against terrorists
who strike within its sovereign borders. Ashcroft is correct. The American
people expect no less than a full measure of justice when it comes to
prosecuting the terrorists who committed genocide on American soil. Conversely,
Peru has that same rightand the same obligation to its people. As
President George W. Bush has repeatedly said since September 11, every
nation on Earth has an obligation to fight terrorismand terroristswherever
and whenever they are found.
And therein lies a major diplomatic dilemma
for the Bush Administration. If Bush seeks clemency for Lori Berenson
(who remains confined in a Peruvian prison after her second trial), then
he will rightly be viewed in the court of world public opinion as a hypocrite
who is attempting to apply a double standardone that excuses Americans
involved in terrorism in other nations as it condemns foreigners who commit,
or plan to commit, terrorist acts in America.
If Bush seeks clemency for Berenson, Bushs
Justice Department will have a tough time making a sound legal argument
that Zacarias Moussaoui should be found guilty of terrorism; and that
guilty verdict should carry the death penalty.
Lori Berenson, her family and her website
www.freelori.org, insist that Berenson was unaware that the Tupac Amanu
group were terrorists, and that although she shared her home with them
in Lima, she did not know they were planning to kidnap several members
of the Peru Congress.
The testimony of her purported live-in lover
at her second trial contradicts her denial of complicity.
Berenson insisted to the media and to Peruvian
prosecutors that she did not meet any members of the MRTA until she and
her lover came to Lima and Tupac Amanu members rented space from her in
her rented home.
purported lover, Pacifico Castrellon, tells a slightly different version
of the story. In fact, their stories sound like chapters from completely
different books. Berensons family
insists Castrellon agreed
to become a States witness against their daughter only to gain a
lesser sentence, and for that reason, his testimony is not trustworthy.
Castrellons testimony contradicts Berensons in that he insists
that rather than he and Berenson sharing the rent of the home in which
they lived, the rent was paid by the MRTA and had been since the day they
moved in. Castrellon claimed to be a down-on-his-luck unemployed leftist
in Panama when friends told him about some American socialists who were
working on a socio-economic project and might offer him work. It was then
that he met Berenson who claimed to be a free-lance journalist who wrote
for two leftist magazines in the United States: Third World Viewpoint
and Modern Timesher defense at trial to justify her having compiled
a detailed schematic of the seating arrangement of the Peruvian Congress,
and who occupied each seat.
Castrellon testified that after being recruited
by Berenson they traveled together to Quito, Ecuador when Berenson introduced
him to a man she called Carlos. Carlos, Castrellon learned
when they arrived in Lima, was actually Nestor Cerpa Cartolini. Cartolini
was leader of the MRTA. Castrellons testimony was very damning since
Berenson, in her own testimony, insisted that she had no knowledge of
the MRTA prior to 18 of its members renting the fourth floor of her rented
house. And even then, she insisted she did not know they were terrorists
since she never ventured to the fourth floor she had rented to them. Castrellon
contradicted that portion of her testimony as well when he testified that
Berenson prepared the meals and served food to the rebels on the fourth
Attempting to further distance himself from
her, Castrellon insisted that no intimacy existed between
him and Berenson, and although they shared the same hotel rooms wherever
they went in Central and South America, they were not lovers. When his
statement was greeted with a smirk by the judges, Castrellon admitted
that a romantic relationship did exist at one time, but when they moved
to Lima, everything changed. He insisted the love affair cooled,
and when the terrorists moved in, he was asked to vacate his fourth floor
bedroom in the main house and was forced to move into a small room next
to the garage.
He insisted he was an innocent man who was
duped both by Berenson and the terrorists; that he was never active politically.
He insisted he was unaware that the MRTA planned to attack the Peruvian
Congress. Yet, Castrellon could not explain why he built a accurate, scale
cardboard model of the Congress building and made detailed street maps
of the area around the Congress other than to say that he suddenly
discovered he was among terrorists, but feared retribution against his
family if he attempted to flee.
Berenson insisted she was in Lima only to
interview members of the Peruvian Congress for Third World Viewpoint and
Modern Times. Furthermore, she insisted that all of the evidence offered
by the prosecution against her was fabricated or at least doctored by
the government to make her appear guilty.
her first conviction in 1996 of being the mastermind of the plot to kidnap
key members of the Peruvian Congress, Berenson expressed her sympathy
for Perus poor by saying: If it is a crime to worry about
the subhuman conditions in which the majority of this country live, then
Id accept my sentence...That is not love of violence. That is not
being a terrorist criminal. In the MRTA there are no terrorist criminals.
It is a revolutionary movement.
By the time her second trial was ready to
commence, Berenson declared: I am innocent of what they are charging
me with. She should have said, she was innocent of the specific
charges that were levied against her during the first trialbeing
the mastermind of the plot of the kidnap members of Congress. She was
not the mastermind. She was merely an important cog in the wheel of the
conspiracy orchestrated by Nestor Cerpa Cartolini since the MRTA, which
likely could not physically recognize many of those they wished to kill
or kidnap, needed to know precisely where each member of the Peruvian
Congress was seated so they could carry out their plain. Berenson was
recruited to gain access to the Congress and provide the schematic.
In her first trial, the military tribunal
that precluded her from retaining a civilian attorney, found Berenson
and the eleven members of the MRTA who were captured in the sweep guilty
of treason (a charge reserved for Peruvian citizens or foreign arms dealers
captured supplying weapons to domestic terrorists in Peru). Berenson was
sentenced to life in prison.
insisted that she was a political prisoner who was being ...condemned
for worrying about the hunger and misery that exists in this country.
There is an institutionalized violence that has killed the best sons of
the people and have condemned the children to die of hunger.
Since 1980 the MRTA and the even larger
Maoist Shining Path terrorist organization have killed over 30,000 Peruvian
citizens in terrorist attacks and have caused over $23 billion in damage
to Perus infrastructure. On June 20, 2001 the civilian court found
then 31-year old MIT graduate, New York resident guilty of collaborating
with terrorists. She was sentenced to 20-years in prison. With the international
media watching, the jury took five hours to reach its verdict.
While the MIT crowd in Massachusetts unfurled
banners in defense of one of their own, there was little sympathy for
Berenson in Peru where the MRTA has killed too many people and Perus
urban citizenswho are not starvinghave seen too much shed
blood, much of it their own. Peruvian Justice
Minister Diego Garcia Sayan told the media before Berensons June
20 verdict was rendered that the Peruvian government would respect the
verdict, whatever it was, but if Berenson was found guilty, she would
serve her entire sentence in Peru, not the United States. A spokesman
for the newly elected President, Alejandro Toledo, who takes office on
July 28 said he had no immediate comment on whether the new president
would consider a pardon for Berensonnor would the spokesman comment
on whether or not any such discussion took place between President George
W. Bush and President-elect Toledo when they met in Peru in March.
As the Bush Administration prepares to try
several al-Qaeda terrorists in the United States including Taliban Johnny
Walker Lindh, British citizen Shoeless Richard Colvin Reid,
and Zacarias Moussaoui
who have already been charged and are awaiting trial on charges ranging
from conspiring to kill Americans to the actual commission of terrorist
acts resulting in the deaths of American citizens, it must realize that
the world court of public opinion is watching what Bush does
with regard to Benensonparticularly since the Pakistani government
just surrendered Osama bin Ladens number one lieutenant, Abu Zubaydah,
to the American government. If Bush makes any move to seek a pardon or
any form of clemency for Berenson (such as allowing her to serve out her
sentence in the United States) his war on terrorism will be
viewed as a political sham not only in the Arab nations, but by the leaders
of the second and third world nations who have been battling Marxist,
Maoist, or Islamic terrorists for much of this century and would view
such as act as an intolerable double standard that will undermine Bushs
credibility to those world leaders.