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20 years


By Jon Christian Ryter
Copyright 2002 - All Rights Reserved
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     On President George W. Bush’s recent visit to Peru it was only natural that the subject of “political prisoner” Lori Berenson would come up in Bush’s 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 terrorists.
     Clearly, Bush—who has insisted that the world needs to wage war against terrorism wherever itis found and by whomever such acts are committed—was 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 been arrested.
     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 doesn’t 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, 2002—under 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 government—which does not utilize the death penalty—not 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 right—and 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 terrorism—and terrorists—wherever 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 standard—one 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, Bush’s 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.

Is Berenson Guilty?
     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.
     Her purported lover, Pacifico Castrellon, tells a slightly different version of the story. In fact, their stories sound like chapters from completely different books. Berenson’s family insists Castrellon agreed to become a State’s witness against their daughter only to gain a lesser sentence, and for that reason, his testimony is not trustworthy. Castrellon’s testimony contradicts Berenson’s 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 Times—her 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. Castrellon’s 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 floor.
     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.
     After 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 Peru’s poor by saying: “If it is a crime to worry about the subhuman conditions in which the majority of this country live, then I’d 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 trial—being 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.
     Berenson 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 Peru’s 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 Peru’s urban citizens—who are not starving—have seen too much shed blood, much of it their own. Peruvian Justice Minister Diego Garcia Sayan told the media before Berenson’s 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 Berenson—nor 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 Benenson—particularly since the Pakistani government just surrendered Osama bin Laden’s 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 Bush’s credibility to those world leaders.




Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
All rights reserved