Special Topic: Lori Berenson

Tom Gardner, a member of the Greater New Jersey Committee to Free Lori Berenson, author of the review of Rhoda's book that we put in a recent newsletter, librarian, and author extraordinaire has written another piece that eloquently explains why Lori should be free, and outlines all of the problems of her case.

For your own reading enjoyment:

Who is the Criminal, Here? Over five and a half years ago, Alberto Fujimori - at the time President of Peru - went on national TV in Peru waving Lori Berenson's passport and claiming she was an MRTA terrorist. The evidence he cited then and over the course of the succeeding months and years has been refuted wholesale, shown, down to the very last charge, to be either lies, exaggerations, half-truths, or wholly irrelevant.

Examples of each:

A lie: That Lori was a leader of the MRTA. The Peruvian government itself has admitted that this absurdity is a lie, and they always knew it to be one. This is why Lori was granted a new (though hardly more fair) "trial" - because this lie, on the basis of which she was sent to prison, was no longer sustainable; the government, however, still wants her behind bars. An Exaggeration: That Lori lived with the MRTA terrorists. Lori lived for a while in the same boarding house as some people who were members of the MRTA, though she did not know of their political affiliation. At the time of her arrest, she was no longer living in that boarding house. Claiming she "lived with" the MRTA, though, would be the equivalent of saying you "live with" the people in the apartment next to you; and that if they were engaged in, say, selling drugs illegally, you, too, are culpable for their acts because it is not possible that you could not have known of their illegal activities.

A Half-Truth: To this day, in the media, you will read or hear that when the MRTA raided the Japanese embassy in Peru (at which time Lori was already in prison), Nestor Cerpa, the leader of the group, listed in his demands that Lori Berenson be released from prison. This is true. As negotiations wore on, news sources will tell you, Cerpa whittled the list of people whose release he demanded down to a smaller number; Lori's name was still on the smaller list. This, also, is true. Here is where media accounts of this episode typically end, leaving the reader no choice but to deduce that Lori must be a member of the MRTA - otherwise, why would Cerpa demand her release?

Of course, we know why Cerpa demanded her release: his list of those he wanted released included imprisoned members of the MRTA...and those falsely accused of being members. He designated Lori Berenson one of the latter. He had hoped to gain the good will of the people of the US by standing up for one of our own citizens who had been falsely imprisoned. This tactic, of course, did not gain him or his group any sympathy in the US, at least in part because the US media always left this part out, leaving the false impression that Cerpa's intent was to acknowledge Lori's membership in the MRTA.

An Irrelevancy: That Lori worked as a translator in the peace negotiations in El Salvador in the early 1990s. This fact is frequently adduced, but how Lori's entirely legal and above-board involvement in aiding the peace process in El Salvador is relevant to absurd charges of "terrorist activity" in Peru is never explained: this is a guilt by association tactic, but the actual association established is Lori's nonviolent involvement in the procurement of peace. So this is not merely irrelevant, it is self-refuting. Nevertheless, it was claimed that Lori was involved in a "plot to attack the Peruvian Congress", with the goal, it is averred, of taking hostages and making demands. The evidence that any such plot even existed is paper thin: the MRTA's allegedly being in possession of information that was easily obtainable from any number of public sources, including any Peruvian newspaper, for instance, was put forth as evidence that the gathering of "secret" intelligence was going on. This information - Congressional seating charts, for example - was neither secret nor particularly intelligent; it was merely public record.

/p>It is not exactly indisputable that the MRTA was even in possession of such "intelligence" since all of the "evidence" was released after first passing through the hands of Fujimori's chief torturer and propagandist, Vladimiro Montesinos. Montesinos, it has been revealed subsequent to his losing power and fleeing Peru as a fugitive, did Richard Nixon one better by keeping a pretty complete video diary - sound and pictures - of his extensive illegalities over the past decade: illegalities that included the routine manufacturing of evidence against political enemies and the use of bribery and extortion to compel cooperation from unwilling "collaborators". So the "evidence" that there was such a plot against Congress at all is far from proved. The chain of evidence is vitiated by the intimate involvement of this known criminal, Vladimiro Montesinos - a liar, a torturer, a blackmailer, a cold-blooded killer. Even the government of Peru now calls him a fugitive criminal.

But let us for the sake of argument assume that the evidence of an MRTA plot against Congress is solid and an established fact.

Still, there is no evidence - and I mean none - that Lori Berenson was in any way involved in this alleged plot. Thankfully, among the videos Montesinos left behind after his cowardly flight from justice was at least one showing him discussing how to manipulate the Lori Berenson case to his and Fujimori's political advantage. Make no mistake: this is what Lori's case has always been about: the political careers of Fujimori and Montesinos. It has never been about Lori Berenson or anything as pedestrian as actual guilt or innocence. At Lori's first "trial", she was not even allowed the luxury of mounting a defense! A guilty verdict was assured from the day Fujimori went on TV and demanded it, which he immediately did after Lori was arrested.

To support my contention that Lori's case has never been about establishing actual guilt or innocence, let us look a little closer at the accusation - that Lori was guilty of conspiring to mount an assault on Congress. I am sure most reasonable people would agree that such an offense should be a crime, and anyone guilty of mounting such an assault, or conspiring to, ought to be duly charged with that crime and given his or her day in court. And I agree with this position.

But that's not the way it always worked in Peru in the 1990s. In fact, for some people, launching an armed attack on Congress proved to be a valuable career move, a shortcut to politial advancement and additional power. Fujimori's claim that he was rushing to defend the threatened integrity of the Peruvian Congress should have been sufficient to prove that the charges against Lori were false, ludicrously so. For, though there is little believable evidence that the MRTA (of which Lori was never a member anyway) was planning to attack Congress, there is overwhelming - indeed, irrefutable - evidence that somebody else not only planned an attack on Congress, but actually carried it out and personally benefited from his conspiracy. That person? Alberto Fujimori himself.

This is not a matter of conjecture, but a matter of historical fact, not seriously disputed by anyone. In 1992, Fujimori, having been President of Peru for 2 years, decided that the democratic process and form of government that was in place in Peru was not to his liking. He wanted dictatorial power, and so, after first assuring himself of the backing of the Peruvian military, he simply attacked the Congress; took it over; arrested his political rivals; and arrogated to himself the power that had formerly been Congress's (along with many other authoritarian powers). Again, this is a straightforward recitation of the facts of that 1992 event. It is not a conspiracy theory; not a politically-motivated lie - but an objective and verifiable historical fact, recognized as such by all. The evidence that this attack on Congress happened is irrefutable; the evidence that many, including Montesinos, were involved in this conspiracy has been established and acknowledged.

How many military tribunals did Fujimori and Montesinos face as a result of this crime of (to employ the absurdly-worded charge they used against Lori Berenson in 1995) "treason against the fatherland"?

None.

How many days did either of these criminals spend in a hell-hole 12,700 feet above sea level?

None.

Were they daily pilloried in the Peruvian press, as Lori was after Fujimori accused her of terrorism?

Fujimori established an autocrat's control over the media after this coup; knowing that, I'm sure all of you can figure out the answer to that question yourselves.

Well, then, what did happen to Fujimori and Montesinos after this "self-coup"? (The media absurdly chooses to refer to this treasonous act of Fujimori's as a "self-coup", as though he were its target and carrying it out somehow cost him power, when, in fact, the exact opposite is true.) Fujimori and Montesinos both benefited directly and substantially from their assault on a democratic institution. They planned and carried out the attack, and they made sure they were rewarded handsomely for their successful efforts.

In 1992, Fujimori ended any pretense of a democratic form of government in Peru by actually - not allegedly, but in actual fact - mounting a treasonous assault against Congress and usurping the power of the branch of government whose ostensible purpose is to represent the people. From that time on, Fujimori and Montesinos were, respectively, the public face and the behind-the-scenes string-puller of an autocratic and increasingly terrorist government. It was this terrorist government that, absurdly, accused Lori Berenson of terrorism.

Yes, a terrorist government. According to Amnesty International, even the blood-thirsty Peruvian terrorist group Shining Path comes in second to the Peruvian government when it comes to indiscriminate killing: the government was responsible for 53% of it, while the Shining Path was responsible for roughly 46%. (It is worth mentioning that Amnesty International estimates that the MRTA, which Fujimori and Montesinos intended to "smash" by falsely accusing Lori Berenson, was responsible for about 1% of the killing.) These are the men - Fujimori and Montesinos - who came to the "defense" of Congress less than 4 years later when they accused the MRTA of planning to attack it, and accused Lori of being part of that plan.

I don't know about you, but as for me, if Sammy "the Bull" Gravano were to point to someone on the street and exclaim in an outraged voice: "That guy's a vicious killer! Arrest him!"ŠI'd be more than a little suspicious. I have to admit to a similar prejudice in my attitude toward Fujimori's claim to be "protecting" the integrity of a Congress that he himself had attacked less than 4 years previously, and that he and his torturer Montesinos made efforts to keep tractable subsequently by employing a scheme of massive bribery and extortion. (We have Vladimiro "Richard Milhous" Montesinos's video library of criminal activity to thank for establishing as indisputable fact this long-standing tactic of bribing and coercing Congressmen.)

Should attacking a democratic institution (or planning to) be a crime? Of course. But let's prosecute the men we know for a fact did it, not the woman we know did no such thing.

Why was Lori Berenson thrown in jail 5 and a half years ago for a crime she did not commit? And why were Montesinos and Fujimori allowed to rule Peru for an additional 9 years after committing the very crime they falsely accused Lori of having plotted to commit? Why is Lori Berenson on trial in Peru at this very moment, while the murderous criminals Fujimori and Montesinos live in luxuriously comfortable exile? How many illegal trials will Lori - and her family - be forced to suffer through while Fujimori and Montesinos remain free and far from the judicial dock? Why is the "evidence" that these two liars and murderers fabricated against Lori still being accepted as sound in a Peruvian court of law?

I have concentrated for the most part here on this one instance of massive hypocrisy and political manipulation on the parts of Fujimori and Montesinos. I encourage everyone to look more deeply into the Lori's situation: you'll find that the case against her is riddled with similar lies, inaccuracies and unsustainable politically-motivated accusations. A good place to start your research: www.freelori.org.

Addressing a gathering of Lori's supporters a year and a half ago, journalist Amy Goodman quoted the former boxer, Rubin Carter - himself the victim of a false accusation, but subsequently cleared - in a speech he gave before the United Nations: "It was hate that put me in jail; it was love that set me free." Love, Goodman continued, would be what frees Lori, too. I agree with this. Love will play a big part. But I also think that what will free Lori is the truth. Rhoda Berenson's book, Lori: My Daughter, Wrongfully Imprisoned in Peru, is an attempt to get the truth out there, to combat the lies that continue to be repeated about her daughter. Buy the book; read it; learn from it. Get involved! As Mark Twain said, lies make it three times round the world before the truth even has a chance to put its boots on. That is certainly the case with Lori's situation. And even when we successfully refute a lie, that does not stop it from appearing, yet again, in media coverage of the Lori Berenson case. We kill these lies, but they won't stay dead; they rise again from their graves.

Help kill the lies permanently and let the truth reign. If we succeed in accomplishing this, Lori will be free.

Available @ http://www.eclipse.net/~tgardnet/lori.html#updateFeel free to forward this to anyone you feel might be interested.