Responding to Former Ambassador Jett's attack on Lori Berenson
14 March 2002
It is clear that Dennis Jett, a former U.S. Ambassador to Perú (fall 1996 through fall 1999) has timed an intensely poisonous article against Lori in the widely read Washington Post and used his credentials to imply he has inside information to make outrageously mean-spirited, blatantly-inaccurate, and erroneous statements about her to discredit support for her release from her wrongful six-year and four-month incarceration. Cashing in on this so-called "expertise," Mr. Jett was recently quoted in major newspapers saying "I don't even think President Bush would raise the issue because of September 11th. If Lori Berenson had kept her mouth shut she'd be up for parole right now. But she's done everything to remind people she's sympathetic."
We would expect President Bush, a compassionate man, to raise Lori's case with President Toledo, another compassionate man who knows the horrible wrongs of the Fujimori-Montesinos regime. President Bush was seeking a humanitarian resolution to Lori's case, and was quoted (AP) as saying so to President Toledo last June 26 in Washington DC. President Bush, like President Clinton before him, knows Lori is not a terrorist and nothing has happened since June that should change that view. Over the years, Lori has condemned terrorism in all its forms. She never has been accused of participation in a violent act - not against Perú and certainly not against her own country.
Mr. Jett should be aware from his three years in Perú as an ambassador that there is no parole permitted for those convicted of terrorism-related offenses. Lori was sentenced under Perú's internationally condemned anti-terrorism laws that Mr. Jett should have been fighting in the name of human rights and democracy during his tenure instead of keeping such close company with the Fujimori-Montesinos dictatorship on other issues. Urging such changes in the judicial system and penal code were two of the seven demands Lori and other political prisoners made during their recent hunger strike that Mr. Jett in his wisdom simply dismissed as terrorist rhetoric.
We hope that Lori will always speak up against injustice. She is a woman who acts on principle and her concerns are for humanity. He cowardly suggests one should act only for self-preservation. If it be a crime for Lori to remind people that she is sympathetic with those less fortunate who wrongfully suffer at the hands of the powerful, it shows how low society can fall, how unimportant the Judeo-Christian ethic has become, and how warped Mr. Jett's opinion is.
Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, Archdiocese of Detroit, is one of many religious leaders who have visited Lori several times over the years, most recently as part of the religious delegation that went to her Cajamarca mountain prison in January. Our former ambassador never visited Lori. In a homily from "The Peace Pulpit" (National Catholic Reporter, January 20), Bishop Gumbleton said the following:
"A couple of weeks ago, I visited Lori Berenson in Perú, a young woman from the United States. She has identified herself with the poor and the oppressed in that country and is in jail right now and has been there for six and a half years and is facing a twenty-year sentence.
"I was truly energized and amazed by Lori Berenson.
"You think of jail as a very dismal place, a very dark place. She was there as a light among the other prisoners. She has identified with their struggle. These are all political prisoners, all people who have been oppressed and put in jail because they are struggling for justice and for peace and for love. Lori Berenson is in their midst. She helps them to see their own worth. She helps them to understand that they are not to be put down and have their rights violated.
"The women who are with her are coming alive because of her energy and her determination to stand up for her rights and for her dignity. And they begin to share that. It's truly amazing what I saw in that prison, this young woman who has become one with the poor and the oppressed and is a light to them."
After reading the diatribe of Mr. Jett, we wrote to Fred Hiatt, editorial-page editor of The Washington Post, providing him with a rebuttal document (see below) that demonstrates all the erroneous information in Mr. Jett's published article and shows the need for The Post to provide another perspective about Lori. In the spirit of fair, accurate, objective, and responsible journalism, we urged Mr. Hiatt to allow Post readers to know there is an alternative opinion about Lori and to print an article written by the religious delegation that met her in January. For whatever reasons, The Post has chosen not to print their article about Lori. (See
Mr. Jett, however, is not a credible source. He does not know the facts in Lori's judicial proceedings. He is not a lawyer and shows no understanding of Peruvian law. He did not attend the unfair public trial that was personally observed by several international human rights lawyers and one U.S. Congressman (also a lawyer).
Incomprehensibly, this same man who feels compelled to attack Lori at will, without any evidence to back up his remarks, was recently quoted ( February 3, AP) defending himself because he did not condemn Vladimiro Montesinos, the notorious spy chief now in prison for horrific crimes. Transferring the blame or his own ineptness as ambassador, Mr. Jett said that " 'Mainly Peruvians and their own institutions have the responsibility' for Montesinos' wrongdoing. ... It was not up to him to declare Montesinos guilty of anything 'because I didn't have evidence.' "
During Mr. Jett's tenure in Perú, respected international human rights organizations regularly claimed that the Fujimori-Montesinos dictatorship maintained among the poorest records in the western hemisphere on human rights, freedom of the press, and judiciary reform. Both men have now been charged with crimes against humanity. In every sense of a misused word, they were true Peruvian "terrorists" -- frightening Peruvian citizens about potential subversive attacks from groups that no longer existed, orchestrating (state-sponsored) terrorist acts and using a controlled media to blame others, and, by persecution and threat of incarceration, stamping out political opposition They also have been charged with illicit enrichment and new bank accounts continue to be uncovered regularly. Mr. Montesinos was known to take care of his friends. What did Mr. Jett really accomplish in Perú those years he worked very closely with a despicable dictatorship he still defends? And why does he now attack an innocent American woman who is a victim of the Fujimori-Montesinos administration he still defends?
The following is a point-by-point rebuttal, by the Berensons, to statements made by former U.S. Ambassador to Perú Dennis Jett, in a February 27 Washington Post op-ed piece.
- Mr. Jett tries to make a liar out of Lori by erroneously stating "she claimed she knew nothing about the MRTA" and follows this by falsely stating three propositions as bulleted condemnations that do not hold up to scrutiny. The fact is that during her courtroom trial Lori referred to the MRTA as a revolutionary movement. Although she refused to condemn the MRTA as terrorists, during her trial Lori did condemn all acts of terrorism regardless of what group, organization, or persons committed them.
- Mr. Jett's first bulleted condemnation alludes to Lori's work with the FMLN in El Salvador. As mentioned in the courtroom trial, Lori spent four years with the FMLN, working as an administrative assistant, secretary, computer programmer, and translator during the peace process that resulted in the end of a 12-year civil war and in the formation of a democratic government in El Salvador. Testimony to this effect was provided to the court from former FMLN leader and now Salvadoran Congressman Samuel Sanchez Ceran.
- Mr. Jett's second bulleted condemnation was that Lori "rented and lived for nearly a year in a house that was an MRTA base and was filled with weapons, explosives, and terrorists." As verified in the courtroom accounts, the facts are that Lori and her Panamanian friend co-rented the La Molina house in December 1994 and then, two months later, they sublet it to MRTA leader Miguel Rincon whose identity was unknown to Lori. Lori moved to an apartment in San Borja in mid August 1995, a month before Mr. Rincon brought the militants to the La Molina house with their stock of weapons and explosives. Security officials from the apartment building in San Borja testified in the courtroom that Lori was a good tenant who lived in her apartment alone.
- Mr. Jett's third bulleted condemnation, that Lori "was closely involved with all the top leadership of the MRTA," is fallacious. Aside from Miguel Rincon (whom she knew by a different name and did not know was an MRTA leader), Lori never met any of the other leadership and there was no evidence presented in the court to justify such an accusation. When Lori was in Peru, MRTA leaders Victor Polay, Peter Cardenas, and Lucero Cumpa were already in prison and Nestor Cerpa was in hiding, allegedly outside Peru. Lori said she did not know that the few people she was friendly with in the La Molina house were MRTA using false names and, except for Mr. Rincon, none of the others were leaders.
- Mr. Jett wrongly states that "The trial was broadcast on local television, and few in Peru doubted its fairness." The fact is that the trial was only at best shown sporadically on cable TV with outreach to less than 1% of the Peruvian population - coverage was woefully incomplete and both Peruvian print and broadcast media were typically biased. For example a perusal of Peruvian media show full accounts of the prosecutor's closing remarks but no coverage of the defense lawyer's summation. For five years the Peruvian public was prejudiced against Lori by a state-run propaganda machine and by a media completely controlled by Mr. Montesinos. Owing to years of living in a repressive society, neither the Peruvian public nor, sadly, even respected Peruvian jurists had ever experienced real justice with fairness and due process and surely Mr. Jett should know that. For example, judiciary, government, and even Peruvian human rights officials expressed no concern that Lori began her public trial in a cage and continued with her standing in front of the same cage, violating the presumption of innocence required by Peruvian law and by the American Convention on Human Rights.
- Mr. Jett states that in the military tribunal Lori's lawyer "argued she was not a leader of the MRTA, just a collaborator." Mr. Jett knows full well that the Peruvian attorney used the word "collaborator" to mean "social association." The attorney said this in our presence to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Lima early in 1996. The officials recorded this information that should have been part of the record Mr. Jett would have familiarized himself with upon his arrival as ambassador in Peru later that year.
- Mr. Jett wants The Post readers to believe that others in the MRTA testified against Lori. The fact is that during the civil trial only one person (the former Panamanian friend who, in an effort to have a reduced sentence) gave some conflicting testimony. But even he publicly stated that he did not believe Lori was collaborating with the MRTA or that she knew that the man to whom part of the large La Molina house was sublet had actually been an MRTA leader. All the young persons who moved into the house in September 1995, one month after Lori moved into her apartment in San Borja, testified in this trial that they never met Lori before they were arrested. The so-called evidence from the 1995-6 military tribunal was tainted and illegal with much of the testimony taken from MRTA members under duress of actual torture or of threats of torture and all this testimony was recanted by every single witness during the investigative and public stages of Lori's civilian trial.
- Mr. Jett joins the Peruvian prosecutor in questioning Lori's press credentials. The facts are that Lori was working as a freelance journalist and held legitimate credentials from the Peruvian press association based on letters of introduction from two U.S.-based publications. Lori was working on projects dealing with women's rights, poverty, and decentralization. Courtroom affidavits by the magazine editors confirmed this and the editors also declared they were in contact with Lori about her assignments and preliminary drafts of her articles. In the courtroom one witness, a Congressional Aide dealing with the press, testified he knew Lori to be working as a journalist. Testimony was also read from a leader of a women's rights NGO whom Lori had interviewed in preparing her articles, dispelling the theory that Lori was not pursuing journalistic interests.
- In reference to the State Department briefing (transcription of February 19), the spokesman did not say Lori had due process, as Mr. Jett would have The Post readers believe, instead he said that "The new trials corrected some of the most egregious flaws in the military trial and addressed some of the concerns that we have had about her military trial"- implying that other egregious concerns were not met and there could not be real due process.
- Mr. Jett said the parents and lawyers complained "about inhumane treatment, physical abuse, threats, inadequate medical attention and a lack of evidence." Mr. Jett failed to point out that numerous international legal and human rights organizations - including The United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, the OAS, WOLA, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch: Americas -- have all independently voiced the same complaints.
- The move to resolve Lori's case did not begin, as Mr. Jett wrongly suggests, when Mr. Fujimori's power base began to crumble in August 2000. It is known from a videotaped conversation between the now jailed former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos and the then Peruvian Foreign Minister Eduardo Ferraro Costa that a move to oust Lori from Peru actually began on January 23, 1998 in statements showing absolutely no respect for the rule of law. We were actually made directly aware of Peru's intent to seek resolution on Lori's case in August 1999, more than a year before Mr. Fujimori finally permitted such action.
- Mr. Jett implies that Lori was involved with a terrorist organization "out to attack our country or anything associated with it." As Lori stated in the courtroom trial, she is against terrorist violence in all its forms.
- Mr. Jett said Lori "was going on a hunger strike, along with jailed terrorist leaders, and she used the same language and justification as they did." Mr. Jett should know the hunger strike began in Lima on February 11 and spread to every maximum-security prison in Peru by February 18, the day Lori joined approximately 1,000 political prisoners. These prisoners are simply demanding improvement in conditions and treatment along with an overall improvement in human rights and justice for all in Peru.
- Mr. Jett's sad comparison of Lori with John Walker Lindh is only less preposterous than Peruvian media comparisons of Lori with Osama bin Laden.