Responding to Former Ambassador Jett's attack on Lori Berenson

14 March 2002

Point-by-point rebuttal

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.