Lori tells TV reporter: 'I'm no terrorist'

New York Post -- 18 October 2000

by Maria Alvarez

After five years behind bars in Peru, accused terrorist Lori Berenson has finally been allowed to speak to an American reporter.

There were no tears or pleas for mercy during a 35-minute interview with CBS-TV reporter Peter Van Sant.

But the 30-year-old New Yorker adamantly maintained her innocence and was unwavering in her criticism of the Peruvian justice system that put her behind bars without letting her present evidence.

"I am not a terrorist by any means; quite the contrary," Berenson said. "I do not believe in any act of terrorism.

"To murder innocent people, I'm not saying that is correct. But what I'm saying in the general context [is] trying to change one's life is not necessarily wrong."

Berenson - whose health had been withering during her confinement in a cold, bare-bones prison high in the Andes mountains - was recently transferred to a Lima jail.

Peruvian officials "want her to look good for the cameras and her upcoming civil trial," said Van Sant, whose interview will be broadcast tomorrow on "48 Hours" at 8 p.m.

Peruvian officials claim they have evidence that ties Berenson to the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, including a floor plan of Peru's congressional hall in Berenson's handwriting.

Berenson is accused of being involved in a plot to attack Peru's congress and of posing as a journalist to gather information for the Marxist group.

Berenson was convicted by a hooded military judge. But the conviction was overturned when evidence surfaced showing Berenson wasn't a leader of the leftist group.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson has reached out to Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, asking him to release Berenson.

"After the interview, there was a feeling that, once the process of the civil trial was over, Lori would be free," said Van Sant, whose interview was monitored by officials.

Van Sant said Berenson looked "surprisingly well. Lori has not been broken. She is tough as nails and very strong in her own defense."