Clearing up the facts about Berenson case

The Riverdale Press -- 25 April 2002

by Mark Berenson

Letter to the editor

To the Editor:

Some responses to your March 14 editorial ("Free Lori Berenson") are disappointing and I am writing to correct some egregiously erroneous comments. Readers who want to learn more about my daughter Lori's case can visit the extensive website and/or read the book by my wife Rhoda, "Lori: My Daughter Wrongfully Imprisoned in Peru," Northeastern University Press. The book describes Lori and her beliefs and has detailed accounts of the military and civilian trials.

Mr. Nieves (March 21 letter) and others may remember Lori shouting in anger at a 1996 press conference in which, on purpose, she was given no microphone. They might not be aware, however, that her justified anger was a result of spending 11 days with a woman who was being tortured. Her words (see website Chronology) were neither profane nor lauding the MRTA. She heroically (and correctly, as history now shows) blasted the corrupt Fujimori government for its mistreatment of the poor and underprivileged.

Lori never knew that some people whom she met and befriended in Lima (who used false identifications) were actually members of the MRTA. A perusal of court records will show that there was no testimony given or evidence presented to refute this. In fact, the one person who, seeking his own prison release, gave testimony that conflicted in part with Lori's, stated that he did not believe Lori had involvement with that organization. He, an architect, also told the court that Lori did not provide him any information to help him construct floor plans and models of the Congress.

I greatly respect Mr. Nieves for his heroic work at Ground Zero but any comparison he makes between Lori and John Walker Lindh is absurd. The latter has been accused of taking arms against his own countrymen. Lori, who always abhorred and condemned terrorist violence in all its forms, has never been accused of taking arms against Peruvians, let alone her fellow citizens. Our website contains Lori's statement condemning the horrendous attacks against our country.

Mr. Goret (April 4 letter), who refers to Lori as a "combatant masquerading as a journalist assisting Peruvian terrorists," fails to mention that Lori was acquitted of leadership, membership, and militancy in the Tupac Amaru. Peruvian writer Eduardo Gonzalez Viana called Lori's trial the return of the Inquisition and noted that she was convicted and sentenced not on evidence but because she refused to renounce her beliefs. Lori's journalism credentials and journalistic work were legitimate. Courtroom testimony from a Peruvian Legislative aide who worked with journalists in the Congress acknowledged this, as did the editors of the two magazines who provided affidavits attesting to her work for them. Lori had no knowledge of any terrorist plans to attack Peru's Congress. No testimony was presented nor evidence given in her civilian trial to support such an accusation.

Mr. Nieves, Mr. Goret, and Mr. Brown (April 11 letter) must realize that, according to U.S. State Department reports, Peru's judicial system has been universally condemned for its corruption and its terrorism courts have been condemned for its violations of international law. Lori's civilian trial was an "open-circus" where she was first presented in a cage - ignoring the presumption of innocence guaranteed by Peru's constitution. Three judges conducted the public trial. There was no jury. The chief judge refused to remove himself even when presented with evidence that he had prejudged Lori in the newspapers the year before. Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough of Florida attended part of the trial and said that, given the prosecutorial role of the judges, the court was loaded against her and there was no way the decision could be fair.

Fortunately, President George W. Bush is a "compassionate Conservative." Rhoda and I are very grateful to President Bush for expressing his strong concerns about Lori's case during his recent visit to Lima. President Bush told President Toledo that the United States will be very interested in the forthcoming decision of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights when that body of the Organization of American States rules on a petition Lori submitted. President Bush strongly urged President Toledo to consider that international body's recommendation. I fully expect the Commission to rule favorably on Lori's petition and hope that she will be able to return home to her family and friends soon. And I hope that Mr. Nieves, Mr. Goret, and Mr. Brown will read the website and the book and meet and speak with Lori when she returns.

Mark L. Berenson