Are American (especially American-born) citizens who are members of terrorist organizations abroad entitled to special (i.e. American-style) treatment, at a time when the United States demands all countries to choose between being with us or against us in the war on terrorism?
Lori Berenson thinks so. The 34-year-old New Yorker, who is serving 20 years in a Peruvian prison on terrorism charges, criticizes the authorities for keeping her groom from the wedding they just recently arranged. The groom, Aníbal Apari, a 40-year-old “law student” recently released from prison after serving 12-1/2 years of a 15-year sentence as a member of the Castroite Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), was represented by his father, since the authorities did not permit him to leave Lima.
Very moving, indeed, at least in the Manhattan circles in which her progressive and vocal parents, both academics, move. They joined their “persecuted” daughter in protesting that the groom was unable to participate in the happy event.
The newly wedded Mrs. Apari, a former MIT student, has a romantic penchant for terrorists. Apari is her second husband. Her first was another “idealistic” Marxist gunfighter she met in El Salvador, who later left her. She arrived in Peru and rented a home with Panamanian MRTA member Pacifico Castrellon, who later testified against her.
The Berenson case is a study of everything wrong with American mentalities, including wrong-headed Congressional behavior, at least prior to 9/11. Arrested in 1995 on charges of collaborating on a planned MRTA seizure of Congress—she had used questionable U.S. press credentials to gain access to Peru’s Congress—she was tried for treason and given a life sentence by Peru’s military courts under then President Alberto Fujimori. Average Peruvians, weary of terrorism, were unanimously unsympathetic to her cause, but American and international human rights groups succeeded in obtaining a new civilian trial, which was held in June 2001. For this trial, she had the charges reduced to terrorism, which carried a lesser minimum sentence, even though she has consistently maintained that MRTA is revolutionary, not terrorist. On these charges she received a 20-year sentence.
Following the first verdict, Berenson shared the same uncomfortable prison in the Andes as others MRTA and Shining Path members, except that she had weekly visits and comfortable help from the U.S. embassy. Later, she was moved to a lowland prison, where she is free to communicate with family and write nonsensical screeds, which are immediately posted at her parents’ website. (Peruvian prisoners, especially terrorists, barely have access to outside food or family contacts, let alone the ability to communicate with the world at large.)
Berenson complains about the prison conditions, but she was and is able to finish her sentence in U.S. jails. She has refused to do this out of solidarity with her MRTA. She remains a terrorist, a totalitarian and ideological dinosaur: a Stalinist/Castroist long after even committed communists departed from solidarity with Fidel & Co.
The MRTA was founded during the 1980s by the kind of people with whom Berenson was comfortable. The leader, Victor Polay Campos, was son of a senator, brother of a congressional candidate, and roommate of future President Alan García at the Sorbonne. Originally, MRTA was a faction of García’s Popular American Revolutionary Alliance, which is still Peru’s best-organized political party, with García well placed to win the next presidential election. At no time more than a few hundred strong, it engaged in spectacular kidnappings of businessmen, keeping its victims in narrow holes in the ground, where they sometimes died of starvation. It assassinated military personnel--usually retired ones, who made easier targets. In desperation, in 1996 it undertook its largest operation ever, taking hundreds of hostages at a ball at the Japanese ambassador’s residence (this after the Congress operation Berenson was involved in, up to drawing the building’s floor plans and giving her rented house to the MRTA for planning, was thwarted).
The December 1996 operation ended up badly for Berenson’s MRTA friends. All the hostages were released following a commando operation, and all the kidnappers were killed. But, she was still “different,” born in Manhattan, a fashionable “professional revolutionary” with many friends – including some at the New York Times. Few congressmen were informed, or cared, about what she did in South America. Before 9/11, more than 100 members of Congress, Republicans included, signed letters to the Clinton and then the Bush White House, demanding special treatment for Berenson. But this died down after John Lindh and other U.S. citizens demonstrated that there is a problem with Americans training abroad for terrorism. September 11 was, for Berenson, a worse defeat than her arrest. Americans started learning and stopped sympathizing with fellow Americans who were involved in murdering strangers in exotic places.
So now Berenson is again “married” to a fellow terrorist and expects to be treated preferentially – not, she says, because she is American, but because of some “universal human right” to the pursuit of happiness. Peruvians, even under the present confused and weak government of Alejandro Toledo, object to this and remain unmoved the persistent demands of a gringa who sought to kill their countrymen.
Ultimately, the “wedding” of a convicted terrorist and a paroled one — neither of whom has expressed any regret for their actions — seems yet another attempt to “humanize” them and make us forget their shared past. Apari’s comment that “People understand that Lori and I are human beings and like everybody else we have every right to make a life, to find happiness and love” seems not much different than the Free Lori website’s assertions that Lori “could be anyone’s daughter, raised by caring, intelligent parents.” It is not going to work in Peru and it should not work in post-9/11 America, either.
Westerners have obtained a habit in joining murderous terrorist groups in the Third World, without renouncing their citizenship. Germans in Turkish Kurdistan, Americans in Latin America, and Britons in Israel or Afghanistan who kill or help others kill seem confident that they can expect assistance from their embassies or bleeding-heart NGOs if their actions land them in hot water. But Western governments cannot give these terrorists special rights just because the victims are non-Westerners, nor can they expect other nations to assist in the war on terrorism if their own citizens are exempted from prosecution. There is no legal, moral, or political reason to take seriously Berenson’s incessant demands for yet another trial, or for American terrorists abroad to be given any more rights than those we would be prepared to give the foreign terrorists whom we want in our custody.