A long time ago, back in the mid-1990s, I learned of the case of Lori Berenson, a young American woman who was being held as a political prisoner in Peru. After researching her case on my own to satisfy myself that she was, indeed, a political prisoner, I became actively involved in the efforts to secure her freedom. I attended many support rallies, met her parents a number of times, corresponded with them and, through them, with Lori, and just generally did what I could to contribute to the effort to secure her release.
I remember attending a rally for Lori in New York in either late 1999 or early 2000, at which one of the speakers was Amy Goodman — for whom I have the utmost respect: she is what all journalists should aspire to be — and Amy said she felt sure that, because of our efforts, Lori would be freed within a year.
Lamentably, Amy was wrong.
At the time, I agreed with Amy's assessment; there was reason to be optimistic. We had gained a lot of ground and when others attacked Lori — claiming she was a "terrorist" on the basis of her leftist/progressive political beliefs and that she therefore deserved the punishment that had been meted out to her by a tribunal of hooded Peruvian judges who did not allow her a lawyer or a chance to defend herself — we responded quickly and, I think, effectively.
It really seemed as though Lori might soon come home to Rhoda and Mark, to both of whom my heart went out. At around this very time, my wife and I were in the process of adopting a child — it would be Ian, though we didn't know that yet — and I was starting, just starting, to understand how unique and strong are those feelings a parent has for his child; not yet quite a parent myself, I was seeing Lori, and what happened to her, through the eyes of a parent — a parent whose child was in trouble, in pain, and the child was looking to the parent to rescue her and there was nothing the parent could do to end the child's nightmare, a nightmare that, as any parent can tell you, must also become the parent's own. When you are helpless in the face of your own child's pain ... there is no worse feeling in the world.
During the adoption process — which took over a year — I became intimately re-acquainted with my own lachrymal glands; the very thought of bringing my own child home would cause me to break into tears on the (at the time) short drive to work, and left me having to explain to my co-workers that, yes, a person could have allergy attacks in January and February, because something was certainly shooting pollen off into the air ... how else to account for these inexplicable red eyes I came to work with every morning?
It was through those eyes that I looked at Lori's situation; with the eyes of a parent whose child was suffering unjustly.
After 9/11, when our own government adopted many of the inhumane tactics of Fujimori-era Peru — torture; secret detention; suspension of civil and even human rights — I allowed myself, much to my shame, to drift away from Lori's case. It seemed pointless to ask my government to use its moral suasion to convince Peru to release Lori on humanitarian grounds when my government had adopted many, if not all, of those very tactics.
Today, Lori was released.
I wish the Berensons all the best. I am sorry I abandoned the cause. I never stopped believing in Lori's innocence.
You have your little girl back.
Please give her a long hug for me.