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Learning from Peru

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A democratically elected president was confronted with a severe terrorist challenge. The peace and stability of his nation were threatened by terrorists, he argued, and extraordinary measures were justified. He authorized the use of torture techniques, created secret military tribunals to deal with some seized terrorists, and arranged to kidnap and assassinate others.

But these moves by Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori only exacerbated the problems with Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path. The Maoist insurgency thrived in the environment Fujimori created to squelch it. Peruvians embraced Fujimori’s resolve and iron hand at first, but then they came to realize that his moves were effectively a coup d’état against the rule of law.

Peruvian prosecutors brought charges against Fujimori, and he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 25 years for his criminal conduct and abuse of power. Last week Peru’s Supreme Court upheld the conviction, rejecting Fujimori’s claims of executive privilege. Anne Manuel, writing in the Miami Herald, sees a triumph for the rule of law in Peru, just as the rule of law is held at bay in the United States:

It’s too bad the Bush administration did not study Peru’s dismantling of the Shining Path before it embarked on its shameful programs of “enhanced interrogations,” waterboarding and “ghost detainees;” acts that gave a green light to human-rights abusers around the world, while providing ammunition for al Qaeda recruiters.

Obama has vowed that these abuses have stopped. But the debate over their utility continues. A non-partisan truth commission for the United States, as advocated by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., would go a long way toward strengthening our newfound commitment to fight terror without betraying our core values.

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