NATO 3: Behind the Story in Today’s Headlines


The trial of the “NATO 3” is underway in Chicago. I imagine they were given that nickname because it sensationalizes the story.

I’ve been following the story of the “NATO 3” for two reasons.

Brent Betterly, one of the three men charged with terrorism is a friend of mine.  How good a friend?  Well, if Brent needed $100 and I had it, I’d lend it to him.  And I know that if I needed $100 and he had it, Brent would hand it over willingly.

I met Brent during OccupyDC.  From October 2011 until February 4, 2012, Brent, myself and up to 300 protesters were encamped in Washington D.C.’s McPherson Square.  Three blocks to the White House this direction and a couple of dozen blocks to the Capital that way.

I wasn’t there as a protestor.  I was “embedded” as a photojournalist shooting the story for several national and international media outlets.  While my pieces and images were picked up on a regular basis, I also got the time to get to know many of the activists that camped out that cold winter with me.

I was at The White House on December 11 when Brent and ten other people were arrested for demonstrating outside the fence.  Brent was there when I got picked up by law enforcement and held without charges.  We went through a lot together.

The other reason I’ve been watching the trial closely has to do with Argentina.  From 1976 – 1983, the dictatorship that ruled made 30,000 people “disappear.”  Activists, academics, journalists, artists and just about anyone that spoke out openly against the government was picked up and “disappeared.”  Plucked off the street or pulled from their home after midnight, people were driven to EMSA for torture and interrogation before being flown over Rio de Plata and tossed from the plane.

Buenos Aires is littered with plaques remembering the kidnapped.  Placed on the spot from which they were taken, the plaques give the missing’s name and date of disappearance.  Classified documents which were released during Bill Clinton’s administration reveal that America played a large part in the disappearances.

With the ubiquitous plaques and the fact that this happened less than 40 years ago, the events of “The Dirty War” are still fresh in the country’s psyche.

My wife, Ale, a native Argentine, lived through those harrowing days and nights.  A “porteno,” someone that is native to Buenos Aires, she remembers the late night conversations, behind locked doors and shuttered windows, about the dictatorship’s activities.  She recalls the, almost daily, reports of another friend, or friend of a friend, vanishing overnight.

Our balcony is adjacent to the balcony of Carlos Guillermo.  Carlos was commander of the (Argentine) 1st Army corp during the dictatorship and was known as “The Butcher of Olimpo.”  Guillermo, an old man in his eighties now, went to trial in 2003 and now is under house arrest.  In the mornings when I light up a cigarette and grab a cup of coffee, it’s nothing to see him on his balcony, just a few feet away, feeding the birds.

I don’t know if Brent is guilty of the terrorism charges of which he’s been accused.  My heart tells me no, he is not a terrorist.  My brain tells me that it could be exactly what the defense attorney’s are calling it: a set-up by the government.  Undercover officers orchestrated the entire entrapment of the “NATO 3” to justify the dollars spent on security.

While policy makers and law enforcement beat their chest about the millions of dollars they spent to keep Chicago safe, at the end of the day, all they have to show for it are three kids and a couple of bottles filled with gasoline.

Like I said, I wouldn’t put it past America to have set up the “NATO 3.”  If I’m wrong, then no one will look like a fool but me.  However, if I’m right, the meaning could be devastating.

Editorial by Jerry Nelson


Chicago Tribune

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