Statement by Ambassador David D. Pearce
U.S. Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic
Embassy of the United States of America
Athens, Greece, April 20, 2015
I am standing in front of the U.S. Embassy’s memorial plaque to U.S. Mission employees who gave their lives serving the government of the United States of America here in Greece.
Richard Welch, Captain George Tsantes, Nikolaos Veloutsos, Captain William Nordeen, and Sergeant Ronald Stewart were murdered by November 17 terrorists.
Today, I express my deep concern that the legislation, coming to a final vote in the Greek parliament this evening, could lead to the early release from prison of these terrorists and other criminals convicted of serious crimes against Greeks, Americans, and people of other nationalities.
Until now, the reaction of the U.S. government has been confined to official contacts, in the hope that there would be a positive response to some of the concerns we have raised privately about certain aspects of this legislation. I will maintain that hope.
I raised our concerns directly with the Minister of Justice on April 2. I noted among other points that if Savvas Xiros were let out of prison before having served his sentence as handed down by the Greek justice system, it would be a disservice to the memory of the American mission members he killed, and their families. We would not understand it.
Secretary Kerry registered our concerns directly as well in a call with the Prime Minister last week.
I want to be clear. The issue is not prison reform, or alleviating overcrowding, or providing access to medical care, or improving humanitarian conditions. All of which are important.
The issue is that convicted terrorists and murderers—people who have committed terrible, heinous crimes—should serve their full sentences in prison. Not in the comfort of their homes, surrounded by their friends, families, and associates. Releasing these murderers from prison dishonors the memory of those they have killed, and violates the rights of the family members whose lives they have shattered.
I repeat my bottom line, convicted terrorists and other criminals convicted of serious crimes should complete their sentences as handed down by the Greek justice system.
If Savvas Xiros–or anyone else with the blood of American diplomats and U.S. Mission members on their hands—leaves prison, it will be seen as a profoundly unfriendly act.
There is no place for convicted terrorists in civilized political discourse or back in Greek society. These are violent criminals and they belong in prison, nowhere else.
Greece is an important force for stability in the region, and has been a good partner for the United States on a number of issues, including law enforcement and counterterrorism.
We believe this legislation is inconsistent with that partnership. This is not just a humanitarian issue, it is also an important security issue.