WASHINGTON (Jan. 16)
The Justice Department has set a one-year deadline for disposal of the cases pending against 250 alleged Nazi war criminals living in the United States. That goal was announced by Philip Heymann, an Assistant Attorney General, in a letter to several American Jewish leaders who had expressed concern that the Justice Department was dragging its feet in pursuing these cases, some of which have been in its files for more than 30 years.
“Our goal for the immediate future is to reach the end of 1980 with all files in one of two statuses: either having been filed with the court or having been closed entirely for lack of substance.” Heymann wrote.
He is in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division that oversees the Office of Special investigation (OSI) which is directly handling the cases. His letter was apparently intended to reassure Jewish leaders and others troubled by the recent transfer of Martin Mendelsohn, who established the OSI and was its deputy director, to other duties.
Suspicion was voiced in some quarters that Mendelsohn was removed from the key unit because he pursued the cases of the alleged Nazis too vigorously. He was said to be the most knowledgeable official in this area and fear was expressed that with his departure, the prosecution of these cases would log. The matter was raised last week at a meeting between Jewish leaders and Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti in which Heymann participated.
Heymann promise in his letter, “We are going to bring this chapter to a close without by passing any case that has promise.” Walter Rockler, who has directed the OSI since it was transferred from the immigration and Naturalization Service to the Justice Department’s criminal division last May and was Mendelsohn’s immediate superior said new cases and any others that may be added in the future would not be bound by the one-year deadline.
Rockler described some of the cases on file as “junk” and observed that “the sooner we get rid of these, the better.” However, Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D.NY), chairperson of the House Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and International Law, expressed some reservations over the deadline. Holtzman, who has been a leader in efforts to bring alleged Nazi war criminals to justice, said “It is a very ambitious goal and I hope it can be met in a way that meets professional standards.” However, she said, “I don’t want to see meritorious cases closed down to meet a goal.”
WILL SEEK NEW SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Heymann stated in his letter that he was not content with focussing exclusively on the information transferred from the INS. He said: “The office will actually seek out new sources of information wherever it appears and those sources can identify additional Nazi was criminals who may be residing in this country:
“For example, recently we have begun to seek master lists of Nazi officer and collaborators for the purpose of cross-checking them against immigration rolls held at the INS. The Berlin Documentation Center furnished us with a list of 6000 SS officers who were assigned to concentration camps. A preliminary check against INS lists has indicated that several of them may well be in the U.S.
“Similarly, the Dutch government furnished us with the names of 400 people who they were seeking for prosecution. A cross check of that list has indicated that two of them have been in the U.S. but are now in Europe. As a result of this procedure, The Netherlands may now be able to locate and extradite them.” Heymann stated that five new cases are new ready for trial and that his division anticipates filing additional cases in the next 60 days.
EXAMPLES OF COOPERATION
Other examples of cooperation with foreign governments by the criminal division included three investigators who have been working in West Germany; one who has just returned from Austria where he collected data at eight different archives; another investigator has been working with East German officials for the first time and gave the State Prosecutor there a list of 200 subjects on whom they seek more information. In addition, an archivist and an attorney have gone to Poland to interview potential witnesses and cooperation with Rumania is improving, Heymann said.
He also disclosed that the Attorney General has met with a high level representative of the Soviet Union and secured a pledge of cooperation from him.
Meanwhile, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.Mass.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, charged today that the cases were not being pursued effectively. He said he was “deeply concerned over the sudden transfer of Martin Mendelsohn. It signals this office is still not functioning smoothly nor effectively enough to accomplish the mission for which it was established.” He said his committee “will not abide half efforts.” (By. Helen Silver)