WASHINGTON (Aug. 16)
The United States government has apologized to France because U.S. army intelligence officers prevented Klaus Barbie, the wartime gestapo leader in Lyon, from being extradited to France 33 years ago by lying about his whereabouts and then helping him to flee from Germany to South America.
Allan Ryan Jr., a special assistant in the criminal division in the Department of Justice, said today he urged the apology in submitting his report August 9 to Attorney General William French Smith on the U.S. government’s involvement in the Barbie case. He said the State Department presented a note of “regret” to the French Embassy here last Friday.
The 216-page Ryan report and more than 600 pages of supporting documents were made public at a press conference at the Justice Department. The 38-year-old Ryan was director of the Office of Special Investigations, which investigates and prosecutes Nazi war criminals in the U.S., when he was asked to devote his fulltime to the Barbie case which he has done since March 15.
The study was made after allegations about U.S. complicity in Barbie’s escape cropped up after Barbie was extradited in February from Bolivia to France to face charges of crimes against humanity in Lyon. Ryan stressed today that his study did not consider whether Barbie was guilty in the deportation and deaths of at least 11,000 Jews and French resistance leaders in wartime France, but whether the U.S. had prevented his extradition to France. “A principle of democracy and of the rule of law is that justice delayed is justice denied,” he said. “We have delayed justice in Lyon.”
But also stressing the U.S. government should apologize for having provided France with false information, Ryan said that those who actually did cover up Barbie’s whereabouts should not themselves be personally liable to prosecution because they act- ed “to protect what they believed to be the interests of the United States Army and the United States government.” He also said he did not believe his studies show that any new legislation is warranted.
Ryan said that Barbie was employed by the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corp (CIC) in Germany from 1947 to 1951, when he was helped to escape to South America. He said that since 1951 Barbie has had no relation with the U.S. government or any of its agencies. Ryan added during the 1960′s the Army proposed using Barbie for intelligence work but the proposal was rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Barbie, who lived under the name of Klaus Altmann until his extradition from Bolivia this year, visited the United States in 1969 and 1970, each time for a week, as representative for a Bolivian shipping firm, Ryan said. He said that neither the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia nor the Immigration and Naturalization Service knew that Altmann was Barbie. Ryan also said that there is no evidence of Barbie being involved with drug smuggling or gun-running, at least as far as the U.S. was concerned.
When the CIC first employed Barbie it knew he had been with the Gestapo but did not know he was wanted for war crimes, Ryan said. He said the CIC believed he had concentrated on counter-intelligence combatting the French underground.
Ryan made the point that those who decided to use Barbie should not now be vilified. He said they made a “defensible decision, even if it was not the only defensible one” and were not themselves “entirely comfortable” in using former gestapo officers.
ELEMENTS IN THE BARBIE CASE
But he stressed that the other occupying powers — France, Britain and the Soviet Union — “made essentially the same decision at the time: to involve the available resources of the former German regime to protect and advance what each government perceived to be its national interests.”
But when the U.S. High Commission on Germany (HICOG) sought information on Barbie, the CIC denied it knew where he was, Ryan said. They again denied to HICOG, which was the arm of the State Department in Germany, that they knew of Barbie’s whereabouts when the French sought to extradite him. Ryan said that the CIC thus prevented any extradition proceeding from being carried out.
Instead, he said, they decided to help him escape from Germany using the “rat line,” an underground method used by the U.S. Army in Austria for the escape of defectors or informants from the Soviet Union. Ryan said this was the only time the Army used the “rat line” to help a Nazi war criminal to escape.
However, the “rat line” relied on a Croatian priest, Father Kaunoslav Dragonovic, who brought the escapees from Austria to Italy. Dragonovic is believed to have helped Croatian Nazis escape from Yugoslavia but without the U.S. Army’s knowledge, according to the Ryan report.
Ryan’s report does not deal with possible use of Nazi war criminals by other U.S. intelligence agencies and their subsequent immigration to the United States. He said this is being studied by the General Accounting Office.
In the conclusion of his report, Ryan noted that in the post-war years the U.S. should have excluded the use of Nazi Party officials, SS officers, Gestapo officers and suspected or convicted war criminals for intelligence work. He noted that in the more than 30 years that have passed, there have been “profound changes in the way intelligence agencies operate” particularly as to their accountability. “It would be naive to think that this greater accountability will by itself, prevent another Barbie episode,” Ryan declared. “But it is not naive to believe that we have seen the end of the attitude that everything is permissible, including the obstruction of justice, if it falls under the cloak of intelligence. In the files in the Barbie case, and in interviews conducted in the course of this investigation, there seems to have been no awareness on anyone’s part that United States officers and employes were obstructing justice.
“The only evident concerns were operational ones. If the reforms of the past decade lead an intelligence officer faced with a similar choice in the future to realize that these cannot be the exclusive concerns, and that he is accountable under the law for the choice he must make, then we will have accomplished something worthwhile.”
Ryan today denied reports that his study has been held up from being made public because of State Department objections to his recommendations that the U.S. government apologize to France.