CINCINNATI (Aug. 25)
Lawyers for convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk have asked the federal appeals court here to allow him to return to the United States if his conviction is overturned by Israel’s High Court of Justice.
The request was made Aug. 20 after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ordered a special investigation into Justice Department conduct during his extradition procedures.
It was the latest move in an increasingly complex case taking place in U.S. and Israeli courtrooms. Demjanjuk repeatedly has claimed he is a victim of mistaken identity, and recent documents seem to advance that contention.
In 1986, Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel, where he was sentenced to death for committing war crimes as the so-called “Ivan the Terrible,” a Treblinka death camp guard who tortured and mutilated prisoners as they were marched to the gas chambers.
His American lawyers, citing more recently released information, claim the Justice Department withheld evidence that a man identified as Ivan Marchenko, and not Demjanjuk, was the actual “Ivan the Terrible.”
The uncertainty created by the more recent information, made available from documents from the former Soviet Union, has also affected his conviction by an Israeli court, and particularly the death penalty he was given.
In a hearing in Jerusalem in June, the Israeli High Court expressed concern about the evidence used in his case. That court is slated to rule on his conviction soon.
His American lawyers filed papers with the appeals court saying he could be endangered if Israel were to deport him to a third country.
CASE NOW SHIFTS TO NASHVILLE
Last week, the U.S. appeals court appointed federal Judge Thomas Wiseman, Jr. of Nashville, Tenn., to oversee a fact-finding investigation into whether the Justice Department withheld information in the Demjanjuk case.
The appeals court also stated that government counsel had admitted in court that “mistakes were made” in its disclosure of evidence.
Justice Department lawyers deny this and have filed a motion asking the appeals court to correct what they charge is a misstatement.
Justice Department attorney Patty Merkamp Stemler said that at the time of Demjanjuk’s extradition proceedings, “the government did not have in its possession any statements or documents” indicating that an Ivan Marchenko was “Ivan the Terrible.”
She conceded the government had made a mistake, but it was only that of not adding the name of a Treblinka survivor to the list of people unable to identify Demjanjuk by photograph.
Survivor Sol Lackman, “had never been near the gas chambers” and thus “did not mention Marchenko in his 1980 interview with government investigators, nor did he state that Demjanjuk was not ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ ” Stemler said.
Judge Wiseman will meet with attorneys on Sept. 4 in Nashville to decide procedural matters, such as which witnesses to call and a venue for further hearings, in order to determine whether the government committed fraud.