WASHINGTON (Nov. 17)
Disappointment and dismay greeted a federal appeals court’s decision to overturn the 1985 court order under which John Demjanjuk, who was tried in Israel as the Nazi guard “Ivan the Terrible,” was extradited to Israel.
The appellate court in Cincinnati also ruled Wednesday that Justice Department prosecutors had committed fraud when obtaining the extradition order.
The court did not address the earlier proceedings that had removed Demjanjuk’s U.S. citizenship.
Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Attorney General Janet Reno on Wednesday to urge an immediate appeal of the verdict to the Supreme Court.
Nathan Lewin, president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, American Section, said the decision must be reviewed. It is a “tragedy of major proportions,” he said.
The Justice Department said it was reviewing its options and “intends, as it previously stated, to effect Demjanjuk’s prompt removal from the United States as soon as his legal status is resolved,” according to a statement from Reno’s office that was forwarded to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Alan Dershowitz, a law professor at Harvard University, said Wednesday that “if the standard applied to John Demjanjuk’s extradition order were applied universally to all criminal cases, prison doors around the United States would be flung wide open and tens of thousands of convicted prisoners would be freed.
“This decision applies a double standard to Nazi war criminals that is almost never applied to other criminals,” he said.
COURT BLAMES PROSECUTORS FOR MISCONDUCT
“Why this court has such a special solicitude toward a Nazi collaborator still needs to be explained,” Dershowitz added.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling that targeted prosecutors working in the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which investigates and prosecutes suspected war criminals living in the United States.
According to the decision, prosecutors working with the OSI committed “prosecutorial misconduct” in stripping the Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk of his U.S. citizenship and sending him to Israel, where he was sentenced to death for being a Treblinka death camp guard known as “Ivan the Terrible.”
Demjanjuk, 73, was freed by Israel after the court there ruled that it could not be proven beyond a doubt that he had not been a victim of mistaken identity.
Escorted by family members, he returned to the United States on Sept. 22 and has been living in seclusion at his home in suburban Cleveland.
At the time, the Justice Department allowed Demjanjuk into the country on a temporary basis under the attorney general’s parole authority.
He was allowed to return to this country so that he could be present at a trial to determine whether he should once again be deported for having lied about his past when he first applied for American citizenship.
Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel from the United States in February 1986 to stand trial for war crimes committed as the sadistic gas chamber operator at Treblinka. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1988.
But on July 29 of this year, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the conviction, saying that there was now reasonable doubt that Demjanjuk was the notorious “Ivan.”
However, the Israeli court found that there was compelling evidence that Demjanjuk had served as an SS guard at the Sobibor death camp and the Flossenburg and Regensburg concentration camps.
It was on these grounds that Holocaust survivors and others, including the World Jewish Congress, called for a new trial.
On Sept. 19, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld the recommendation of Attorney General Yosef Harish, who had argued that a new trial would not be in the interest of the state and that a conviction was uncertain.
Earlier this year, two former U.S. Justice Department lawyers defended their actions in an investigation into the handling of the case.
Both former prosecutors appeared in a court-ordered review of whether lawyers for OSI suppressed evidence that might have cleared Demjanjuk during the nine-year investigation leading to his extradition to Israel.
‘DISAPPOINTED BUT NOT SURPRISED’
In June 1992, the Cincinnati appellate court, on its own initiative, ordered a probe into whether OSI prosecutors concealed documents that might have buttressed Demjanjuk’s claim. The court appointed U.S. District Judge Thomas Wiseman Jr. of Nashville as a special master to oversee the investigation.
Wiseman ruled that the Justice Department had not perpetrated fraud in the case. However, he expressed sufficient doubt that Demjanjuk was the man identified as “Ivan.”
Between 1977 and 1986, the U.S. government made its case against Demjanjuk in three sequential phases: denaturalization, deportation, and finally extradition to Israel.
In Washington, Schumer said he was “angry and disappointed but not surprised” by the decision. “The 6th Circuit has been consistently mistaken and misguided in its handling of this case,” he said. “Demjanjuk clearly lied about his Nazi past when he entered the U.S. and firm evidence ties him to the death camps.”