WASHINGTON (Aug. 21)
Fueled by the U.S. government’s continued refusal to release documents detailing Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi ties, lawmakers are seeking full disclosure of all governmental files on Nazi war criminals.
The Central Intelligence Agency has denied repeated requests to disclose its files on Waldheim, a former United Nations secretary-general and president of Austria.
A bill introduced last week by U.S. Rep Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) would narrow the provisions in the Freedom of Information Act that has allowed the CIA and other government agencies to keep its files secret.
The bill, which is known as the War Crimes Disclosure Act, would apply to all individuals on the so-called “Watch List” of aliens who are excluded from the United States because of their Nazi ties.
“It is outrageous that the CIA was able to hide Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi past even while the State and Justice Departments were placing him on the Watch List,” Maloney said.
Debate over Waldheim’s war record has resurfaced in recent weeks after Pope John Paul II conferred on him a papal knighthood, drawing the ire of many in the Jewish community.
Waldheim served as an intelligence officer in the Balkans during World War II and has been implicated in connection with deportations and reprisal killings of partisans.
Under current law, a government agency can refuse to disclose documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act by declaring that such disclosure would endanger the “national security.”
Maloney’s bill would force an agency to release requested information unless it reveals private and personal information, or if it reveals a current intelligence agent or endangers a current intelligence source.
The bill also allows agencies to keep information secret only if there is “clear and convincing evidence” that its release would threaten U.S. national security or foreign relations.
‘AN IMPORTANT AND USEFUL INITIATIVE’
Maloney’s action drew immediate praise from the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“We’ve long felt that there is an absolute necessity to do something to streamline this archaic law to ensure the release of these documents,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Jess Hordes, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League, commended Maloney for her initiative.
“This is a very important and useful initiative,” Hordes said. “For a long time we’ve been trying to get access to this information.”
The Austrian Embassy is supporting the measure as well.
“Waldheim’s position and the position of the Austrian government has always been that all documents should be scrutinized to prove there was no wrongdoing and any involvement in war crimes,” said Martin Eichtinger, director of the Austrian Press and Information Service.
Although Maloney would like to see congressional action before Congress adjourns for the November elections, aides say the schedule will be so crammed during the five weeks left after the summer recess that the bill will probably not come up for a vote this session.
However, if re-elected, the congresswoman plans to reintroduce the measure early in the 104th Congress, according to her aides.
Co-sponsors of the bill were U.S. Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).