John Demjanjuk died a few days ago, 91 years old and still protesting his innocence. The Israeli Supreme Court declined to accept that he was Ivan the Terrible, the butcher of Treblinka. A German court decided that he was a lowly prison guard at an entirely different camp, Sobibor. I suppose one day it will be possible to say for certain who this man was and where he passed the years of the Second World War. In the meantime, I’m struck by the behavior of US officials. George Jonas, in a sharp commentary on the Demjanjuk case, writes:
In the same year, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, essentially, that the Soviets were not alone in sitting on exculpatory evidence. By failing to disclose evidence that would have indicated that their trophy fish (Demjanjuk) wasn’t Moby Dick but a minnow, the intrepid Nazi hunters of the Office of Special investigations along with U.S. federal prosecutors committed fraud on the court.
That’s correct. US officials suppressed evidence from various Treblinka guards identifying someone else as Ivan the Terrible. So, having had his US citizenship revoked, Demjanjuk had it restored by a US court in 1998. As is their wont, the feds took another whack:
In 1999, the U.S. Justice Department filed a new complaint against him, this time for having been, not Ivan the Terrible, as they had urged for the previous 20 years, but plain John Demjanjuk, a guard at the infamous death camps of Sobibor and Majdanek in German-occupied Poland.
So in 2004 Demjanjuk was stripped of his US citizenship a second time, and eventually wound up being tried in Germany. As Jonas puts it:
It offered to prosecute people whose country it invaded in 1941 for accepting Germany’s offer they couldn’t refuse. And so it happened that in 2009, Demjanjuk, 88, stripped of his American citizenship again, was extradited to Germany, to be tried and eventually convicted of not saying no to Germany, which now appears to be a crime in that country.
Last year, on the eve of his German conviction, the AP discovered that the US Justice Department’s fallback theory – not Moby Dick, but a minnow – rested in large part on a Nazi ID card their own chaps regarded as a Soviet forgery:
Justice is ill-served in the prosecution of an American citizen on evidence which is not only normally inadmissible in a court of law, but based on evidence and allegations quite likely fabricated by the KGB.
That’s what the FBI said in 1985, but it stayed classified until 2009 – by which time Demjanjuk had been restored to US citizenship, re-stripped, denied various appeals, and shipped to Germany for his trial, in large part because of that ID card. Convicted under a novel legal theory as an accessory to mass murder, he was, in effect, let off by the judge with time served in order to commence, from his German old folks’ home, his latest appeal. Death has brought that to an end, so we’ll never get to see, another decade or so down the road, a US court ponder whether he was stiffed by the Justice Department yet again and if his US citizenship should be de-re-revoked.
Whatever the truth of Demjanjuk’s past, there’s a faintly disreputable whiff of double jeopardy about the American end of this case. I’d be interested to know from Andy McCarthy or any of our other legal wallahs whether anybody else has ever been stripped of his US citizenship twice. Is that a record? Or is there someone out there who was de-Americanized thrice?