Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Self-righteous Germans practice double jeopardy

Once a man has been found not guilty, that is supposed to be the end of it. The guy was tried and eventually found not guilty in Israel but the Germans want to try him again

A former SS trooper accused of being a concentration camp guard known as "Ivan the Terrible" may finally face justice as Germany prepares to stage what would probably be its last Nazi war crimes trial. State prosecutors say that they can finally conduct the trial of John Demjanjuk, 88, who was for decades one of the world's most wanted war crime suspects. "There is sufficient evidence from our point of view," Kurt Schrimm, head of the Ludwigsburg Central Office for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes, said. A dossier has been handed to the state prosecutor in Munich, where Mr Demjanjuk had his last known address in Germany, who can then recommend his extradition from the United States.

For years the Ukrainian-born Mr Demjanjuk has existed in legal limbo. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio, but when his alleged role as a death camp guard emerged he was stripped of his American citizenship. However, neither Ukraine nor Poland - the country where his alleged crimes took place - will accept or try him, and he cannot be extradited to a country that does not want him. As a result he has been classified as a stateless alien, unable to claim social security.

Mr Demjanjuk has been on trial once before, in Israel in 1988, when five witnesses identified him as the notoriously sadistic Treblinka guard known as Ivan the Terrible. They testified that he had sliced off the breasts of women inmates with his bayonet and that he once ordered a prisoner to rape a 12-year-old girl. Mr Demjanjuk was sentenced to death but fresh evidence emerged that shed some doubt on whether he and Ivan the Terrible were really the same man, and the verdict was overturned by Israel's Supreme Court in 1993. Embarrassed, Israel let the man return to the United States, emphasising that freeing him did not amount to an acquittal.

Prosecutors will now try to prove that Mr Demjanjuk served in Sobibor, in Nazi-occupied southeastern Poland, from the end of March to mid-September 1943. As many as 200,000 were killed in the extermination camp. "The Americans are strongly interested in getting rid of Demjanjuk," Dr Schrimm said. "This is a great chance for us to call Demjanjuk to book and make him face up to the responsibility for his crimes."

Dr Schrimm's research alleges that 29,000 Jews, many of them women and children, were killed during Mr Demjanjuk's tour of duty. Crucial to the latest case is that 1,900 of them were German Jews: German law allows the prosecution of those accused of killing German citizens, even if the crime was committed elsewhere. "It is now possible to give the precise names and birthdates of the victims," Dr Schrimm added. The oldest victim during Mr Demjanjuk's alleged stint in Sobibor was a 99-year-old Dutch Jew; the youngest were babies born on the deportation trains who were gassed soon after arrival. [And how is that going to resolve doubts about whether they have got the right man?]

Mr Demjanjuk denies involvement in war crimes, saying that he served in the Soviet Army and became a prisoner of war when he was captured by Germany in 1942.

The fundamental problem in mounting new Nazi trials has been the passage of time: defendants can argue that they are not physically or mentally fit to stand trial, and the testimony of witnesses, blurred by age and emotion, can be called into question. The youngest suspects are more than 80 years old, and these days Nazi hunters are thin on the ground. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem operates on a shoestring budget; the Ludwigsburg Centre has a staff of 19, compared with 130 two decades ago.

On top of the list of the most wanted Nazi war criminals is Dr Aribert Heim, a camp doctor in Mauthausen, who has been pursued doggedly by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Nicknamed "Doctor Death" the 94-year-old has yet to be captured - he may not even be alive - and it is unlikely that he will ever be put in the dock.

The most recent big Nazi trial in Germany was in 1992, when the SS officer Josef Schwammberger was jailed for life for murder and being an accomplice to murder in 650 cases. He died in prison in 2004. If the Demjanjuk trial takes place it will be an important landmark for Germany, a final historical reckoning in the courtroom

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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