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National Review | 24Mar2012 | Mark Steyn

Ivan the Re-Revoked

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?


DavidJ   03/24/12 16:28
The entire idea that people can be convicted of crimes which were not crimes at the time they did what they did has done a great deal of damage to the entire Western notion of "justice," and that's even before you get into making up new crimes tailor-made to fit what specific people did.

You would think that some of the people who get themselves tied into knots over "habeas corpus" might also give "ex post facto" a whirl.

Gpaw   03/24/12 18:02
Its all just symptoms of a larger sickness. Statism.

Bart   03/24/12 16:58
"Whatever the truth of Demjanjuk’s past, there’s a faintly disreputable whiff of double jeopardy about the American end of this case."

What possible business is it of some visiting Canadian whether or under what circumstances some alien gets or loses his American citizenship? It's none of my business whether there are "Canadians" or what being a "Canadian" means or whether people who weren't "Canadians" get to be "Canadians" and then don't get to be "Canadians" anymore.
arik   03/24/12 17:45
It's been rather surreal (and nauseating) watching Germany prosecute citizens of other nations for crimes/actions for which the citizens of Germany have been given blanket absolution.

They are trying to purge their national soul by sacrificing others.

You're right, Mark. when you suggest that Western "civilization" is pretty well screwed.
vonryansexpress   03/24/12 18:35
While not on point with the question raised herein by Mr. Steyn, a fascinating body of case law on a man given due process ‘more than once’, are of course the matters pertaining to Andrija Artuković.

Artuković ‘s issues were not his citizenship but his VISA and the right to avoid extradition to a Soviet Client State, but the machinations and the justice delayed-justice denied argument are consonant with the Demjanjuk trials.

Other worthy reads in this vein apart from the case law and the 14th Amendment, are of course the matters of Ezra Pound and Paul Robson, both citizens that learned hard, the value of citizenship and the sharp talon of the enforcing Eagle.

BigSkyBob   03/24/12 19:29
"The Israeli Supreme Court declined to accept that he was Ivan the Terrible, the butcher of Treblinka."

That is very strange way to say the Israeli justice system convicted, and sentenced to death, a man whom was innocent of the charges against him. The Court "declined to accept that he was Ivan the Terrible" because he simply was not Ivan the Terrible.They failed to try him for other charges because as Joe Sobran so famously pointed out Denjumjak could produce eyewitness after eyewitness placing him at Treblinka.
MelBlount   03/24/12 19:45
Mr. Steyn needs to be careful. Pat Buchanan was tarred as an anti--Semite for suggesting Demjanjuk was railroaded, and by people friendly to National Review. Beware, Mr. Steyn.
Lark   03/24/12 19:57
70 years later and they're still fighting the various sects of Socialism (Nazis, Commies, Fascisti),
and they still think the best way is to out-Socialize them (we need a Ruling Class to keep us free; it has to be above the rules so it can make us obey them).
Patrick J   03/24/12 20:30
Good for Mr. Steyn to remind us all how sketchy was the various evidence presented to support the contradictory theories that Demjanjuk was this, that, or the other guard at various prison camps. But let's not pretend Israel were the good guys in any of this. Israel aggressively pursued the initial baseless indictment against Demjanjuk.

I agree with DavidJ. The post-facto idea that countries that didn't exist can prosecute foreign citizens for crimes that are newly defined as crimes threatens everyone - especially future Americans, of course. When the South-Asian Islamic Confederation indicts Obama and Bush and Gates and Rove for the crime of preemptive war, we won't be able to stand on any moral or legal high ground and complain.
DavidThompson   03/24/12 20:35

But I'm sure that some sort of statute of limitations applies to the prosecutors and investigators involved in the Demjanjuk case.
RichInIowa   03/24/12 21:01
As the opportunities for revanche against the perpetrators of the Holocaust decline over the years and thus opportunities for re-fueling the emotional sentiments in the West that have garnered Jews over the years massive amounts of sympathy fabrications like the case against Demjanjuk are pursed.

It is justified to terrorize the innocent if the ends are noble such as maintain sympathy for the plight of the Jewish. Morally this so wrong…

It is to the eternal shame that the Simon Wiesenthal Center that they participated in this egregious miscarriage of justice.

Our word ‘scapegoat’ is derived from the Jewish word ‘azazel.’

And that is what they tried to turn Demjanjuk into for their own ends and purposes.

It is to their eternal shame instead.
john s   03/24/12 21:32
Given that people all over the world can certainly see the vagaries of 'crime against humanity' laws and trials, I find it funny that people expected Libya's ruling family to surrender and now believe Syria's elite can be convinced to do so. 

DavidinTexas   03/24/12 22:55
The whole case makes a mockery of common law. Sounds like something the U.N. will use to try future global warming, ecology raping criminals. The Justice Dept. has always been something of a bully, but it is on the road to becoming something of a "Ministry of the Interior" one finds in various heavy handed Latin American, Asian and, yes, European countries.

Is there any wonder so many Americans have lost trust in our government?

Canuck   03/24/12 23:20
I can't understand how any other reader could suggest that Nazi war criminals should get off scot-free, because their crimes were legal under Nazi law! That's crazy. The Allies acknowledged a responsibility to bring Nazi war criminals to justice; perhaps they failed in most cases, but successor states (including Israel) inherited that obligation. Israel had strong enough evidence to convince US courts to extradite him for trial. That he received a fair trial is demonstrated by his acquittal (of specific charges related to the identify of Ivan the Terrible, a particularly sadistic Ukrainian guard at the Treblinka death camp. His acquittal didn't mean he hid his background as a guard in other Nazi camps, justifying his trial by a modern German court. Yes, Germany let bigger fish alone, or gave them very short jail sentences. But, the three countries involved in Demjanjuk's case, have fair court systems, so they were capable of determining jurisdictional questions. As opposed to a US court authorizing extradition, if a foreign country were to grab an American official to put on trial for "war crimes" that would be an act of war against the US.
Machiavelli   03/24/12 23:33
A Russian prison guard for a German extermination camp. He deserved the noose. He didn't get it. No injustice was done to him. The US officials who withheld evidence from the immigration court should have been jailed for contempt by the trial judge and then disbarred.

panic   03/25/12 01:54
I thought making intentionally false statements in your immigration application was grounds for deportation 100 years ago.
What happens to him after he's gone is another and quite different question.
As to whether what he did in the War was criminal at the time -- there's an easy answer: yes. They "made stuff up" to make their case easier to prove, as do all prosecutors. If embellishment exonerates the guilty, we have a few hundred thousand cops out of work tomorrow morning.

If at the moment of endorsement of the Versailles Treaty, the Belgians, French, British etc. (who were at that very moment accused of cultural genocide for the amount of reparations) were shown a film of the Nazis proudly marching through the Arc de Triomphe in 1940 (need I continue?) does anyone believe there would be a building left standing in Germany?
Too harsh? Not really, might have saved a few tens of millions of lives.
Fartman   03/25/12 05:38
I figured this guy had to be innocent after the Israeli court found him not to be Ivan.
benhartley   03/25/12 08:42
"U.S. Justice Department." What "justice" is that, pray? Or are you perhaps referring to the misnamed "U.S. Department of Ideologically-driven Legal Contortions?"
Ben Hartley
Jan Vones   03/25/12 13:47
Ah, but what you have to realize is that that Soviet-forged Nazi ID card was "fake but accurate."

elkh1   03/25/12 18:50
Funny thing is those Americans who want to "revoke" their own citizenship have to pay a ransom (exit tax on all assets) to do so. Like the good old Soviet Union which required the Jews to pay a chunk of money to get out.