The Justice Department has promised an appeals court that federal agents will not deport a Nazi war crimes suspect to Germany through at least April 30, even if the court lifts the stay that prevents the removal.
In a letter to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Justice Department said it is prepared to ensure the necessary time for legal appeals to play out in the case of John Demjanjuk. The 6th Circuit Court ordered a stay on Tuesday, less than two hours after federal immigration officials took Demjanjuk into custody at his home near Cleveland, Ohio — and only a few hours before federal agents expected to carry him aboard a plane bound for Germany. They were forced to return Demjanjuk to his home. In the government’s letter to the court, the Justice Department accuses Demjanjuk’s lawyers of “numerous delaying tactics” and declared the government will soon send the court a motion asking the appeal be dismissed. But the government promised the court it will obey Thursday’s order, which requires prosecutors to provide a medical report that they say supports their view that Demjanjuk is physically capable of traveling abroad. The government said it is “gathering for expeditious submission” the health report the court requested by April 23. Demjanjuk’s lawyers and family have said he is so ill that he cannot travel, and to force him to stand trial would be tantamount to torture. Attorney John Broadley has said Demjanjuk suffers from pre-leukemia, kidney problems, spinal problems and “a couple of types of gout.”
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On Wednesday, the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected those arguments and said it would not reopen the case. However, the federal appeals court then indicated it might do so. Demjanjuk is facing charges in Germany alleging involvement in killings at Sobibor, a Nazi death camp in Poland, during World War II. Last month, German authorities issued an arrest warrant for Demjanjuk, accusing him of being an accessory to 29,000 counts of murder while serving as a guard at Sobibor from March to September 1943. His son, John Demjanjuk Jr., said Germany’s accusations do not allege that his father hurt or killed anyone. “The accusations from Germany … are that he was an accessory,” he said. “The German prosecutor to this moment has not said that they have any evidence or will even allege that he personally hurt one person, let alone 29,000. They’re basically saying he was at the place where people were killed.” He noted that his father has been fighting charges of Nazi war crimes for more than three decades. The case dates back to the late 1970s, when the Justice Department accused Demjanjuk of being a Nazi guard known as “Ivan the Terrible.” Demjanjuk’s U.S. citizenship was revoked in 1981, and he was extradited to Israel in 1986. He was convicted in an Israeli court in 1988 and sentenced to death — but that conviction was overturned in 1993 amid evidence that someone else was Ivan the Terrible. A federal court restored Demjanjuk’s citizenship, ruling that the government had withheld evidence supporting his case. But his citizenship was again revoked in 2002 after a federal judge ruled that he entered the United States illegally in 1952 by hiding his past as a Nazi guard. Demjanjuk, a Ukrainian, denies any role in the Holocaust. He says he saw action in the Soviet army and later was a prisoner of war held by the Germans. “Germany nearly killed my father; he was a Soviet soldier, he wasn’t a German,” the younger Demjanjuk said. Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said 250,000 Jews were killed at Sobibor, and said none of the guards who worked there was blameless. “You were there for one job: Kill the Jews,” he said. “And that’s what they did full-time.” He called the evidence against Demjanjuk “overwhelming.”